What is Ghostwriting and Who is a Ghostwriter?

When I began to think about ghostwriting in Nigeria over ten years ago, I could not find anyone or firm that provided the service in the country. The reality then was that like most other people, I didn’t know a lot about ghostwriting neither did I realize it was a service that could be a business venture. A few years later, my position changed when I discovered that the writing support I had been offering for free could earn income. There was indeed a ghostwriting industry which was popular in the more advanced western world. After that discovery, I started to introduce myself as a ghostwriter and every time I did so the usual response was one of bewilderment.

“Ghostwriter? What’s that?” people would ask while trying to suppress laughter.

When I decided to set up a firm to focus on ghostwriting, I had a lot of concerned people around me who concluded I had perhaps gone suicidal in financial terms. In their minds, there was no way such a business – if it could be referred to as one – was ever going to be sustainable.

Fast forward to 2019 and many people in Nigeria still don’t know what ghostwriting is and how valuable ghostwriters can be to them. I continue to see the same look of confusion on people’s faces whenever they hear, ‘ghostwriting’. So let me try and explain who a ghostwriter is with the hope of stirring up your interest.

A ghostwriter is a hired writer who writes books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person or organisation. Public figures like business executives, politicians, religious leaders, sports stars, career professionals, famous musicians and actors sometimes employ ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, memoirs, articles, speeches, lyrics or other written materials for them.

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Ghostwriting is usually about spending several months to a year working on one job depending on what type of project it is and how good the remuneration is. Ghostwriters are paid either per page, with a flat fee, or a percentage of the royalties of the sales, or some combination thereof.

You have probably seen scores of books authored by celebrities. Think about it: how do they ever get time to write? They don’t. Most celebrities or public figures hardly ever find enough minutes to eat so how can they ever commit months to write a book? What they do is to hire a special type of writer to write for them.

The ‘ghost’ in ‘ghostwriter’ refers to the anonymity of the writer after the job has been done. A ghostwriter is often not acknowledged or recognized after he does his job. The work done is credited to someone else (the author). Ghostwriters simply help to give voice to your thoughts, ideas and experiences. They save you time and energy. Authors helped by ghostwriters should never lack legitimacy or credibility because they own the knowledge ghostwriters use to produce their written works. Nowadays, some authors publicly acknowledge their ghostwriters who in turn have started stepping out of the shadows.

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Many famous authors you probably know have used ghostwriters. Alexandre Dumas in The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo; Michael Crichton in Latitudes (finished posthumously); Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond; Tom Clancy; Robert Ludlum and Carolyn Keene in the successful Nancy Drew series. Politicians like Hilary Clinton in Living History (she acknowledged Maryanne Vollers); Sarah Palin, former U.S. presidential candidate and governor of Alaska, in Going Rogue, with Lynn Vincent and former U.S President Ronald Reagan in his autobiography An American Life.

Some of the most popular business authors and their ghostwritten books include Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with Ken Shelton; Jack Welch in Jack: Straight From the Gut, “with John Byrne”; Lee Iaccoca in Iaccoca, “with William Novak”; Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal, “with Tony Schwartz”; John C Maxwell wrote fifty books with Charlie Wetzel; Richard Branson in Losing My Virginity, acknowledging Edward Whitley; Andy Grove, chairman of Intel, in Only the Paranoid Survive, “with Catherine Fredman” and Sam Walton in Made in America, “with John Huey”

One of the world’s most distinguished ghostwriters who is also my favourite is Andrew Crofts. Andrew, who is the United Kingdom-based, has influenced me significantly as a ghostwriter and I consider his book titled, ‘Ghostwriting’ to be a classic for ghostwriters. He has recently released a much-anticipated memoir titled, ‘Confessions of a Ghostwriter’.

The enormous success of his works has brought many different people to his door including celebrities from the worlds of film, music, television and sport, and then the real elite in the form of world leaders and the mysterious, powerful people who finance, arm and, in some cases, control them. He has been invited to public and private palaces all over Africa (including Nigeria), Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and a tax haven from Monaco to private Islands in Bermuda. Andrew Crofts listened to them as they revealed their secrets, gradually piecing together the truth of who runs the world and how they do it. In his words (from his book, ‘Ghostwriting’) which were quoted in Robert Harris’s thriller “The Ghost”, (later made into a film with Ewan McGregor as the ghostwriter) Andrew points out an important merit of the mysterious ghostwriting profession:

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“Of all the advantages ghosting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest.”

That has been my personal experience since I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most intriguing and accomplished leaders in Nigeria in the course of executing ghostwriting projects. As a ghostwriter, you are privileged to ask personal questions and observe the kind of close up things that can teach you invaluable life lessons. And as for those who have always wanted to author or publish a book, hiring a skilled ghostwriter is not a bad idea at all. 

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