Ghostwriting: The Spooky Side of Publishing?

Contrary to what the name might imply, ghostwriting has nothing to do with stories of haunted mansions or gray ladies. Ghostwriting is when a writer is hired to write something—a novel, a screenplay, a speech, a song—but credit is given to someone else. 

An example: back in the halcyon, fist-pumping days when Jersey Shore first captured the nation’s attention, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi published her first novel, A Shore Thing, which was soon followed by books from other cast members, JWoww and The Situation (still waiting on one from Angelina explaining why she wouldn’t work her shift at the t-shirt stand during Season 1, but I digress…). While Snooki can no doubt tell a saucy tale, writing a novel is another trick altogether and she enlisted the help of master ghostwriter, Valerie Frankel. Frankel’s client list is impressive, having worked with not only Snooki but Omarosa, Jeanine Pirro, and many others. Her job as ghostwriter is to tease out what her client wants to achieve by publishing a book and then turn those thoughts into a finished manuscript, all without her name anywhere on the cover.

To most people writing a book seems a wholly daunting and insurmountable task. Because it is. Writing a book is a lot of feeling around in the dark trying to find something you’re not sure is there, the shape of which is yet unknown. A writer’s job is to keep feeling around because eventually, bit by bit, the darkness will slowly recede and light will shine down on everything, revealing a cohesive picture. For a ghostwriter, this process starts by working with a client, getting her thoughts on paper, structuring those thoughts into a compelling narrative that achieves the client’s desires, and finally finding the right words to put the whole thing together. Is it daunting? Yes. But totally rewarding. 

In the simplest sense ghostwriting is a marriage between idea and form, inception and production, fantasy and reality. It’s an enormous pleasure to be part of a completed manuscript and a ghostwriter can get you to the finish line, whether she runs the race with you side-by-side or merely coaches you along the way. 

So what’s your idea? What do you have to say?

Updated April 2024

Meet Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Before becoming a writer Elizabeth was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her short story, “Cosmic Blues”, was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s 2016 Short Story Award for New Writers, and her stories and essays have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. She’s attended the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the...