Writing without a byline is a much more secure way to make a living than publishing in your own name. If fortune attracts you more than ghostwriters fame does, contract writing (which is writing on a particular subject without much input from your client) and ghostwriting (writing something in your client’s “voice” and which their own friends couldn’t tell wasn’t their own) should definitely be part of your freelance writing repertoire.

Of course, you may face the question I ghostwriting services occasionally get: “Ghostwriting? Is that, you know, ethical?”

Ghostwriting in a Nutshell

From a contractual perspective, of course, ghostwriting is perfectly ethical: the writer and the author have a contract in which the writer creates anything from a short blog post to a full-length book which the author then publishes under his or her own name. The writer gets paid a nice sum of money and the author gets the credit–and, if it’s a book still in search of a publisher, takes the chance that the book won’t garner a large enough advance to cover what the ghostwriter earned. The ghostwriter signs a document transferring copyright to the author, usually for additional consideration (that means money), and the author then owns all rights to the material. The ghostwriter may get an “as told to” credit on the book’s cover, or may sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and promise never to tell anyone who really wrote that book.

Is Ghostwriting Cheating?

Unless the ghostwriter’s client is under some pre-existing contractual obligation to produce original work, both hiring and acting as a ghostwriter are legal. Nevertheless many people can’t escape the suspicion that if you hire someone else to do your writing, you’re cheating in some way. Of course, there are those who feel that if they delegate any of their responsibilities, they’re cheating. (I blame the Puritans.)

Ordinarily, however, hiring a ghostwriter is no more cheating than hiring an accountant is. Successful professionals have certain highly marketable and valuable skills and knowledge, and they can usually charge more for providing them than they’d pay a ghostwriter. This holds even more true for celebrities.

The one case in which hiring a ghostwriter–or an accountant, lawyer, or scientist–would be cheating is if you’re a student. Paying for someone else’s expertise in that situation means not developing your own skills. The number of people who forget that they’re in school to learn, not to get grades, is disturbingly high, but they make up a very small percentage of a professional ghost’s clients. (While I like to think that this is because ghostwriters have scruples, it probably also has something to do with the fact that students pay a lot less than CEOs and celebrities.)

In the normal course of things, ghostwriting cheats no one. The readers get something better than they would have gotten without the ghost’s participation. The author gets the chance to reach a much wider audience and attract a higher level of client. Both author and ghostwriter get appropriate financial reimbursement.