Ghostwriting: Scam? Or Service?

Let’s start by defining some terms. Old-school “ghostwriting,” wherein a writer researched and wrote books and articles for someone else to put their name on, is not only passé—it’s unethical. Although it was an acceptable practice for a number of decades, in today’s world, most writers label that endeavor deceitful. The perpetration of a public fraud. A scam.

But what about the other pursuits that theoretically require a “ghostwriter” these days: marketing copy, white papers, web content, blogs, content-marketing articles, and so forth? Are they scams? Or do we only think of them as cheats because job postings insist the writer call themselves a ghostwriter?

Marketing and brand content absatively require strong writing skills, sense of subject, and SEO knowledge, but none of that has anything to do with ghostwriting—at least not the kind of ghostwriting that has evolved since December 2009, when the print industry imploded, and editors of all ilk were kicked to the curb by almost every type of publisher.     

Ghostwriting Books

Books are the real line of demarcation for ghostwriting in the twenty-first century. If you ghostwrite books as a freelancer, odds are you’ll end up doing the job as a work-for-hire writer. The author will set the price—in fact, the author will go with the lowest bidder. They’ll entice you to take a piece of the action and byline credit in exchange for cash-in-hand today. They’ll write a contract that lets them retain all control, including the right to fire you at will.

And despite knowing nothing whatsoever about the real book industry—as opposed to the consumer information, disinformation, and misinformation available around the web—they’ll direct the project’s positioning, structure, and writing.

In pursuit of those gigs, which typically pay $7,500 to $25,000, the typical freelance writer will:

  • Search through,,,, and myriad other sites for any mention of the terms “writer” or “ghostwriter”
  • Eagerly submit writing samples, testimonials, and a rate sheet to all comers
  • Engage in bidding wars to “name that tune” (i.e., “write that book”) for less than whatever their nearest competitor bids, and
  • Twist themselves in knots to fulfill the client’s often unreasonable bestseller, deadline, and other dreams and demands

Spoiler alert: the results of those gigs more-often-than-not end up as self-published titles in the Amazon abyss.

Professional ghostwriting, on the other hand, wherein a ghost creates a marketable literary property out of an author’s idea or initial manuscript, is a new horse, of a new color — and new revenue prospects. It involves positioning yourself as an industry expert and ghostwriting authority. It means If you choose to offer professional ghostwriting services to select clients rather than search through job sites, you radically alter the circumstances.

  • You set the fee and the payment terms
  • You write the equitable contract.
  • You manage the project.
  • And the resulting titles often land traditional or well-established hybrid publishers with concomitant success.

When you work from a position of authority and expertise, you’ll find you attract high-end clients, from whom you’ll easily command $35,000 to $150,000 per title.

Your Career, Your Life

Becoming a freelance ghostwriter is not a major decision; it’s simply an add-on to an already established freelancer career. Any good writer can do the job, and there’s always plenty of work to go around, so it can be as lucrative or unprofitable as the tide allows.

Becoming a Professional Ghostwriter, on the other hand, is a life-changing choice. The differences are freelancing and going pro are similar to those between being a medic and a doctor, a handyman and a contractor, or a company-team outfielder and National or American League ballplayer.

They all require the same basic gifts and aptitude; the latter have simply developed their talents and skills to a higher level.

Today’s professional ghostwriters are those who understand and can offer what traditional-publisher’s in-house editors used to do for all their authors, but can now only afford to provide to high-profile ones. Any determined writer can certainly teach themselves all they need to command high-end fees, and deliver high-end results.

  • Become immersed in the myriad aspects of the $115 billion global book industry — talent, acquisition, registrations, prepress, production options/costs/ROI, supply-chain players, marketing/advertising/promotion ROI, and so forth;
  • Suss out industry standards for coding, formatting, and style-guide expectations and exceptions;
  • Get schooled in creative analysis to focus, position, and structure any manuscript for its most effective market or set of markets;
  • Learn “deep listening” and “ego restraint” to ensure maintain the author’s voice, flavor, color, perspective, and, most importantly, intent;
  • Read, read, read to acquire a feel for musical line editing;
  • Study expectations for nonfiction, fiction, and memoir industry submissions;
  • Research online, traditional, bulk-sale, and hi-volume ROI potentials for bestseller strategy plans;
  • Develop an effective business model complete with sales tools and reliable funnel, and learn out how to position, launch, and market your new business.

No deceit. No scam, no fraud. Just logical forward motion toward a pragmatic, profitable career upgrade.

(To avoid years of thrilling/exasperating trial-and-error, see

Claudia Suzanne, The Ghostwriting Expert