Why I Said “No” to Ghostwriting

Once upon a time, early on in my academic and writing career, I was invited to ghostwrite for a best-selling author (who shall remain anonymous). I recall my initial shock at the request, because, in my naïveté, I had no idea that there was any such thing as a ghostwriter. That I should write and someone else would put his or her name on what was written struck me as wrong on its face.

At the time, I understood little about the “biz,” though years later I admit—I don’t view ghostwriting much differently.

I didn’t decline the opportunity immediately. I wanted to consider carefully all the ramifications. I could see definite advantages. For the ghostwriter, there would be opportunity to become known in publishing circles, to hone one’s craft, and to develop a rapport with some well-known personalities. For the named writer, there would be the opportunity to be prolific without having to do all of the laborious footwork. In the competitive marketplace of ideas, being prolific is an inestimable advantage.

But in my estimation, the disadvantages seemed to far outweigh the advantages – for everyone involved, but especially for the named writer.

The problem of integrity seems unavoidable. On the one hand, the named writer is simply receiving help, not unlike a politician receiving help from speechwriters. But, on the other hand, the problem remains: the writing simply isn’t the named writer’s work. For the record, I have always been bothered by the reality that politicians don’t generally write their own speeches.

But why do they have others write their words for them? For the same reason some writers use ghostwriters: time. We can only know so much, say so much, and distribute so much. In general, the more people we involve, the more effective the dissemination of the message.

Without realizing all of the implications at the time, I declined my one opportunity to be a super duper ghostwriter. To this day, I am glad I did. I certainly don’t wish to impugn the hard work of ghostwriters, speechwriters, or the integrity of the writers and politicians who utilize them, but I submit that it is always better do our own work, regardless of how our individual limitations may limit the message or the distribution of that message.

Christopher Cone 2016


Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

Nobody's ever asked me to ghostwrite....  If the price was right, I'd certainly think hard about it, but I'd also suggest an alternative to "I write; you put your name on it." Why not co-author? Presumably, even in the most hands-off ghostwriting arrangement, the named author is going to submit key ideas, and provide some feedback in the process. I would think that in most cases, the named author contributes a pretty extensive collection of bullet points if not a detailed outline.

So what it really is is a collaboration. In this day and age, there's no shame at all in saying "Me and a guy who's writing I like did this together." Seems to me this is a win all around: helps the would-have-been-ghostwriter, helps the would-have-been named author extend his/her message and influence, helps everyone involved be transparent and ethically above reproach... shows that the leader knows he can't do everything himself and shows he has the virtue of knowing how to work with people as a team contributor.

Win-win.

Adam Blumer's picture

I have done several ghostwriting projects. I never had any issues. I was being paid to take the author's audio transcripts or raw notes and crank out wording good enough for a publisher. At least one author, whose novel I rewrote (and a publisher picked up) came back for seconds. If you are trying to make a living at this, that's just what you have to be willing to do to make money. If you are concerned that readers aren't getting the truth about who wrote the project, simply request to share the byline or be the "with" guy: "By John Doe with Joe Smith." This isn't so unusual. Or in the front of the book, request that the author recognize your ghostwriting in the acknowledgments section, so at least you're named, and readers are told upfront that you did the lion share of the actual writing. I look at it as still the author's content (his or her ideas or story), but sometimes the author needs help to convey the message or story using the best words. That's how folks like us can help. Anyhow, what I mentioned could be a workable solution if honesty is a concern. Then you get paid and get some recognition for the work you did.

Bert Perry's picture

....would include the scribes who actually put Paul's letters to papyrus (or whatever), or for that matter each of the human writers inspired by the Holy Spirit, no?

I can see the objection to this on a human level since you'd be putting the superstar's name up there when he did little of the work--it happens in academic papers, too--but Biblically, I wonder if the objection, then, is really that we ought not venerate people as superstars, super-apostles, and the like.

Side question; Adam, Aaron, are youse guys related by any chance?

David R. Brumbelow's picture

I also like the idea of “by John Doe,” and, perhaps in smaller letters, “with Joe Smith.”  Give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7).    

Some newspapers have a byline, “John Doe contributed to this article.”

I remember Louis Moore of Hannibal Books telling of complementing another book publisher for the good writing of a well-known preacher-author they published.  The publisher replied, He is not a good writer, he has a good editor. 

David R. Brumbelow

Aaron Blumer's picture

The NT guys who did pen work for Paul were not writers. More like scribes or what we now call transcriptionists. An amanuensis writes what the author dictates.
A ghostwriter, on the other hand, composes the actual sentences and paragraphs.

There really doesn't seem to be any downside to a "by x and y" or "by x with y" arrangement.

Kevin Miller's picture

I just looked at my grandmother's autobiography to see how the author line was written. It says "by Agnes Miller as told to Tom Miller." Then four pages in, there is an acknowledgment page that says "Thanks to my son Tom for his effort in sorting through my recollections and arranging them on paper, and to others in my family for contributing stories and remembrances."

It would have been a real shame if my uncle had not been given any recognition for his work.

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