What Is Ghostwriting? Definition + How to Make a Career Out of It


Many brands, companies, and public figures employ ghostwriters to create content. This practice is also common among book authors and publishers.

But what is a ghostwriter?

In this article, we define ghostwriting and outline its pros and cons. We’ll also explore how to choose it as a career, plus tips and tools to make you a successful ghostwriter.

What Is Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is the practice of creating written content for someone else. But unlike other writers, ghostwriters don’t receive credit for their work. 

Ghostwriters are professionals who produce articles, blog posts, white papers, or other types of content under someone else’s name. Simply put, they don’t get an author byline.

For example, a CEO may hire ghostwriters to craft thought leadership pieces, white papers, or business books. The CEO then publishes the content as their own.

Similarly, a health company may employ ghostwriters to craft articles and social media posts. The byline goes to a physician, nurse, therapist, or medical professional. The writer receives financial compensation for their work.

Ghostwriting can be a lucrative career, depending on your skills and expertise. Some ghostwriters are highly specialized in a particular area, like health or technology—which allows them to charge premium rates. 

Who you work for matters, too. It’s one thing to ghostwrite for Fortune 500 companies and another to rely on content mills.

But why would someone hire a ghostwriter?

For starters, many people lack the time to create content.

Returning to the above example, CEOs and other leaders lead very busy roles. They often juggle multiple projects and teams, and writing is not a priority.

Plus, they may not possess good writing skills. Someone can be a great speaker or an accomplished leader while being unable to write professionally.

No matter the reason, these people and companies will pay for your services. You just need to put yourself out there and prove you’re the right person for the job.

The Benefits of Ghostwriting

Most ghostwriters are self-employed. They create their own schedule and hand-pick their clients.

Ghostwriters also set their rates—according to PayScale, the average base rate in the US in 2024 is $26.40 per hour. Some writers reportedly charge up to $83.69 hourly, depending on their experience and the project requirements.

Average ghost writer hourly pay in PayScale

Carol Tice, the founder of Make a Living Writing, says it’s common to charge $35,000 to $50,000 for a book ghostwriting project. The process usually requires working with company leaders, doctors, attorneys, or political figures.

That’s a lot of money. And you can work remotely. 

Other potential advantages to being a ghostwriter include:

  • Building relationships with industry leaders
  • Working on a wide variety of projects
  • Writing different types of content, from editorial pieces to movie scripts
  • Getting paid whether or not the content makes money
  • Anonymity, which can be helpful when writing about sensitive topics

It’s also worth mentioning that you often won’t need special credentials to enter this field. A degree may give you a competitive edge, but it’s not necessarily a requirement. But this will often depend on the industry. 

Drawbacks of Being a Freelance Ghostwriter

One of the biggest disadvantages of ghostwriting is that you don’t get credit for your work. You could write an award-winning book for a client, and no one will ever know your name.

Plus, you may struggle to find work. The industry is very competitive, with thousands of writers vying for the same piece of the pie.

You should also consider the following downsides:

  • Making a name for yourself can be difficult
  • When the work is scarce, you may have to write about topics you’re not interested in
  • You must follow directions and may not get creative control
  • For the most part, you won’t receive royalties
  • Your work may never get published

As a freelance ghostwriter, you’re also responsible for the business side of things. Meaning you have to build your portfolio, market yourself, and do your taxes.

There are also concerns regarding ghostwriting ethics. Which brings us to the next point.

Is Ghostwriting Ethical? 

Most employers require ghostwriters to enter into a nondisclosure agreement or contract. By signing, you agree to maintain confidentiality and have your work published under the client’s name.

From this perspective, ghostwriting is both legal and ethical. The client uses the content with your permission, and you give up your copyright.

However, ethical issues may arise in some situations.

For instance, academic ghostwriting is often considered a form of plagiarism. Students who resort to this practice hire someone else to do their work, like writing an essay or a dissertation paper. 

The context matters, too. Consider these two scenarios:

Ethical vs. Unethical Ghostwriting

Aim

John, an aspiring entrepreneur, wants to publish a book about starting a business.

Scenario A

Scenario B

John gives the ghostwriter a brief outline and then waits for the final draft. 

John works closely with the ghostwriter, sharing:

  • unique insights
  • case studies
  • personal experiences

Outcome 

The book positions John as an industry expert without his input.

The book truly reflects John’s knowledge and expertise.

In Scenario A, the entrepreneur takes undeserved credit for someone else’s work. Both parties got what they wanted, but John’s actions were ethically wrong—none of the ideas in the book belonged to him.

In Scenario B, John gets actively involved in the writing process. The ghostwriter helps him convey his message accurately and in a way that resonates with the target audience. The final work demonstrates the client’s own experience.

As a writer, you can choose the projects you want to work on. It’s up to you to decide what is ethical and what is not. 

Further reading: Most Common Legal Aspects of Blogging and Content Marketing

How to Become a Ghostwriter

Now you know the answer to “What is ghostwriting?,” let’s consider how you could make a career out of it. 

There isn’t only one path to becoming a ghostwriter. Your professional background, writing experience, and business goals can all play a part.

Generally, the first step is to build a content portfolio. If you’re a freelance writer or editor, you probably already have one. 

Here’s an example of freelance ghostwriter Satta Sarmah Hightower’s portfolio, organized by industry types: 

Satta Sarmah Hightower’s portfolio, organized by industry types

Set up a website, blog, or dedicated platform to showcase your work. You may also add a short bio and other relevant information, including your skills and the industries you serve.

Next, reach out to potential clients on freelance websites, social networks, and other platforms. For example, on LinkedIn, Indeed, or Glassdoor

Building a strong online presence is just as important. One way to do that is to constantly share meaningful content and engage in conversations on social media. 

Let’s discuss in detail the key steps to becoming a ghostwriter.

Assess Your Skills and Qualifications

As an independent ghostwriter, you won’t usually need a formal degree. Unless you choose to work in technical fields like:

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)
  • Medical/pharmaceutical industry
  • Grant writing

For example, science writers often require a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering. Medical writers may need a graduate degree in a relevant field or professional experience in healthcare, health sciences, or related industries.

It’s also essential to have strong writing, communication, and research skills. A creative mind, adaptability, and critical thinking are important, too.

Create a Writing Portfolio

Important: You can’t share ghostwritten work to your writing portfolio without your clients’ consent. That’s why you should include a portfolio permission clause in your contracts.

Also, aim to create additional writing samples that reflect your work, interests, and/or expertise.

If, say, you write blog posts for health brands, publish similar content under your name on your site or third-party portfolio platforms.

For instance, Clippings.me, Journo Portfolio, and Authory enable writers to create an online portfolio. Here you can add a short bio, work samples, and links to your social media pages.

Below is a portfolio example from Clippings.me:

A portfolio example from Clippings.me

Alternatively, set up a portfolio website using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix.

Writing Portfolio in Wix

To grow your reach, submit content to Medium, Thrive Global, or LinkedIn Publishing. These online publishing platforms have an established audience and can help you gain exposure.

Moving forward, here are some helpful tips to build a strong portfolio. 

Share Your Best Work

Only include your best work. There’s no need to share every piece of content you create, especially anything that falls outside your niche.

Let’s assume you want to ghostwrite for tech companies. Showcase your top tech articles in your portfolio to demonstrate your expertise.

For instance, book ghostwriter April Tribe Giauque shares content samples accompanied by author testimonials. 

Jonily Zupancic's testimonial on April Tribe Giauque's book ghostwriting

A potential client won’t care about that essay you wrote back in college. And they won’t read those posts you wrote for a landscaping business when work was scarce.

Keep It Relevant

When building your portfolio, ask what is a ghostwriter’s specific purpose for your industry and target audience.

Why would a potential client pay for your services? What kind of content would they expect to see? How will they use it—and why?

Returning to our above example, a tech company may publish content to generate leads, build brand awareness, or nurture its customers.

So, make sure your work samples align with your audience’s needs.

Expand Your Reach with Guest Blogging

Guest posting, or guest blogging, involves publishing content on other sites. Writers can usually include a bio and one or more links to their websites, portfolios, or social media pages.

If done right, guest blogging can help you gain exposure, get a byline, and reach a wider audience. Over time, you can make a name for yourself and drive traffic to your site or blog.

The key is to publish content on high-authority websites—like Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc., AllBusiness.com, or VentureBeat. These have a good reputation and a large readership, making it easier to get your foot in the door. Plus, the links you’ll get from them could boost your SEO efforts. 

Consider using Semrush’s Domain Overview to assess these sites’ performance in search results.

First, you’ll need to identify ones that accept guest posts. Ideally, focus on those in your niche. 

To compile a list of potential sites, type a keyword related to your industry plus one of the following terms into Google’s search bar:

How to Search for Guest Posting Websites

[industry-related keyword, e.g., health] + “write for us

+ “guest blogging guidelines

+ “guest author

+ “contribute to our blog

+ “submit a guest post

Next, go to Semrush’s Domain Overview tool. If you don’t have a Semrush account, you can create one for free. Or opt for a free trial.

Enter any domain name or website URL into the tool. Select your market’s location and click “Search.”

Domain Overview tool search bar

Semrush will generate a performance report with the relevant stats.

A performance report for forbes.com in Domain Overview tool

Check the “Authority Score,” which estimates a site’s overall quality and SEO performance from a score of 0 to 100. The higher the number, the better.

Further reading: Semrush Authority Score Explained

For example, Forbes has the highest Authority Score of 100, meaning visitors and search engines trust it.

Forbes has the authority score of 100, shown in Domain Overview tool

Now, click the “Compare domains” tab next to the “Overview.”

Let’s say you want to see how Forbes compares with AllBusiness.com. Enter the URL in the “Add competitor” field” and click “Compare.”

Adding "allbusiness.com" competitor in Domain Overview tool

As you can see, AllBusiness.com has an Authority Score of 44 and less traffic than Forbes. 

Use this data to determine where you should publish your content. Returning to the above example, reach out to Forbes and other sites with a higher Authority Score (50+) first.

Leverage Social Proof to Build Credibility and Trust

Reviews and testimonials serve as social proof, showing potential clients that people find value in your services.

Ask your clients for their feedback. Then, share it on your portfolio site and social media pages to build credibility.

Here are some examples from Emily Thompson, an experienced copywriter and blogger:

Emily Thompson's page featuring client testimonials

Joni Rodgers, a successful ghostwriter and novelist, worked closely with the likes of Paris Hilton, Don Lemon, Elizabeth Smart, and Ndaba Mandela. Many of the books she wrote became international bestsellers.

Her portfolio website features book images and reviews from satisfied customers.

Testimonials on Joni Rodgers's portfolio website

If you don’t have a portfolio website, share customer reviews on your LinkedIn or Facebook page. Link to the review page from Authory, Clippings.me, or other platforms where you showcase your work.

Find Ghostwriting Opportunities

Once your portfolio is live, look for ghostwriting gigs on freelancing marketplaces like Guru or ProBlogger. Set up a profile page highlighting your expertise and links to published work.

You could also offer ghostwriting services on cheaper platforms. Gradually increase your rates as you gain reviews from satisfied clients.

Here’s what established professional ghostwriter Nick G charges:

Prices table shown for an established professional ghostwriter Nick G

An even better option is to reach out to potential clients on LinkedIn or via their websites. 

Focus on corporate executives, lead editors, and heads of marketing. For instance Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post. Or Roula Khalaf, the chief editor of the Financial Times. 

Craft a letter of introduction (LOI) or a short pitch to introduce your skills and experience. Write a few words about how your services could benefit the companies. 

Think of yourself as a product and highlight your unique value proposition (UVP). Which could be:

  • Expertise in a specific field, such as medical ghostwriting
  • A unique writing voice (think of Toni Morrison, Stephen King, and other famous authors with distinctive voices)
  • Experience with specific client types like fintech startups or realtors
  • An ability to create audiovisual content that complements your writing
  • Your background in SEO, digital marketing, or specific technologies

Add a link to your portfolio and social media pages. Don’t disclose your ghostwriting fees yet—wait for a reply and discuss rates privately.

Should You Join a Content Mill?

Content mills are online platforms that provide companies with blog posts, articles, or social media content. They employ hundreds of thousands of ghostwriters, offering steady work.

The downside is that most content mills pay very little. They aim to churn out as much content as possible, even if that means sacrificing quality. It’s not uncommon to earn $0.02 to $0.05 per word.

For example, Textbroker pays $0.011 to $0.055 per word. That’s $11 to $55 for a $1,000-word article.

Textbroker's paying structure for writers

Other platforms pay more, but still lower than the industry average.

Content mills can be an option for many writers, depending on their terms. An advantage is that many offer steady work and have low entry requirements. 

As a novice writer, you can join these platforms to develop your skills, make extra money, and find a niche you’re passionate about. 

It’s also worth mentioning that some content mills allow you to pick the assignments you want to complete. Others will assign you one or more topics as they roll in. The former usually allow more flexibility. 

If you’re a skilled writer with some years of experience, also consider tapping into other work avenues.

Reach out to marketing agencies or media outlets, register on job search sites like Indeed or Glassdoor, or sign up on FlexJobs, People Per Hour, or Toptal to connect with potential clients. 

Examples of Successful Ghostwriting Projects

Did you know that some popular books are ghostwriting projects?

Carolyn Keene, the official author of the “Nancy Drew” mystery stories, is fictional. A group of ghostwriters wrote the series.

James Patterson, a bestselling author of over 300 publications, collaborated with Maxine Paetro, Mark Sullivan, and other talented writers. All books appeared under his name. 

After the “Flowers in the Attic” writer Virginia Andrews died, “The Devil’s Advocate” author Andrew Neiderman completed her final unfinished book and published several others under her name.

Singers, actors, politicians, and other influential people work with ghostwriters, too.

For example, rapper Jay Z wrote the song “Still D.R.E.” for Dr. Dre. While author and screenwriter Elise Allen wrote the novel “Elixir”—credited to actress Hilary Duff. 

5 Tools to Help with Ghostwriting Content

Running a ghostwriting business doesn’t have to be difficult. 

The key? 

Create high-quality content, build professional connections, and continuously improve your skills.

You can also use content tools to fine-tune your work and get more done in less time. Here are a few options:

Content Tool

What You Can Do

SEO Writing Assistant

Analyze your copy and identify areas for improvement in readability, originality, tone of voice, and SEO. Optimize your content for readers and search engines. 

ContentShake AI

Generate full articles based on a topic. Identify trending topics, craft content briefs, and create social media posts in seconds.

Grammarly

Spot grammar mistakes, typos, hard-to-read sentences, and awkward phrases that could offend your readers. Review content for clarity, coherence, and engagement—suggesting improvements.

SEO Content Template

Generate templates to make your writing easier to read and more discoverable in search results. Craft SEO-friendly content based on your target keywords or search terms.

Keyword Magic Tool

Identify high-performing search terms for your articles and blog posts. Through monthly search volume, ranking difficulty, and search intent for thousands of keywords in every niche. 

You can access nearly all the above content creation tools with a free Semrush account. Sign up today to make your writing stand out.



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