As any ghostwriter will tell you, one of the key topics we’re asked about when we first talk to clients is confidentiality. That’s understandable. For various reasons, which I’ll explore in a moment, some people feel there’s a stigma around working with a ghostwriter and would prefer to keep their involvement a secret. Hence the shadowy term we use.
As the joke that’s going the rounds at the moment suggests: How many ghostwriters does it take to change a light bulb? We’ll never know, because they all signed NDAs.
But does it have to be this way? Is it the best arrangement for both author and ghost? Does anyone lose out, and what is gained? It’s important to ask, because confidentiality may have some downsides.
But first, what are the upsides of keeping your ghostwriter a well-kept secret?
To start with, you have a book that appears completely ‘yours’. You don’t have to wonder if your readers will assume that someone else has come up with the ideas, stories and thoughts within it. And there’s no need to worry about them questioning your ability to write a book and stick at it until the end.
Which is reassuring, but let’s take a look at these concerns and what they imply. The aim of a quality ghostwriter is always to take what’s in your head and put it on the page in a way that’s readable and engaging. Their role is to understand what you want to say, and how you want to say it, without inserting their own ego into the process. That means your book is always yours and yours alone, whether you acknowledge the involvement of anyone else or not.
As for people questioning your writing abilities, you could say that’s a bonus.
What is it you really want to be known for? As someone with an amazing story? An accomplished expert in your field? A person with interesting and important ideas? Or do you want to be known as a writer? I’d place a bet that it’s the former you care most about, and that the number of readers who are interested in whether you wrote your book yourself is a lot smaller than you think.
Despite this, you might feel that you’re just more comfortable with a confidential arrangement. And that’s fine. Any good ghostwriter will respect that and ensure their name is kept out of the picture. What’s more, some ghosts prefer it that way.
But, as the gameshow hosts often say, look at what you missed…
For you as an author, not naming your ghost (or collaborator, as they’re sometimes called these days) means you’re on your own when it comes to promoting your finished book. The one person who’s as invested in it, and who knows as much about it, as you, can’t step out of the shadows and talk about it publicly. That puts all the weight on your shoulders.
Some authors find it fun to share the post-publication publicity with their ghost. This is an increasing trend. Remember Prince Harry’s autobiography, Spare? His ghost, J R Moehringer, was clearly given permission to talk about the process of creating it, and that helped with the marketing drive because it gave readers a different angle into the book.
It can also feel more authentic for authors to talk about their ghostwriter. They don’t have to pretend they did everything themselves and dodge awkward questions about how they wrote their book. After all, a book has never been the work of a solo genius toiling away in a garret. Editors have played a strong role in writing books since publishing began. The myth of the solo ‘auteur’ is just that – a work of fiction.
And finally, if you’re hiring a ghostwriter, wouldn’t you find it easier if you could see all the books they’d ghosted in a publicly available space? One that allows you to compare and contrast what they have to offer and what they charge? Sometimes the cloak and dagger approach only makes things more complicated for prospective authors who are seeking a collaborator.
Times are changing, and more and more ghostwriters are now coming out of the shadows alongside their author clients who are increasingly happy to acknowledge their role. Whether that includes you is your choice – there’s no pressure to decide either way. It’s just nice to know there’s an option.
Ginny Carter is a bestselling ghostwriter of over 25 books, a book coach, and an award-winning author in her own right.