Exploring the Ethics of Ghostwriting

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If you’re reading this post, you’re probably considering hiring a ghostwriter for your memoir but may be unsure about the ethics of doing so. On the surface, ghostwriting may seem like a questionable service. Why should someone else write your story? Don’t they need to be credited for writing it? Is it cheating if you get someone else to write your book, especially one as personal as a memoir? It’s not a biography, so it’ll be told in the first person, but you won’t be the one writing it, so isn’t that deceptive?

Don’t worry—ghostwriting has been practiced for centuries, and it’s almost always ethical. Essentially, it’s unethical only when you have intent to deceive. If you’re uncertain about using a ghostwriter for your memoir, keep reading to learn the basics of hiring one ethically.

Should you decide to go forward with a ghostwriter, check out our ghostwriting service for memoirs and let us help you share your story.

Please note: The information in this post does not constitute legal advice.

Ghostwriting is usually ethical

More books are ghostwritten than you might think—most memoirs and business books, many nonfiction books, and even some fiction books have been penned by professional ghosts. Ghostwriting is a fully legal profession, and it’s usually entirely ethical for the reasons we outline below.

Having a contract

In ethical ghostwriting, there needs to be a contract between the writer and the client (which in this case would be you, hiring a ghostwriter for your memoir). The contract specifies what compensation the writer will receive and what the final written piece will be. The finished product belongs to the client, who obtains the rights to publish and edit whatever written work (e.g. a manuscript) is created. Upon completion of the project, the ghostwriter relinquishes all control to the client, and the parties go their separate way.

Drawing up a comprehensive, detailed contract protects both sides—it protects the client from a potentially unscrupulous ghost who simply subcontracts the writing to an inexperienced scribe, and it protects the ghost from being inadequately compensated for their hard work or being inundated with too many revision requests. Stipulating deadlines will also help keep the project on track.

Using your own ideas

You may have a story to tell but not the writing skills to tell it. Alternatively, you may have a great story idea but simply lack the time or motivation to sit down and type it out yourself. That’s when ghostwriting comes into play. The ideas, content, and material are all yours—the ghostwriter organizes them into the most compelling narrative possible, finding the best words to tell your story and ensuring the project gets done.

As long as the ghostwriter builds on your original thoughts, ghostwriting is completely ethical. The ghost may interview you and other people or use transcripts and notes you provide. They may also expand on an outline you create. The ghostwriter will use all of this information to craft the manuscript. They’ll work with you to develop your ideas and structure a narrative. What’s important is that the ideas all come from you, even if the ghost helps you structure them or determines which anecdotes are most suitable for an engaging book.

Discussing whether writing credit is needed

Another common question is whether a ghostwriter should be credited. This is for the writer and client to decide—the contract will stipulate what attribution (if any) will be provided. While it’s perfectly fine to give credit, ghostwriters aren’t credited in most cases, and they are compensated as per the contract, usually with a pay increase for the anonymity. 

In some instances, a ghostwriter might want recognition to further their career. In such cases, they may agree to a slightly reduced fee in exchange for writing credit. However, the client is never obligated to provide it, and as long as the writer agrees to the stated compensation, the transaction is entirely ethical. That said, giving a ghostwriter credit may alleviate the anxiety of a client who feels apprehensive about ghostwriting.

When is ghostwriting unethical?

With a robust contract covering all bases, ghostwriting is almost always ethical. Nonetheless, there are some instances when it is unethical.

Falsely claiming expertise

In an ethical scenario, the ghostwriter takes your ideas and personal story and crafts a cohesive narrative. However, ghostwriting is unethical if the ideas aren’t your own or if your memoir includes expertise you don’t have. The clearest example of an unethical arrangement is academic writing. In this case, the expertise must come directly from the student or researcher writing the paper. It’s unethical for a ghostwriter to research a topic and for the client to present the research and conclusions as their own.

Fact-checking is a different story—it’s perfectly ethical for ghostwriters to fact-check small details, particularly in a memoir, where the client could easily mistake dates or misremember minor details. However, once the research becomes substantial and goes beyond the client’s expertise, ghostwriting wanders into unethical territory. 

With regard to a memoir, any personal stories that involve expertise in a particular field have to come from you, not from research the ghostwriter did. There’s a difference between hiring a ghostwriter to put your thoughts to paper and hiring a ghostwriter to pass off their knowledge as your own.

Ghostwriting: Usually ethical and always helpful 

Ghostwriting can be an invaluable service. You partner with a professional with great writing skills who can work alongside you and transform your life story into a compelling memoir. Ghostwriting is the only way that people with brilliant ideas but no time or writing experience can get their book on the market, and there’s certainly no shame in hiring a professional to arrange your ideas into a compelling book.

Hopefully, the information above has clarified how a ghostwriter can help you craft an honest memoir. If you want to learn more about our ghostwriting services, book a free memoir consultation and see how we can help you, from outline to finished manuscript.

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