The Ethics of Ghostwriting: A Guide for CEOs

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Talk With a Ghostwriter

Hiring a ghostwriter—a writer who will anonymously write a book on your behalf—is a practice that has been around for centuries. Frequently used in politics and by celebrities, ghostwriting has only grown in popularity with the rise of technology, which has made it easier for more people to publish their own books. Throughout the entire history of literature, people with fascinating stories to tell haven’t necessarily had the time or writing skills to turn their tales into best-selling novels. Consequently, they’ve worked with professional writers to take their ideas and weave them into an engaging, polished, cohesive narrative.

In the business world, CEOs and entrepreneurs who don’t have the time or creative skills commonly use ghostwriters to write their books. This allows them to still publish business books and memoirs under their names to position themselves as leaders in their fields and to promote their work. Publishing a book can bring a massive boost to a CEO or entrepreneur’s career, helping them enhance their reputation and earn respect from both peers and the public while furthering their brand. However, few write the books themselves.

But is hiring a ghostwriter ethical? The question has been around as long as the practice itself.  Some people argue that it’s perfectly valid as long as the ideas of the credited author are their own, while others claim it’s deceitful and akin to cheating. Yet there are many more supporters than detractors. While we believe that it’s usually ethical, not least because the ghostwriter themselves has agreed to the confidentiality clause of the contract, there are certain situations in which it’s undoubtedly unethical.

If you have great ideas, experiences, and stories to share but aren’t confident in your ability to write and express them in a compelling way, or if you just don’t have the time to write a book, ghostwriting may be the solution you’ve been looking for. To get started, check out our ghostwriting services for CEOs and get a free consultation today. To assuage your ethical concerns, read on.

When is ghostwriting ethical? 

Ghostwriting is commonly practiced and perfectly acceptable provided the ideas and anecdotes in your book are yours and not someone else’s. Most people who hire ghostwriters, especially those in the business world, do it because they’re too busy to write an entire book. Others may lack the confidence to write a book that will be up to industry standards and would rather hire a professional than publish something that’s subpar. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a ghostwriter—you’re just paying a professional to express the ideas you’ve already come up with in a more effective way.

A professional ghostwriter will interview you, ask for feedback, allow tweaks and changes of any inaccurate details, and ask for approval before doing the actual writing to help avoid misrepresentation. They’ll even write the book in your voice, because it’s your book, after all. The ghostwriter is an invisible assistant who helps you find the right words to express your thoughts. Ghostwriting should be a collaborative endeavor that includes the author and uses their ideas—and only their ideas—for the book’s content.  

When you think of ghostwriting like any other form of outsourcing—paying someone else to make your ideas a reality—the argument that it’s inherently unethical loses its power. Outsourcing is accepted across many industries, from fashion to architecture, and it isn’t any different when it comes to writing. A professional ghostwriter, like a clothing manufacturer or a construction worker, knows their name won’t appear on the final product, but they’re being paid for their work and therefore don’t have an issue with the lack of public credit. If they did, they wouldn’t have become a ghostwriter. No one bats an eye when the president works with speechwriters because everyone understands they’re simply helping the president convey their own ideas and thoughts more effectively.

When is ghostwriting unethical?

Ghostwriting becomes unethical when the ideas written in the book aren’t yours but you’re still taking credit for them. The point of ghostwriting is to have someone with stronger writing skills or more time craft your ideas into a gripping narrative, not to steal someone else’s ideas and stick your name on the cover. Your ghostwriter can help direct you toward new insights, but you can’t take their ideas and slap your name on them.

The same can be applied to any research included in your business book: It’s one thing for the ghostwriter to fact-check your claims, if fact-checking is part of the remit they agreed on. However, the base knowledge and theses must belong to the credited author or the result can easily be construed as plagiarism. Any research the ghostwriter does must be minimal and used for verification only. 

Some authors choose to disclose that their book was ghostwritten, either on the cover or the acknowledgements page. Although this isn’t necessary, some people find that transparency is the best policy when it comes to book publishing, so as not to misrepresent themselves. This is a completely personal decision and not one that is expected as long as the ethical rules of ghostwriting are followed. This transparency matters more when you’re publishing about your industry or another knowledge-based book—if it’s a memoir about your own life, it’s not as important.

Most consumers feel that as long as the book isn’t misrepresenting the author’s knowledge or experiences and is of good quality and interesting to read, it shouldn’t matter who crafted the sentences. When it comes to books about business, or even memoirs, what does matter is that the person whose name appears on the cover knows and understands the ideas within the pages. It’s also important that they’re using the ghostwriter only to save time or improve the quality of the writing. In other words, the author should be someone who could write a book on their own given enough time or the right writing skills.

As long as you’re not deceiving your audience, ghostwriting is perfectly ethical and an incredibly useful resource for busy CEOs and entrepreneurs looking to tell their story and grow their personal brand. To work with an experienced team of professional ghostwriters, visit our ghostwriting services for CEOs page and arrange your free consultation today. 

Talk With a Ghostwriter