How common are ghostwriters?
My son recently gifted me the biography of one of my movie star heroes. The first thing I did was to check out who had ghosted it. (If you want to know how I managed it so quickly, check out the ‘how do you know if a book is ghost-written’ blog). Why did I do this? Well, I admit, albeit grudgingly, to a certain amount of professional jealousy, especially after I found out it was co-written by a ghost I knew. But it was also because I knew with near 100% certainty that it had been ghosted. And isn’t it nice to be proved right?
People are often amazed when I tell them that more than 50% of the non fiction books on the bestseller lists have been written with the help of a ghostwriter. I’ve actually been quoted various figures from 50% to as much as 90%. These numbers come from book industry people who should know too. Unfortunately, thanks to the nature of ghosting, no one really knows the exact number because not everyone admits to a collaboration, and nor should they have to.
Whatever the exact figure, it is very high. If you think about it for a moment, it makes perfect sense. Do you really think big names such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Victoria Beckham and Keith Richards had a spare six months to sit down quietly and pen their memoirs? Even if they did have the time to write a book, having a story to tell is not the same as being able to tell it in an entertaining and absorbing way. With the greatest respect to Wayne Rooney’s football skills, it is a stretch to believe he had the ability to write his three books. (He didn’t, his collaborators include Hunter Davies and Chris Hunt.) I should possibly confess that even I was surprised that the meerkat from the comparethemarket ads had his own ghost. Everyone is at it.
But, it is not just celebrities that hire a ghostwriter to help them complete their books. By far the majority of real-life stories from so-called ‘ordinary’ people are also written with the help of a ghost. This would include the bestselling category of so-called misery memoir books, as well as humorous takes on professional life, such as memoirs from doctors or airplane cabin crew.
The business book section in the ubiquitous good bookshop near you (although not quite as ubiquitous these days, sadly) is similarly touched by the hand of ghosts. Business people don’t just hire ghosts because they are frequently too busy to pen their story, or explain how they do what they do, they also do so to guarantee engaging, high quality content that will drive awareness of both them and their company. Likewise, politicians also often turn to ghostwriters for assistance in writing their biography, as well as on a more day-to-day basis for speechwriting. Barack Obama, who is well known for his eloquence and speaking skills, once called his speech writer Jonathan Favreau his ‘mind reader’.
It’s not just non fiction either. Plenty of bestselling fiction books were not written by the person whose name is emblazoned on the front cover. The primary reason for this is: it makes good commercial sense. When a publisher finds a great, bestselling author, demand will quickly outpace supply. There are, after all, only so many books a writer can churn out each year. How does a publisher double, triple, or quadruple that number? Simple. They employ a ghost, or most likely several ghosts, to write in the same style as the successful author. Some times this is obvious. Many of Tom Clancy’s books bear the names of two people on the cover, Clancy’s and A. N. other. Other times it is not so overt.
Ghostwriting is not simply confined to the literary world either. Ghosts are frequently used in music too. Elton John is a famous example. Bernie Taupin has ghosted the lyrics to the majority of Elton John’s songs and the two have a very open, artistic relationship. Rap is a genre which has also become closely associated with ghosting, although some artists are more open about it than others. Elsewhere, people even use ghosts to take care of their social media.
People from all walks of life and all professions seek out ghosts because they have a story to tell and need to get it told. Getting a book ghostwritten guarantees the highest quality of writing, in a beautifully crafted and commercial book, which is produced in the shortest time possible. It is the perfect collaboration, which is why this is a booming market.