Fiction Reboot: Ghost(writer) in the Machine

Ghost writer:

It sounds eerie and indistinct, the title of a novel (or a film…which of course, it is…directed by Roman Polanski).

The actual definition of ghost writing is very concrete, however: you write for someone else, and they publish your writing under their own name. Most authors are appalled at the idea of giving their precious hours of work away–and Andrew Crofts, author of Ghostwriting, a Handbook, lists the typical feedback: “Why on earth would you want to do that?” Crofts gives a number of reasons why–noting, for instance, the collaborative nature of the work, the pay (which is often good), and the fact that your words are, at least, getting out there. (For more complete answers, I can highly recommend his site, There are even collective resources for ghost writers, such as the Association of Ghostwriters, or the International Association of Professional Ghostwriters. But the question remains: how do ghost writers themselves feel about their work? Does it aid in the creative process? Does it help you navigate your way into print under your own name? Is it–in other words–worth it?

On the Fiction Reboot, I have endeavored to cover a wide variety of topics in several genres. In the interest of getting a sense of this often invisible kind of work, I have asked a friend to join me with her thoughts on the process and how it affects her sense of self as a writer. Today, we will look at what it means to write fiction behind the screen–the ghost of the writing life.


How does this ghost writing affect your sense of authorship?

“Sense of authorship” – that’s a good way to put it. There is definitely some emotion attached to what we write, and I’m not sure I have defined this process for myself yet. First, some of what I’m writing might not be what I would choose to write on my own. However, I still put a little piece of myself into each story, so there is a sense of loss when it becomes assigned to another person’s name. When I see someone else take credit for that, it feels like they are taking something from me—even though I’ve signed a contract and am getting paid.

Does it help you generate ideas for your own work? Does it provide practice?

Some of what I’m writing now (the “book” a client claims she’s working on, a series of shorter stories, more of a novella), has things in it that I might want to write or expand on. That makes it very personal for me. So in a way that’s “practice”, but it’s also giving myself to something that may not mean anything to someone else (or the client) but which means a great deal to me. I’m also using my experience. Those who know me (friends, lovers) can pinpoint exactly where I’ve gotten my ideas. You might say it’s like pouring yourself into something that’s then given to strangers. It can feel like self-betrayal, but in this genre (romance/erotica), it can also feel like a blessing. It gives me an outlet for fantasy and real life stories that also hides my identity.

Some of my feeling might be specific to my genre, but I’m sure some can be extrapolated to ghostwriters everywhere – pouring your personal self into work that is then turned impersonal. It turns something personal into something very businesslike.

Would you recommend this as a means for new writers to get practice and industry knowledge? Do you see it as a collaboration at all?

Actually, I would. I think the writing practice has done me good, and I’m learning something about self publishing by “shadowing” my clients. I’ve gotten my own creative juices flowing and I’m getting ready to take a break from ghost-writing to work on my own projects that I want to self-publish. If my clients can do it, why can’t I? I do think ghostwriting could be a collaboration depending on the client. Both of my clients pay me promptly, work out ideas with me, and communicate effectively. However, when a client actively markets the work as solely their creative process, it can mess with the sense of collaboration as well as the sense of authorship.


Many thanks for these insights! Tune in Thursday of this week for an interview with Stephanie Smith, author of Warpaint!

5 Replies to “Fiction Reboot: Ghost(writer) in the Machine”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Brandy. Funny you should mention the Polanski film. It was an adaptation of Robert Harris’s novel of the same name and Robert very kindly quoted my Ghostwriting handbook at the start of each chapter – everything eventually comes round in a circle, does it not?

    Is ghostwriting worth it?
    It’s supported me and my large family for a good few years and has allowed me to follow an interesting freelance existence, so I guess for me the answer is a resounding “yes”. If someone really wants to be doing something else like writing their own fiction, then the answer might be different, (although there is no reason why one can’t find time for both).

    Best wishes,

    Andrew Crofts

    1. Andrew, thank you for the response! I have also recommended your work to my friend (who provided the thoughts for today’s blog). She touched base with me today to say she intends to pursue that and other resources mentioned. Best wishes–and let me know if you are interested in doing an official guest ‘spot’ on the Fiction Reboot.

  2. I’m fairly new to writing in general but I find ghost writing pays decently.
    Just because you can write something doesn’t mean that you want your name associated with it.

    I have one client who writes some pretty descriptive scenes but they have problems filling in minor details and moving their subjects between the scenes. I fill in those blanks for him, it pays well…but I do not want my name attached to that type of writing, I’m quite happy to keep my name off of it.

  3. It all comes down to being paid to do something you like, namely write. But being a ghost writer is not an ideal situation for any writer to be in. The ideal situation is to see your name immediately after the word “by”.

    Maybe I’m being too moralistic, but there is no way I could take credit for something that somebody else wrote, even if I paid him or her for the privilege of doing so. But that’s just me.

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