A Ghostwriter is a person whose job it is to write material for someone else who is the named author (1).

Ghostwriting has been traced to antiquity and is directly connected to the origins of rhetoric. It is reported that ghostwriting originated as far back as the 5th century B.C. The practice was widely used in cases where uneducated royalty were dependant on scribes and professional advisors to compose as well as write down messages (2).

In contemporary times, Ghostwriting is often seen as a necessary element for crafting an effective public image, but it has been a topic that has been repudiated by some and has even been deemed unethical. The ethics of ghostwriting will be discussed in a further section.

Types of Ghostwriting

There are various categories of ghostwriting. Ghostblogging according to Blogossary is a blog written and managed by an anonymous author(s). A ghost blog can also be a blog written by a person or company on behalf of another company or person (3).

Non-fiction ghostwriting is widely used by celebrities and politicians who wish to publish their autobiographies or memoirs. The degree of involvement of the ghostwriter in nonfiction writing projects ranges from minor to substantial. Most American presidents have employed a full team of ghostwriters (4).

Fiction ghostwriters are employed by publishers for several reasons. In some cases, publishers use ghostwriters to increase the number of books that can be published each year by a highly marketable author. Ghostwriters are mostly used for fiction works for recognizable “name" authors in genres such as detective fiction, mysteries, and teen fiction. Additionally, publishers use ghostwriters to write new books for established series where the 'author' is a pseudonym. For example, the purported author of the Nancy Drew mystery series, "Carolyn Keene", is actually a pseudonym for a group of ghostwriters who write books in the same style using an outline of basic information about the book's characters and the setting (5).

In Medical ghostwriting, pharmaceutical companies pay physicians or scientists to produce papers in medical or scientific journals on the outcomes of new medications. Medical ghostwriting has been criticized, and this will be elaborated on in a further section (6).

Ghostwriting Organizations

The Writers Unions of Canada is a not-for-profit organization established in 1973 to support and advocate Canada’s book published authors. The Union has more than 1,600 members. Writers join the Union so that they can benefit from the Union’s many services, connect with their peers and support the Union’s advocacy.

Eligibility: To be eligible for membership, writers must be Canadian citizens, landed immigrants, or identify themselves as an aboriginal or indigenous person born or resident in Canada. Members must have published at least one book with a trade or university press.

The union is supported by the Canadian Council for the Arts, which invested $20.1 million last year in writing and publishing throughout Canada.

The Writers' Union maintains a list of its members who are willing to do ghost writing. People who want to find a ghost writer are asked to complete a request form, which can be obtained by contacting The request form is then circulated to the ghost writers. It is left to the discretion of the members on the list to reply or not. If you do not get a response, the members are not available or interested at the time. (7)

Fees: Contracts with ghost writers are negotiated on an individual basis. The Writers' Union has established a minimum fee schedule. For a book of 60,000 to 90,000 words, the Union recommends a total minimum fee of $40,000, payable as follows: 15% on signing; 10% on delivery of detailed outline; 25% on delivery of first draft of one chapter; 25% on delivery of first draft of entire manuscript; and 25% on delivery of revised manuscript (8).

Ghostwriting Services

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­There are many internet groups that provide ghostwriting services. Ghostwriters Ink is a well known group that provides a confidential ghostwriting service for clients across the U.S., Canada, and around the world. Their website asserts: “Whether you have an idea, or you've started writing and you would like professional assistance; here are the answers to your ghostwriting questions "(9).

Other sites offering similar services are:


As mentioned above, medical ghostwriting has been called into question in relation to ethical issues more often than the other categories.

A survey of published literature focus on three types of perspectives of ghostwriting:1) an ethicists position 2) an organizational model position 3) Speech Writer position.

Defenders of ghostwriting see no ethical dilemma because the audience knows the speech giver is not necessarily the speechwriter. There are others that regard ghostwriting as unethical and deceitful. They assert that the audience often cannot differentiate between the speech writer and the speech giver (10).

Ethics and medical ghostwriting is the most heavily scrutinized category. This involves a pharmaceutical company hiring a medical education and communications company to write a paper favorable of their product, who then hires a well-known academic to publish it under his or her name without disclosing the paper's true origins. According to the Wall Street Journal a poll of 71 freelance medical writers by the American Medical Writers Association found that 80% had written at least one manuscript that failed to mention their contributions (11).

One case of unethical behavior involved an author, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, and a medical education company. In an attempt to promote its new oral anticoagulant, this drug company commissioned a medical education company to perform a review of the literature highlighting potential adverse interactions. When a notable medical journal analyzed the review, errors and misleading statements were found. There were also two other problems with the review. First, the contribution of the manuscript's original author(s) was not recognized by coauthorship or a note in the Acknowledgements, some indication that the person or persons employed by the medical education company were taking direct responsibility for the work. Second, the financial relationship between the original author(s) and the pharmaceutical company was not acknowledged (12).

In my findings, the ghostwriter is not always transparent in any category of ghostwriting. However, medical ghostwriting elicits the most attention when it comes to ethical practices.

Related Terms

­­­Book-packaging (or book producing) is a publishing activity in which a publishing company outsources the myriad of tasks involved in putting together a book—writing, researching, editing, illustrating, and even printing—to an outside company called a book-packaging company (13).

An essay mill, sometimes also called a paper mill, is the colloquial term for a type of ghostwriting service which specializes in the sale of essays, term papers, and other forms of homework assignments to university and college students (14).

A Hack writer is a colloquial usually pejorative term used to refer to a writer who is paid to write low-quality, quickly put-together articles or books "to order", often with a short deadline. In a fiction-writing context, the term is used to describe writers who are paid to churn out sensational, lower-quality "pulp" fiction such as "true crime" novels or "bodice ripping" paperbacks (15).

A pen name, nom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author or their publishers to conceal their identity. A pen name may be used if a writer's real name is likely to be confused with the name of another writer or notable individual, or if their real name is deemed to be unsuitable (16).


(1) Ghostwriter. Retrieved November 5th, 2008 from:

(2) Moffatt, B.(2007). Ghost Marketing pharmaceutical companies and ghostwritten journal articles. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 50,(1), p.23-34. Retrieved November 5th, 2008.

(3) About. Retrieved November 6th, 2008 from

(4) //Ghost Writer - Shadow or Substance?//. Business Horizons, 13, (1), pg. 56-69. Retrieved November 5th, 2008.

(6) What is Medical Ghostwriting? Retrieved November 5th, 2008 from

(7) Who we are. Retrieved November 7th, 2008 from

(8) Home. Retrieved November 5th, 2008 from

(9) About. Retrieved November 5th, 2008 from

(10) Riley L & Brown, S. (1996). Crafting a public image: An empirical study of the ethics of ghostwriting. Journal of Business Ethics,15, (7), pg. 21-34. Retrieved November 5th, 2008

(11) Moffatt, B. (2007). Ghost Marketing pharmaceutical companies and ghostwritten journal articles. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 50(1). Retrieved November 5th, 2008

(12) Scientific Discourse, Corporate Ghostwriting, Journal Policy, and Public Trust. Retrieved November 5th, 2008 from

(13). Retrieved November 5th, 2008

(14). Retrieved November 8th, 2008 from

(15). Retrieved November 8th, 2008 from

(16). Retrieved November 8th, 2008