Book ghostwriters are legal everywhere, as far as I know. It is totally acceptable to pay for help in developing, organizing, and drafting your book, just as it’s legal to hire a consultant, advisor, or coach to help with other tasks.
There are limitations on the use of ghostwriters in some industries, such as legal and medical, where there has been concern that non-lawyers and non-doctors are crafting reports. However, it is not illegal.
Why is ghostwriting illegal?
Ghostwriting is not illegal, with one exception.
The one type of ghostwriting that is illegal in some places is academic ghostwriting. That’s where students pay someone else to prepare assignments for them or submit someone else’s work as their own.
In that case, the ghostwriter is doing the majority of the thinking, analysis, and writing that an educator has asked the student to do. Submitting work that someone else has done defeats the purpose of the school assignment, which is why schools don’t want students paying ghostwriters to complete their work.
As of 2022, academic ghostwriting is illegal in the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and in 17 U.S. states, to varying degrees.
In countries that have not yet deemed academic ghostwriting illegal, it is at least unethical. Paying someone else to complete classwork and assignments is cheating. At many schools, not completing your own work constitutes academic misconduct or dishonesty and can be cause for expulsion. There can be serious ramifications for hiring an academic ghostwriter.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. At all.
Book ghostwriting is both legal and ethical.
People who think otherwise generally don’t understand how ghostwriting works, especially with respect to nonfiction ghostwriting.
Ghostwriters are collaborators
For one, in most cases a ghostwriter is a writing partner or collaborator, not a surrogate writer.
They work with and alongside their client, who is typically the person who came up with the idea for the book in the first place.
It is the client who has the expertise and relevant knowledge, not to mention the stories, examples, and connections on the subject. The ghostwriter could not have written the client’s book without the input of the subject-matter expert, although the client certainly could have, given enough time.
That division of labor may be less true with works of fiction, where the author has an idea for a story and wants to hand it off to be developed and polished. In that case, a ghostwriter might have enough information to take the idea and run with it even without ongoing guidance and input from the client.
Hiring a ghostwriter is outsourcing
Paying a ghostwriter to complete writing work for you is an example of outsourcing or delegation. It is typical and even expected in many corporate environments. If writing is not the best use of your time, you shouldn’t be the one doing it.
If you’re not the best person to complete the task, it makes perfect sense to find someone who has the skills you lack. It’s why business leaders hire speechwriters, graphic designers, and video teams — because the other professionals have specialized skills.
As a leader, you aren’t expected to know everything or have experience in everything, which is why many experts “farm things out.” They turn tasks over to people who will do a better job than they would or could.
Even if you’re a skilled writer, hiring a ghostwriter could make a lot of sense if you lack the time required to get the job done by your deadline. Or you lack the time, period.
For example, if you have a conference or keynote coming up for which you want to have books available, you may want to hire a ghostwriter to ensure the book can be drafted and published in time. Professional writers typically work faster than average writers and may be able to complete a task in less time than it would take you.
Or, you may be a skilled writer who is also a perfectionist, so if it’s torture to get even a paragraph written, you should consider having someone else work with you so that you can pick up the pace of production, which, in this case, is writing. Hiring a ghostwriter to assist you will free up time you can invest in other tasks and will reduce your stress level by knowing a professional is on the job.
Plagiarism is illegal
Besides academic ghostwriting, which we’ve established is almost always unethical and illegal in some areas, copying someone else’s work and presenting it as your own is also illegal.
Claiming someone else’s work as your own may violate intellectual property and copyright law (I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice).
But that’s not what ghostwriters do. Ghostwriters do not plagiarize.
A ghostwriter takes what their client, the aspiring author, knows and wants to share and organizes and presents that information in such a way that it benefits the reader.
Along the way, they may also provide marketing advice and publishing guidance as part of the assignment, too.
However, they are not involved in illegal activities.
Ghostwriters are writing helpers, just as therapists help heal trauma, doctors help improve health, and sports coaches provide guidance and instruction. It’s the client who requests help and the professional who works to support them in achieving the results they’re after.
All of which is totally legal.
Other questions that often come up include:
How do you know if a book is ghostwritten?
If you see two names on the cover and one has a “with” in front of it, that person may have been a collaborator or ghostwriter on the project. You can also read the book’s acknowledgments to see if a co-writer, researcher, or collaborator is named.
What is the point of being a ghostwriter?
Ghostwriters help experts, leaders, and people who have something to say share that information in the author’s voice. That means that the book, article, or blog post reads like the expert wrote it. Ghostwriters typically enjoy learning alongside learned professionals and being paid for it.
Why don’t ghost writers publish their own books?
Many ghostwriters are also authors and they do publish their own books. However, there is a growing demand for ghostwriting services and it’s frequently more lucrative to write someone else’s book than to publish one’s own.