Monday, June 17, 2013

The Stigma

People don’t want to admit they hire ghostwriters. There is a stigma attached to using a ghostwriter, and we might as well admit it.

Why should this be?

Whether they can write well or not, people think they should be able to write. We are funny about writing. We think everyone can write – after all, we learned how in first grade! Reading and writing are a big part of what makes us “civilized.”

One of the correlating lessons that we learned, at the tender age of four or five, was that we must do our own work. Never, ever, copy someone else. We are all capable of learning the skill of writing.

A first grader can write a simple story. A fourth grader can write a book report. By the time we get to high school, we have learned to research and do reports on complex subjects. We have learned grammar and spelling and sentence construction. We have read some great works of Literature. We know what makes a book good.

So now we are adults and should be able to write a book of our own. If we have someone else do it for us, that means we’re cheating. Right?

Well, no. Not always.

I’m a ghostwriter. I make my living writing books for others. I believe this is a perfectly legitimate way to get thoughts, ideas, methods and stories out into the world where they can do some good. Why should only those with writing talent or the time to write be able to share their stories in written form? You can hire decorators to help you beautify your house, and mechanics to keep your car running smoothly, and gardeners to prune the roses at the right time. It’s just as okay to hire writers to help you get your thoughts and stories out into the world in a way that other people will enjoy reading about them.

Of course those thoughts, ideas, methods, and stories must be those of the author – not the ghostwriter. If you want to write a book, or an article, or a blog post, about the eagle’s nesting habits, or the history of the Watergate scandal, or how to grow tomatoes, but you don’t have the time or the skill to write it yourself, then hire a ghostwriter. But you must tell your ghostwriter all you know and want to say about those eagles or tomatoes or Watergate. And then you can legitimately claim that book as yours. Because it is.

No stigma left.  

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit


  1. I know a couple of ghostwriters who write fiction for celebrities. I always wonder how much of the story belongs to the "author" and how much the ghostwriter does. (They're not allowed to say.) :-)

    Terry's Place

  2. Great post, Kim! Ah, that we were all equally endowed with skills and gifts, but then the world would be a very boring place. It's our differences, not our sameness, that bring color, texture, and depth to our lives, our environments, our existence. You are you. I am me. If I have a blockbuster novel idea but no concept of how to write a complete sentence or use action verbs or create realistic dialogue, I need an intermediary to get my story to readers. I contribute the idea and the details; you put them in story form. Just because you are the worker who translates my story into a book, it's no less mine. Where's the stigma in that? :-)

  3. Definitely a legitimate career. There are a lot of people who have a compelling story to tell, but not the ability to tell it in a compelling way. That's where ghostwriters come in.

  4. With people offering services to help folks write their family stories I think some of the stigma that used to be associated with hiring a ghost writer - or being a ghost writer - has been taken away.

  5. There are some "successful" fiction writers that should have used ghost writers. It's amazing what gets past the "gatekeepers." :)

  6. One of my favorite lines about what a ghostwriter does and how she does it is to say that I'm like an actor, but on the page instead of the stage. Catchy, right?

  7. Yes Kim, that's catchy, and a great comparison. How do you feel about PhD candidates hiring editors to help polish their dissertations? I think it's a similar scenario, but one college prof I know really freaks out about it—as if everyone who is getting a degree must also be a wonderful writer.

    Now, I would stop short of allowing a ghost writer in order to fulfill a degree requirement, but if the student's writing skills are weak, why not hire an editor, who can function like a writing tutor? As long as the scholarship is theirs, is there an ethical problem in making sure it is written as clearly and convincingly as possible?


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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