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What is Ghostwriting, Anyway?

This week, Samantha explains how ghostwriting can be a terrific way to craft your memoir. An experienced ghostwriter herself, she’s here to show you how using a ghost can make your life easier, your memoir richer, and your legacy really, really memorable.

If you’ve read a blockbuster autobiography, you’re probably familiar with their work—but you don’t know their names, and you never will, which is just fine with them. What kind of writer would sign up for that kind of assignment? Ghostwriters, that’s who.

Although most people may not want to, or be able to, write their own life stories, it turns out that the reading public sure wants to read about the lives of famous politicians, athletes, actors, and musicians. For the past century or so, the solution has been to hire experienced professionals who can write in the voice of their subjects. It may appear that Famous Celebrity has written their own memoir, but behind the scenes, a ghostwriter was doing the real work. The best ones were paid handsomely for their writing—and for agreeing not to take credit for that writing.

Recently, we’ve seen the democratization of ghostwriting. Writing a book is a great way for professionals and entrepreneurs to show off their knowledge. Business owners might publish a history of their company to polish its image. Small problem: They don’t have the time or skills to present themselves well in print. Enter the ghostwriter, now for “regular” people. We at Remarkable Life Memoirs are part of this trend—easily half our books are partially or completely ghostwritten.

Funny story: I was a ghost who didn’t know she was a ghost (cue the Sixth Sense soundtrack). I would record interviews with RLM’s earliest clients as they talked about themselves—childhood, school, dating, marriage, children, building careers, whatever felt memorable and gave their lives meaning. I’d have the audio of those interviews transcribed by a professional, and I would write their life stories based on those transcripts.

I thought I had single-handedly invented third-party memoir writing, but it turns out I had just jumped on the ghostwriting bandwagon! I quickly joined the Association of Ghostwriters, which showed me that there are lots of ghosts out there, all with their own specialties.

We do have one thing in common: We’re great listeners. The memoirs I ghostwrite are told in the first person, in the subject’s voice. That’s possible because when they talk, I listen—intensively. I internalize the rhythm of their speech, the way they tell a story, how they use sarcasm or irony. I love those sneaky insights into someone’s personality.

My process bears no resemblance to being interviewed by a reporter. When you work with me, you can correct factual errors or shift the focus if you think I misunderstood you. That kind of agency gives clients great confidence—they can talk freely, knowing that they can shape the narrative I write. We’re not adversaries, we’re partners.

While I don’t need to see my name splashed across a book cover, what does give me satisfaction is knowing that I made it possible for someone to tell their unique story. Legendary New Yorker copy chief Mary Norris once described good editors as a combination of high intelligence and low ego. Ghostwriters are the same: We want to make you look good in print!

Needless to say, if you want to review options for your memoir, including ghostwriting, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line! We’re always happy to talk through your project, at any stage. Nothing scary about it!


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