• Laura Schaefer

The History of Ghostwriting

As I've written about previously, I got my start as a professional author by being curious. Specifically, I began researching the history of personal ads after getting a job as a freelance writer for Match.com's online magazine.


I can't turn it off. One time, in the middle of getting a massage, I asked the therapist--a good friend of mine--about the history of her profession. Likewise, I'm curious about the history of my main gig, ghostwriting.


Who was the first ghostwriter? How has the field evolved?


Let's take a look...





Ghostwriters have likely been around as long as kings and queens and writing have been a thing. After all, if you were royalty, wouldn't you have one of your scribes record your thoughts and decrees instead of deigning to do it yourself? Of course, you would. According to thewritersforhire.com, ghostwriting began in the 5th century B.C. in this very manner.


When I read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, I got very, very excited when it became clear that Hamilton was George Washington's ghostwriter. No wonder I am obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the founding father "without a father, who got a lot farther by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter..."


There is a rumor Charles de Gaulle used a ghostwriter as well. I love this line in a New York Times piece about it: "The de Gaulle-Malraux literary liaison, if it ever existed, is an illustration of ghostwriting at its very best. One dashing figure, who has the brains but not the leisure to write a book, secures the services of a genius with time on his hands."


A genius? Sure!


According to several sources, the term "ghostwriter" (or "ghost writer," as it is often spelled), was coined by American sports agent, Walter "Christy" Walsh, in 1921, though of course the arrangement existed long before he came onto the scene. Walsh's vision was to help athletes tell their stories and shape their images...with a whole army of professional help, of course. Walsh was famously Babe Ruth's agent and ran an entire syndicate of writers, 34 people, intuitively understanding the value of an athlete's image and celebrity beyond the field.

Celebrities...They're Just Like Us


I enjoyed this history of celebrity memoirs from Book Riot, which explains the difference between an autobiography and a memoir: "the autobiography is seen as the story of a life, whereas the memoir is considered stories from a life." I'd go a little further with that definition and say that the stories from a life should have a unifying theme or other constraint (such as stories from a particular season of life, like childhood) to count as an effective memoir.


In the 1980s, there weren't many ghostwriters like me. Bill Novak, the writer behind Lee Iacocca's massive bestseller, was probably the biggest name in the game. With the advent of more and more digital self-publishing platforms as well as reputable independent and hybrid publishers in the 2000s, my field exploded.

Everyone Has a Ghostwriter These Days


In recent years, celebrities, executives, and founders became a lot less shy about using--and talking about regularly working with--ghostwriters. After all, people with huge followings do not have a lot of time on their hands for authoring books. And professionals like me are happy to lend a hand, and our overactive brains, to projects we know will get published and read.


Today, instead of there being maybe a few dozen professional ghostwriters earning a decent living, I'd say there are hundreds or even thousands of us.

So, How Do People Find Qualified Ghostwriters?


There are several ways people who want to author a book (but need a little help) find ghostwriters like me. First, many of them do what you probably did to land on this blog page. They start by doing some research...googling, in other words. That's a good tactic, but if you want to go a little deeper, I'd suggest finding a ghostwriter by reaching out to your professional network. There's nothing better than a word-of-mouth referral from someone you know in real life, right? Not only will you get a name, but you'll also get details about how the process went for your contact. That's great information!


Another good way to find a writer is to look around here on LinkedIn or various writer's associations, such as the Association of Ghostwriters.


Finally, if you read a business book, a personal development book, or a memoir you particularly enjoy, turn to the Acknowledgments page and see if the author mentioned getting help with writing. Keep in mind when you do this that the author may not use the word "ghostwriter" in the acknowledgments. Most people will refer to their collaborators, editors, book coaches or publishing partners. That's fine...there are many different titles out there and we all provide different levels of service.


If you have any questions about ghostwriting, please reach out to me. I'm happy to answer any queries you may have. I am a Florida ghostwriter working nationally. Thanks for reading!


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