Ghost Writing’s for Suckas

As a writer, you’re going to meet people looking for Ghost Writers. I think most of us know why to avoid this situation. If you haven’t yet encountered this, I’ll explain. The legitimate use of the term is when a famous person wants to lend their name, or brand, to a book, but don’t have the time or ability to do it themselves. The illusion when you buy a celebrity’s book is that you’re reading the words from the celebrity themselves. This is sort of why celebrity reality shows are popular. They’re just as scripted(with some exceptions), but can massive cut quality costs in hiring good writers, camera teams, and well paid actors. Then they pass off low quality television as “reality,” and people still buy it because they like the brand.

Celebrities and the people that handle them, probably pay their Ghost Writers well. And if you can get the work, it might be a fun experience. However, the other 99% of the time that people use this word, they’re using it as a scam--though usually not intentionally. There are many wannabes that have great ideas and think that ideas sell. They do not. Think of the most famous singers in the world. They are not famous because they’re good at singing. They’re famous because they have an amazing and powerful marketing team, “backup” singers, and trained studio engineers that can autotune a recording of a piano falling down a flight of stairs into The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Anyone old enough to remember when Milli Vanilli got caught lip syncing? Their careers were over. But notice that no one cared who the real singers were? It wasn’t music that made them famous. It was a colossal marketing machine behind them.

Now some people who don’t understand this reality might think that their ideas are so great, that it will make them famous even without marketing. Maybe they think that investors sit around looking for that one story that’s so incredibly amazing that as soon as they hear it, they’re going to open up their pocket books and invest. Now, the music biz and the writers biz are radically different. Writing really is all about the words rather than the image of the writer. Eventually this great idea is going to have to be put down and presented in a medium appropriate for consumption. This is the point where the idea haver should get to writing and be prepared for the long haul. But the wannabe isn’t patient enough for that. So instead of investing the time and effort into turning their ideas into great stories, they decided to find Ghost Writers to do 99% of the work and split the profits with. This is the equivalent of driving someone to a job interview in exchange for them splitting their pay check for a year with you if they get hired.

Maybe you’re a wannabe reading this thinking, “Yeah, but my idea really is good. And I’d totally tell the writer what to put all the way so I’d be working too. In fact, I even have the whole story outlined already. I just need someone to actually write it. It’s really funny. It’s a true story. Everyone I tell this story to thinks it’s awesome.”

I wrote my first novel when I was 14. That would have been in 1987 to give some reference. My novel was about a young boy that went to a special kind a school for wizards. His teachers taught him how to brew potions and cast spells and what not. The school wasn’t very safe for him, however. He had a mysterious enemy that was always sending henchman after him to kill him. So, why is Harry Potter a household name and Maxwell Silver is not?

Well, for one, JK Rowling and I are not the only ones with this identical idea for a story. I’m sure thousands of writers have come up with this exact idea long before I ever started writing, what I thought at the time, was an original story. For Rowling, she was able to take a classic story, write it in a very clear and easy to read way, and build characters that were interesting to follow. Writing well is so important for a good story that I will even go as far as to say that the idea for the story itself is close to meaningless.


  1. Yes, I'd say the idea is less than 5% of the battle when it comes to writing a novel. I wouldn't go so far as to say that good ideas are a dime a dozen. They are important, but they're only a first step on the long road of writing a book. So yeah, it would foolish to let someone else get all the credit just for having an idea.

  2. Yeah, dismissing a good idea might have been a bit dramatic on my part. Still, most popular stories aren't original. They're are just very well done versions of one of a handful of classic plot lines.