A Student’s Question
My students and I were talking during our online class session about ways to make money with writing. This question is often asked, primarily by students who want to show me that freshman composition is yet another class they have to take that they will never use again. I give them the standard answer: You never stop needing to write, and money is often at stake with everything you write. Think about the following:
- Scholarship letters
- Demands for payment
- Requests for refunds
- Cover Letters
- Short Stories
The last one intrigues students nearly every time they throw this “How can I make money doing this” question at me. This class’s answer, though, had me wondering what I’ve gotten myself into with my recent ghostwriting gig.
One of my more challenging students said, “Mrs. Dawkins, um, is that plagiarism?”
The English teacher in me soared. He GOT IT!!! All of these weeks that we’ve spent researching and writing papers while adhering to MLA formatting rules were not in vain. He knows what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. But his innocent question caught me off guard, so I had to determine if I’m aiding and abetting plagiarists with this new, fun, and profitable side gig I have going on.
So What Is A Ghostwriter?
In short, it is when freelance writers pour their heart and soul into a piece of writing and allow another person to receive all of the credit for it.
Freelance Writing defines a ghostwriter as “writers for hire who are paid but receive none of the credit for the work produced.”
As many as three parties may be involved in the working relationship: the freelance writer, or the “ghost,” the author, who hires the ghost and receives all credit for the work, and sometimes a company plays the middle man between the ghost and author.
It is more profitable to work directly with authors. Still, many freelancers start out working for companies Like Kevin Anderson & Associates for books and ContentFly or We Write Blog Posts for blogs. It’s not the most glamorous writing job, but it does pay, and it helps writers learn the trade.
Is Ghostwriting Plagiarism?
This question led me to write this post, and I had to do some research to get the answer myself. While I am enjoying this ghostwriting side gig, I would not continue it if I learned it was plagiarism. How could I and still teach college writing? Thankfully, the answer is no. Ghostwriting is not plagiarism, and here’s why:
- Although the ghostwriter does the work without receiving credit, the ghostwriter knowingly writes the text to appear as some else’s writing.
- The “author,” for whom the ghostwriter works, is concealing the actual author’s name, as a plagiarist does, but this author does not harm the ghostwriter; in fact, the author pays the ghostwriter an upfront agreed-upon price for the work.
- Ghostwriting does not violate any laws
- The ghostwriter does not dictate how the work is used.
Is Ghostwriting Ethical?
This question is where the line gets blurred for me. On the one hand, someone else is making money off of my work. The authors have a monetized blog with a huge following. I provide the links for potential purchases, and I provide the words the author needs. And I do this for a following of readers who believe their blog writer is a wordsmith when nothing is farther from the truth.
However, that author has valuable information to share with the world, from “Beginner Guides to Owning Pet Fish,” to “Which Catamaran is the Safest to Sail in the Caribbean.” I know very little about either of those topics, but the authors I ghostwrite for do. They just can’t put their knowledge into written form without my help.
I write for these authors knowing that I make a mere fraction of what they do from their monetized page, but I’m also helping readers receive accurate messages. I am also gaining experience and references for future writing assignments.
How Much do Ghostwriters Earn?
Earning power depends on what you’re writing and where you are writing it. According to Author Bridge Media, US ghostwriters who write books can receive from $20,000 to $80,000 for a 250-page book. There are tiers to ghostwriting, so someone like a former president will pay ghostwriters much more to write their memoirs than someone would pay me to write a blog about growing cucumbers, but writers can make money ghostwriting.
In general, ghostwriters charge in various ways, but most charge by the word or by the project. Most ghostwriting companies hire ghostwriters for pennies per word, but freelance ghostwriters can earn between $.50 and $3.00 per word.
My student did what my students always do, which is why I continue to teach. He forced me to consider multiple sides of the argument, learn more about what I’m teaching, and consider that I might be wrong. This critical thinking exercise is precisely what I teach them to do.
As is most often the case in my classes, the student taught the teacher, and I learned something about myself in the process. One day I want to write my own book. I’ve been working on the same story (inconsistently) for ten years, but until now have lacked the confidence in myself that it takes to finish it.
Ghostwriting has provided evidence that my writing connects with people and that evidence both humbles and inspires me. It’s also taught me that though my message is important, I don’t know what I don’t know; however, others can fill in those gaps. Sometimes, they just need to hire the person with the right words to do it.
So no, dear student, ghostwriting is neither plagiarism nor is it unethical. Many things come down to intent, and my intention with ghostwriting is to help blog writers, storytellers, veterinarians, doctors, small business owners, etc., tell their stories and share their knowledge. They pay me for my creation and then reap the benefits of combining their expertise with my talent.
They have the expertise, and I have the right words, so we all benefit – especially the reader.