A ghostwriter is someone who writes under the name of another writer, passing off their work as the work of the other writer.
It may be an Uncredited Role, although sometimes they are credited. Given that any prestige of the work generally goes to the credited writer, it may be a Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job, or a form of Paying Their Dues a writer might take while aspiring to their own literary goals. And let's face it, a book with Big Famous Celebrity's name on the cover is always going to generate more sales than a book with Unknown Writer on the byline; a cut of those royalties could easily fund a writer's less lucrative passion project.
A common form is Playing Cyrano, where a Love Letter or some other written token of affection is written by someone to be passed off as written by someone else. Ghostwriting also figures in Extruded Book Product schemes, when combined with rapid throughput and likely Strictly Formula. Also compare House Pseudonym, when a publisher hires a group of ghostwriters to all be published under a collective pen name.
Ghostwriting is distinct from writing under a pseudonym, as in that case, the writer is the same person, but under a different name, instead of pretending to be a different writer altogether.
In regards to Real Life, this is particularly common for autobiographies written by celebrities. The books are heavily influenced by the featured person, but the actual writing is done by a professional writer rather than the celebrity themselves, but this is a character trope, so unless we know the ghostwriters' names, this is the only place they're going to be mentioned. (Pro tip: When you see a very large celebrity's name on a book with a very small credit saying "With [some writer's name you've never heard of]", that second person probably put most of the words on paper.)
It's also standard practice for politicians and other such public figures to employ speechwriters, which the speaker will then present as their own words. Even many standup comedians and newspaper cartoonists have been known to hire writers for jokes and gags.
Not to be confused with the TV series, Ghostwriter. Also not to be confused with any author who writes about ghosts, or a ghost who just happens to be a writer. Also not the film, The Ghost Writer, which is about one, however.
- Little Witch Academia (2017): "Night Fall" sees Lotte trying to meet the author of her favorite book series. She learns that the books have been written by multiple ghostwriters using the same name. She ends up taking over after the current ghostwriter retires.
- In Jubei-chan, Sai Nanohana, father of the heroine Jiyu, is a ghostwriter of Jidaigeki novels about samurai. He proves to be dangerously Genre Savvy whenever the plot allows him to find out about the battles his daughter is involved in. In the sequel series, a major subplot involves Jiyu asking him to write an original novel, in a different genre, under his own name. He has to struggle with Writer's Block, and also has to try to keep his daughter from learning that one of his clients got him to do One Last Job as a ghostwriter.
- In the comic book run of Ghostbusters, Egon "wrote" a book by using a computer program to "Calculate an almost random pattern of words that positively stimulate the human brain" as an experiment. It was apparently quite well received.
- In Superman storyline The Strange Revenge of Lena Luthor, Supergirl's friend Lena gets hired as secretary of "Secret Hearts" script-writer Greg Gilbert. When he starts disappearing frequently, though, Lena starts covering up for him by writing the scripts lest Greg gets fired (which would lead to Lena getting sacked, too).
- Jaded slacker Jeff Redfern of Doonesbury tries to wriggle out of writing further escapades of his fictional hero, the Red Rascal, by hiring a ghostwriter. Jeff is too lazy to proofread the draft, and hands it off to his publisher. She soon notices the story makes a Genre Shift from Vigilante Man to vampire romance, and calls Jeff out on it.
- Dumas (2010): Auguste Maquet serves as a co-writer for Alexandre Dumas, helping him with the plot and outlines for his novels. However, Maquet's name doesn't appear on the covers of their work, so Dumas gets all of the credit while Maquet stays in his shadow. For 10 years, Maquet wasn't bothered by it until he ended up using Dumas' name to seduce Charlotte, leading to a quarrel between him and Dumas. This leads to an important question about who's the father of Dumas' iconic works.
- The Ghost Writer: A ghost writer is called in to pen the autobiography of a British politician, only to discover that his research material includes things that politician really doesn't want in the book.
- In Young Adult, Mavis Gary ghostwrites for an extruded YA series called Waverly Prep, using it to relive her own high school Glory Days.
- In 1984, books for the proles are literally formulated by machine as a form of Bread and Circuses.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- The main character of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls produces these for a living, generally of the romance variety, and the narrative digresses for a bit on the subject of these. Notably, at one point he notes that he tried writing war stories instead, but his experience as a soldier got in the way because he tried to make them too realistic to be decent stories. He also admits to cribbing the plot for one of his books from Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
- The "Unmarried Mother" from Heinlein's —All You Zombies— has that nickname because he churns out stories for confession magazines, presumably by pseudonymous unmarried women.
- Heinlein knew whereof this character spoke. Outside of his science fiction efforts, Heinlein himself was a writer of extruded book products for several houses, most notably a series of stories about an overweight teen girl with self esteem problems known by the nickname "Puddin'" — whom Heinlein later reworked into the eponymous protagonist of his young adult SF novel Podkayne of Mars.
- Roald Dahl's short story "The Great Automatic Grammatizator" focuses on a machine that can do this — but then they start buying out the real authors to corner the market...
- In the third book of Gulliver's Travels, one of the absurd projects undertaken by the members of the Grand Academy of Lagado was a device to mechanically combine words, enabling books to be written with no input but raw mechanical effort.
- The main character of This Tragic Universe is a ghostwriter for a series like this in order to pay the bills while she attempts to write a "proper" novel.
- In Paris in the Twentieth Century, theatre has descended to this level, with plays mass-produced by teams of specialists who each contribute some small aspect, such as slapstick or romantic lines. Writers who are proficient with action or sex scenes are especially valued.
- In Artemis Fowl, this is one of Artemis' many enterprises. Having used his genius to perfect a formula for creating the maximally sell-able romance novel, he types these up in his free time between running a multi-national criminal enterprise, managing his family's legitimate businesses, designing a new opera house for Dublin and writing academic texts on the pathology of the criminal mind.
- The Olivia Goldsmith novel The Bestseller parodies this as not only is Pam Mantiss the ghostwriter for the supposedly "discovered" novel of a late author but she has her own ghostwriter who has his own "ghostwriter.
Alex: The literary ghosts are rumbling in their tombs.
- The Cat In The Stacks: In book 1 (Murder Past Due), Charlie finds evidence that a ghostwriter has been writing novels for Godfrey Priest (starting with his sixth book), and is pretty angry at him for not getting their fair share of the money said books are bringing in. He eventually figures out the ghostwriter's identity, and during the climax, Charlie's coworker Willie Clark confirms what Charlie suspected — that he was the ghostwriter.
- The purpose of the Auto-Memory Doll service in Violet Evergarden is to put client's thoughts into a letter, effectively writing messages under client's name. The titular protagonist learns about human emotions as a member of said service.
- The season 6 episode of The Avengers (1960s), "Love All", centered around romance novels of this sort. When visiting the publishing house, Steed learns (though unrelated to the actual plot) that the novels are actually generated by a piano-shaped computer. During the climactic fight, it's accidentally activated and spits out a new manuscript.
- In Bones, Brennan's novels are all co-written by Angela, who handles the books' emotional beats, as Brennan isn't good at understanding emotions.
- An episode of Clarissa Explains It All has Clarissa use a computer program to churn out a poem for her English class. Much to her horror, her teacher loves the poem, and insists on having her read it in public.
- Mad Men: In Season 7, Episode 1 Time Zones, It turns out that Don is acting as a ghost writer for Freddy.
- In the Jonathan Creek episode "Ghosts Forge", the titular house contains five copies of a novel by Gerald Eastland, leading Jonathan to deduce that the former owner "ghosts for G.E."
- Jane the Virgin: Petra asks Jane to be the ghost writer for her lifestyle book she's publishing, because of Petra having severe writing block, and she was busy dealing with the case of the death of her sister Anezka.
- A Prince Among Men: Ghost Story reveals that Gary Prince has a column written by a man named Des that goes out under his name. This causes problems when Des starts putting forward radical views such as abolishing the royal family.
- Shtisel: Akiva gets a job as a ghost painter, selling his paintings to an art dealer who passes them off as his own.
- Wishbone: In "Cyranose", paralleling Cyrano De Bergerac, David, Joe, and Sam are assigned to write a poem for their English class. While Joe and Sam manage to write their own poems, David struggles to do. However, he finds a poem addressed to him in his mailbox and he shares it with the class. When his English teacher, Mr. Prewett, is so impressed that he asks him if he can publish it on his behalf, David tells the truth (and also brings a poem he actually wrote himself). David soon discovers that the poem he'd received had been written by Wanda, the trio's neighbor.
- Barely anyone in the Shadowrun Verse reads anything more complicated than a take-out menu anymore, but the Shadowbeat supplement reveals this trope applies to TV scripts and pop music, both of which are cranked out via computer programs that regurgitate formulaic material to spec. Producers can even select how upbeat, stimulating, controversial, family-friendly, and so forth the finished product should be.
- The musical Trixie True, Teen Detective is a spoof of such writing syndicates.
- Bungo to Alchemist: Futabatei Shimei wrote his first novel under Tsubouchi Shōyō's real name (see Real Life section below), which he's ashamed about.
- THE iDOLM@STER: SideM has former-novelist Kazuki Tsukumo, who for a time wrote novels under his father's name when he went into a slump. Some of his events involve his feelings about that time period, and specifically has to perform in an adaptation of one of his father's "works" that he wrote.
- There was a time when Achewood's Cornelius Bear was an acclaimed writer of children's books. These days he makes the rent by writing crap romance novels and subtitling porn.
- The first season of BoJack Horseman has Diane being hired to be the ghostwriter for BoJack's much-delayed autobiography. When it finally gets published the following season, Diane is credited as the author.
- Frankelda's Book of Spooks stars a literal one, who after being rejected by the sexist publishing industry of 1870s Mexico, is spirited away by the monstrous prince of an alternate dimension that relies on nightmares to sustain itself to be the new Royal Nightmare Writer and sending her stories into people's dreams. Frankelda's consciousness is separated from her body to make the trip to the monster world, though it ends up turning out to be one-way only due to the machinations of the monster she replaced. Her stories still haunt children's dreams 150 years later, but the nature of dreams means she could never receive proper credit for them.
- Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century: It is revealed shortly after he's woken up in the future that Sherlock Holmes actually penned a series of mystery novels under a pseudonym. The name? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
- The Simpsons:
- In "The Front", Bart and Lisa write scripts for new Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, but because the studio doesn't accept scripts from kids, they decide to use Grampa's name.
- In "The Book Job" (guest starring Neil Gaiman), features Lisa finding out that all the young adult books (including her favorite "Angelica Button" series) are really just based on market research by the publishing companies and then written by teams of writers desperate for work. The "authors" who have their names on the book are just made up, backstory and all, and are represented by actors. After finding this out, Homer and Bart assemble a team to create their own hit young adult novel, using Lisa as the author to be credited.
- In "Guess Who's Coming To Criticize Dinner", Homer gets approached to work as a food critic at a Springfield newspaper. However, when his first review gets turned down by the editor, Lisa agrees to help him write his reviews, and continues doing so after he gets hired. That is, till he turns into an excessively Caustic Critic, and she stops writing for him afterwards.
- Comedian Joyce Grenfell had a routine where she played a children's author, churning out almost identical books about kids having adventures. "I never rewrite, and I never read what I've written." By a curious coincidence, this skit had some similarities to an actual interview with Enid Blyton, in which she said writing a novel took about a week.
- Grenfell never confirmed the connection (and indeed only used the character rarely, and for just a few years due to the uncomfortable obviousness of the parody) but the children's author character emerged shortly after Grenfell attended a literary lunch at which Blyton was a fellow guest.
- Erin Hunter is a team of ghostwriters, having written:
- Stratemeyer Syndicate series used ghostwriters such as Leslie Mc Farlane for series such as:
- The UK company Working Partners uses ghostwriters:
- Sunrise has multiple writers work under the name Hajime Yatate, who is listed as the original creator of most of their works.
- Scholastic frequently uses ghostwriters, as seen below in the Animorphs entry.
- K. A. Applegate and Michael Grant were ghostwriters before starting Animorphs, which was big enough that they no longer needed ghostwriting to pay the bills.
- Various sketchy websites have been known to sell the services of writers to produce custom term papers or essays for any students foolhardy enough to pay for them. Needless to say, despite the ghostwriters being paid for their work, this is considered little short of a mortal sin in academia, and is a great way to land in major trouble for cheating... or alternately, to get ripped off by a Con Man who will take the money and run.
- This even extends to movie music, with many film composers working with the aid of "ghost composers" who will either flesh out a score at the lead composer's direction, or write their own original cues under his name. Several big name film composers, including Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Henry Gregson Williams, and John Powell, say they got their start ghosting for other artists.
- About halfnote of the Animorphs books were ghostwritten, due to the rapid publishing schedule,note real life issues,note and also working on Everworld at the same time.
- While the first ten Bone Chillers books were written by Betsy Haynes, the rest, except for one, were written by ghostwriters.
- The Ghosts of Fear Street books were written by people besides R. L. Stine, despite being marketed using his name, with the real author or authors listed inside each book. One Ghosts of Fear Street book was written by a pair of sisters who go by AG Cascone; they later went on to write their own competing series of books, Deadtime Stories.
- R. L. Stine's Goosebumps got in much deeper trouble for allegations over ghostwriters, the veracity of which is somewhat vague. In 1997, Scholastic accused Stine of violating their publishing contract by hiring ghostwriters in writing the 100-plus titles from the original series and the Goosebumps 2000 series at the time, pinpointing Stine being definitely responsible for the first 16 books, but hiring anonymous outside writers for story outlines and creative ideas beyond that point (somewhat dubiously sourcing the books' declining popularity as the mark of something afoot). Stine and his co-publisher Parachute Press continuously refute this, with Stine claiming he'd at most get assistance from other writers for story outlines, but that the actual meat of the series was still him. Complicating matters is that actual ghostwriters for Give Yourself Goosebumps have since come out and revealed themselves (including Scott Westerfeld of all people), but that series was a Spin-Off that avoided contractual scrutiny.
- Ron Goulart wrote nine TekWar novels, which were published as being written by William Shatner.
- Futabatei Shimei's first novel The Drifting Cloud was published under the real name of author Tsubouchi Shōyō.
- The Saint stories and novels by Leslie Charteris were ghostwritten at least from the early 1960s and possibly as early as World War II. The first definitely ghostwritten book, 1964's Vendetta for the Saint, was written by Harry Harrison, who also wrote his own mildly similar SF character "Slippery" Jim diGriz aka The Stainless Steel Rat.
- H. P. Lovecraft is known to have ghostwritten for several people, based on their story outlines. The most famous was Harry Houdini, while Hazel Heald and Zealia Bishop were both returning customers.
- Journalist Tony Schwartz made some headlines for outing himself as the ghostwriter of Donald Trump's book The Art of the Deal while criticizing Trump and his presidential run, regarding his ghostwriting as an Old Shame. (He was credited as coauthor, but by his account did virtually all the writing.) Trump in turn threatened Schwartz with a defamation lawsuit, but nothing came of it.
- The Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage (1956) by John F. Kennedy was, as suspected since 1958 and finally revealed in 2008, mostly written by his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen.
- Equally, Six Crises (1962) by Richard Nixon - written at the encouragement of Mamie Eisenhower and Kennedy himself in response to the latter book - was mostly written by a team of ghostwriters, mainly Charles Lichenstein. Nixon had the concept for the book thought out, but felt he wasn't much of a writer, so he taped his ideas and sent them to his ghostwriters. He did write the chapter on defeat on his own, though.
- After the first few books, and V. C. Andrews death in 1986, most of her works were written by Andrew Neidermeyer. Word Of God states that most of the ideas came from detailed Author Notes.
- Several of the sequels to Aztec by Gary Jennings were written by his editor and another author after Jennings' death in 1999.
- Dr. Dre doesn't write his own raps, usually relying on his collaborators to do it for him - and even to rap demos demonstrating how the flow is supposed to work. While he's used numerous writers, his main writer on The Chronic was Snoop Dogg, his main writer on 2001 and Detox was Eminem, and his main writer on Compton was Kendrick Lamar.
- The Fighting Fantasy book Legend of Zagor was credited to the series' co-creator Ian Livingstone, but was written by Keith Martin when Livingstone realised he didn't have the time to do it himself. Martin made little attempt to mimic Livingstone's style of writing or gameplay, prompting immediate questions about the book's authorship when it was released, but it was not until Livingstone was directly asked about the matter some two decades later that he admitted Martin was the real writer.
- The Color Fairy Book series is the most famous work credited to Andrew Lang, but in fact his wife Leonora did the bulk of the collecting, translating, and rewriting the fairy tales. Andrew initially edited the series and wrote prefaces for each volume. "Mrs. Lang" does receive credit in the prefaces, but the books are still published under Andrew's name as he was a more well known figure as a distinguished literary scholar.