9 Min Read

Collaborator or Ghostwriter—What's the Difference?

Ghostwriters and collaborators are very much part of the publishing process. There is a clear distinction between the two amongst publishers. But if you’re not a publisher, you might be tempted to use the words interchangeably.

What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is someone who creates something on behalf of someone else with little to no input from the named author. Most of the time the ghostwriter remains unnamed. Often, their contract with the brand or publisher stipulates that.

There is a level of suspicion in some circles that this happens more often than someone might think. Some even question the ethics of someone else creating material for someone else with almost no input.

As someone who has been part of helping others publishing books and other materials for more than a decade, I can tell you that this is a rare situation. And when it is employed, it is not sinister at all. It is merely a function of circumstance.

What is a collaborator?

Most authors have a clear idea of what they want to say and often have the platform to say it from with credibility and conviction. They want to be involved in the creation of the book or written material. What authors lack is the time and capacity to get their words on paper.

In that case, you’ll need a collaborator. This is someone who works alongside the author to capture his or her raw ideas, organization those ideas, and develop the manuscript to the point that it is ready for a publisher to produce.

The collaborator, like the ghostwriter, sometimes remains unnamed. But it is not uncommon for the collaborator to be listed on the cover, copyright page, title page, or mentioned in the acknowledgements. The most common destination when cover credit is given will include the word with.

The challenge for every collaborator is to ensure that when someone else reads the book (i.e. the finished product), they hear the voice of the author. Many would-be collaborators fail because they can’t get passed their own egos. Collaborators should facilitate the writing process, not inject themselves into it.

More than books

Of course, collaborators can support authors and brands beyond books. Many leaders with broad platform have one or more collaborators who help them share their ideas across a broad base of channels: social, digital, and print. The book is merely a place to begin.

As a brand, you need to know that it is a rare occurrence when the person who needs to be published also has the time and energy to write every word, sentence, and paragraph on the page. To attempt to impose this responsibility upon every leader would be unreasonable at best and irresponsible at worst.

Many times these leaders are paid large salaries and tasked with great expectations and responsibilities. It is not necessarily in their best interest—nor the interest of the organization—to occupy his or her time with translating their ideas onto a blank page.

If you can’t write it, then should you publish it?

That is a fair question. Let me reframe it. If I can’t put new shingles on my house and instead hire someone to do that on my behalf, does that make me less of a homeowner? Of course not!

You’re still choosing the shingles, material, and giving direction. You’re just not the one bravely balancing on the roof. In turn, you’ll get the job done faster and with less error because you’re working with someone who specializes in doing that kind of work on behalf of many homeowners.

The same is true with hiring someone to facilitate the writing process.

The demand for content is relentless.

The first place people are going to find you is online. That means if you’re not producing content in the right places with a consistent frequency, you’ll never be found.

We live in a content dense culture. If every leader were responsible for writing all of their words, sentences, and paragraphs, so many ideas would never be shared and we as a culture would lose out on some incredible insights, wisdom, and perspective.

The demand for content is relentless. Sometimes hiring professional help is the shortest path to achieving your anticipated outcomes. It may cost you a little more in the process but should net you a better product that is more effective and accelerates you toward your desires goals and objectives faster than you could have done on your own.

An essential question

The most important question an author or brand needs to wrestle through is this: Is it more important that the book is written or that the author put every word on the page?

The answer to that question lies in what you want to achieve. Start with the outcome and work backwards. That will answer whether or not it’s time to consider a ghostwriter or collaborator for your next writing project.

Is it time for you to consider a more sustainable and practical approach to capturing and publishing the ideas of the people who represent your brand?



Ben Stroup is Chief Growth Architect and President at Velocity Strategy Solutions where he helps leaders design, develop, and deploy smarter business growth strategies. Ben is a futurist, disruptor, and data champion. He leads a team that takes a structured learning approach to business challenges, which allows them to assist leaders in bridging the gap between ideas, innovation, and revenue—taking ideas from mind to market.

Velocity Strategy Solutions is an on-demand, next-generation business strategy and management consulting firm which provides clients with a relentless focus on data, execution, and results that positively impact the bottom line. Velocity delivers integrated people and revenue strategies combined with a disciplined approach to growth architecture that elevates the capacity of leaders, teams, and organizations to succeed and win more.

Topics:   Leadership