Ghostwriters used in celebrity books: what’s the issue?

Ghostwriters used in celebrity books: what’s the issue?

by Suswati Basu

The recent release of Millie Bobby Brown’s debut novel, “Nineteen Steps“, has reignited a debate on whether celebrities should use ghostwriters and, if so, how they should acknowledge their collaborators. Brown’s work, inspired by her grandmother’s experience during the 1943 Bethnal Green tube disaster, was ghostwritten by author Kathleen McGurl, with Brown’s name prominently featured on the book cover.

Should celebs like Millie Bobby Brown use and acknowledge ghostwriters?
Read: Millie Bobby Brown book: Nineteen Steps trips up portraying tragedy – review

However, this collaboration didn’t escape criticism. When Waterstones promoted the book on Twitter, a now-deleted tweet sparked outrage among some users who accused the Stranger Things star of being disingenuous. It’s not the first ghostwritten book by a mile. For one, the Duke of Sussex used a ghostwriter for his controversial memoir Spare, but did not face the same level of scrutiny. However, as mentioned by the Shameless Book Club, is it acceptable for ghostwriters to help with fiction books? Some responses were so extreme that Barnes and Noble also had to switch off the comment feature, with users telling stores and Brown herself that they “should be ashamed”.

Ghostwriters seen as not being recognised for writing celebrity books. In this case, a Twitter comment directed at Millie Bobby Brown's book Nineteen Steps says: "This is awful. You should be ashamed. Ghostwritten celebrity novels have ruined children's literature and now they're doing the same thing to adult fiction."
Ghostwriters seen as not being recognised for writing celebrity books.

To delve into this contentious issue, we spoke to several experts, ghostwriters, and literary professionals to explore the nuances of celebrity ghostwriting.

What is ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is a practice in which a writer, often referred to as a "ghostwriter," is hired to create written content on behalf of someone else. The person who hires the ghostwriter, known as the "author" or "client," provides the ideas, concepts, or the story they want to convey, but they may lack the time, writing skills, or expertise to write the content themselves. The ghostwriter then takes these ideas and transforms them into a coherent and polished written piece, such as a book, article, speech, blog post, or other forms of written communication.

Ghostwriters work behind the scenes, and their role is typically not publicly acknowledged. The author or client usually takes credit for the work, and their name appears as the official author of the content. Ghostwriters are compensated for their writing services, either through a flat fee, royalties, or a combination of both, depending on the terms of their agreement with the client.

What famous books have been ghostwritten?

A noteworthy catalogue of renowned books reveals the hidden hands of ghostwriters behind literary giants. For instance, the adrenaline-pumping Jason Bourne series attributed to Robert Ludlum was, in fact, skillfully penned by Eric Van Lustbader. Even James Bond’s thrilling adventures, originally authored by Ian Fleming, saw contributions from Kingsley Amis and other ghostwriters. R.L. Stine’s spine-chilling Goosebumps series faced a legal dispute over potential ghostwriting, which he vehemently denied.

The Babysitter’s Club series by Ann M. Martin saw collaboration with Peter Lerangis and others. K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series has had creative forces helping them such as Lisa Harkrader and Kimberly Morris. Moreover, beyond the realm of fiction, autobiographical works such as Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’ and Chris Gardner’s ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ were artfully crafted by ghostwriters. Not to mention, Donald Trump’s ‘The Art of the Deal,’ attributed to his name, had its words composed by Tony Schwartz.

Intriguingly, this is just a glimpse into a vast landscape of books secretly authored by ghostwriters. The veil extends to up to 50% of celebrity memoirs, where the storytellers’ voices are often amplified by unseen collaborators. Beyond celebrities, the phenomenon of ghostwriting is a common thread in the worlds of business and self-help literature. The motives for employing ghostwriters vary. Some individuals possess captivating narratives but lack the literary prowess to bring them to life. Others grapple with time constraints that hinder their writing endeavours. Additionally, there are those who cherish the privacy of their personal lives and prefer the intermediation of a ghostwriter to convey their wisdom or experiences.

The perspectives of ghostwriters producing celebrity books

Ghostwriters, those unsung heroes of the literary world, play a crucial role in bringing celebrities’ stories and books to life. They are hired to transform concepts, experiences, or research into polished prose. Sara Jensen, the owner of Brighter Messaging and a seasoned ghostwriter, argues that it’s not disingenuous for celebrities to use ghostwriters. She believes that ghostwriters enter into such arrangements knowingly and are compensated for their work. In her experience, ghostwriters are seldom mentioned, adding: “I don’t expect any of the authors to acknowledge my role publicly.”

“Ghostwriters go into the arrangement knowing they’re writing on the author’s behalf, and they’re compensated for doing so. Far more books (not to mention articles, blogs, etc.) are written by ghostwriters than the average person realizes.”

Sara Jensen, Brighter Messaging Owner

Lindsey Chastain, owner of The Writing Detective, emphasises that ghostwriters have various levels of recognition, depending on their agreements with their celebrity clients. Some may receive a flat fee, while others may share in royalties. Chastain prefers anonymity, stating that she’s content watching her clients succeed without being thrust into the spotlight. She views her role as helping clients convey their ideas and stories, not as seeking personal recognition.

“I fully understand the arguments on both sides of the ghostwriting argument, but the truth is, not all of us want the kind of attention that will come from helping a celebrity write their book.”

Lindsey Chastain, The Writing Detective Owner

Meanwhile, Stacy Ennis, CEO, founder at Nonfiction Book School, and a veteran ghostwriter, explains that ghostwriters bring a specialised skill to the table, honed over years. Their expertise complements the celebrity’s story or knowledge. Ennis believes that while it’s acceptable not to include a ghostwriter’s name on the book cover, a thank you in the acknowledgments is reasonable. However, she cautions against celebrities claiming they wrote the book entirely on their own.

“That said, I do think misrepresenting the process—for example, the client saying that they physically wrote the book or talking about the writing process as though they did it alone—can cross some ethical lines.”

Stacy Ennis, Nonfiction Book School CEO

The celebrity author’s responsibility

Trinette Faint, an author, storyteller, and model, raises essential questions about the nature of the book and the ghostwriter’s role. In non-fiction collaborations, where the celebrity provides content and the ghostwriter helps with structure and organisation, Faint believes it’s acceptable for the ghostwriter to remain in the background. However, if the celebrity contributes significantly less, turning the project into a glorified article, then proper credit should be given.

In the realm of fiction, Faint asserts that if the “ghost writer has written most or all” of the book, then she thinks that it is unacceptable “without proper credit.” The transparency, in her view, ensures ethical practices in the publishing world.

Mastodon users speak out

This debate isn’t confined to the publishing industry; it also resonates with readers and social media users. A Mastodon user pointed out on our poll this week, the historical prevalence of secret ghostwriters, especially in cases where prolific authors produce numerous works. They highlighted the double standards at play, in terms of Brown’s book. However, the quality of the prose remains a concern for some, leading to questions about the extent of her involvement in the writing process.

“We know there’s a machine behind certain authors. It’s not great to do it but if [Millie Bobby Brown] was a middle aged dude I doubt anyone would notice and that double standard leaves a sour taste.”

Mastodon User

Consequently, the question of whether celebrities should use ghostwriters and how they should acknowledge them remains a contentious one. Ghostwriters play a pivotal role in helping celebrities bring their stories to the public, and their contributions should not be underestimated.

Enjoy our Friday opinion pieces: Authors’ mental health and publishing: navigating an emotional journey

Transparency and ethical practices in the world of celebrity books can help strike a balance between recognising the celebrity’s role and giving credit where it’s due to the skilled professionals behind the scenes. Ultimately, it’s a matter of collaboration, communication, and ensuring that readers receive the authentic and well-crafted stories they expect.

Subscribe to my newsletter for new blog posts, recommendations & episodes. Let’s stay updated!


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

You may also like


Best books in September 2023: recommendations - How To Be Books October 2, 2023 - 11:57 am

[…] by the true story of the Bethnal Green tube disaster. Not only have we looked at the concept of ghostwriting, which is the case in this historical fiction, but we’ve also taken notes about this debut […]

Karalee October 12, 2023 - 8:10 am

This was such an interesting post to read. There does seem to be a difference between celebrities using ghostwriters for memoirs vs fictional books. For memoirs, the celebrity is sharing their own life, so it’s generally acceptable to use a ghostwriter. However, for fictional books, the celebrity is handing over the creative process and relying on the ghostwriter to incorporate their ideas into a story. I do believe that for fictional books, ghostwriters should get credit.
It was also interesting to hear what ghostwriters thought. Ghostwriting is their job, so there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue between ghostwriters and celebrities. However, when celebrities claim they wrote the book when in fact they used a ghostwriter, that is deceiving to readers and belittling the work the ghostwriter did.

Suswati Basu October 12, 2023 - 8:12 am

I completely agree, especially with fiction, there needs to be transparency regarding using ghostwriters. Though it’s hugely surprising how many famous books by actual authors were actually ghostwritten!

Britney Spears book: The Woman in Me and age-old misogyny - review - How To Be Books October 24, 2023 - 4:06 pm

[…] Read: Millie Bobby Brown book: Nineteen Steps trips up portraying tragedy – review […]


Leave a Reply

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?