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The Not-So-Secret Life Of Ghostwriters

Written by: Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Alice Sullivan

This January, I, along with roughly 140 other ghostwriters, emerged from the shadows,” as the New York Times put it, at the inaugural Gathering of the Ghosts conference, hosted by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and Gotham Ghostwriters. If it sounds a bit paradoxical, that’s because it is. Ghostwriters have traditionally skirted the spotlight, hiding their identities so the authors they write for shine.

Woman at library smiling at camera

When I was invited to speak on the “Be a Visible Ghost” panel at Gotham, I put on my favorite flowy dress and hopped a plane to snowy NYC. Never before had I been able to compare notes, stories, and inside jokes with so many other professionals in this very specific niche. This conference proved that hiring a ghostwriter is widely accepted—and for the most part, openly discussed—among celebrities, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone with a great story to tell.


Here are some key takeaways from the first (hopefully of many!) Gathering of the Ghosts conference.


Michael Levin, who some have described as “the Michael Jordan of ghostwriting,” pulled no punches when he told everyone in the room to “double your rate and add 20 percent,” advice met with applause and cheers from the audience. As bold as his prescription was, it did underscore a trend in the industry: most ghostwriters chronically undercharge for our unique skill set and experience.


During my panel, I shared a story that highlights this very point. It took me about 8 years as a freelancer before I asked around to see if my rates were in line with my tenure and expertise. When I learned that I was charging less than half of what my peers were charging with similar experience, I immediately raised my rates and have been a vocal advocate for pricing transparency ever since. 


Michael Franklin, the co-founder of Speechwriters of Color, challenged us all to be more inclusive of speechwriters and ghostwriters of color, who are often still marginalized in this space. Clients want to find ghostwriters who look like them, and there are plenty of writers whose cultural and racial background, not to mention their lived experience, would make them a far better writing partner than me. His speech was a great reminder to intentionally network with writers of color and send referrals their way.


Jodi Lipper, an NYT bestseller collaborative writer, shared her process of spending significant time with the client—sometimes even living with them for a stint. As someone who mostly interviews people over Zoom, this was a revelation to me. I’m excited to see how immersion-style storytelling could help me deepen my relationship with clients in the future.


Daniel Paisner, a fellow ghostwriter and host of the “As Told To” ghostwriting podcast, emphasized the importance of trust in the ghostwriter-author relationship. “We’re trusting our subjects to be honest, and they’re trusting us to deliver their story and honor their truths.” His comments reminded me of how sacred the ghostwriter-author relationship is. I hope I never lose sight of what an honor it is to be trusted with rendering someone’s story on the page.


Pauleanna Reid cultivates a “purpose portfolio,” as an addition to her resume, which showcases her volunteer work outside of ghostwriting. She also told a story about how a number of her Instagram followers recommended her for a job, and she Venmoed them each money for dinner to say thank you. What a brilliant way to reward your friends and fans.


Nathan Baschez introduced his cool new AI tool, Lex. He affirmed that AI is not a threat to writers but an amazing collaborative tool. Bonus: his software works with Google Docs and promises to help alleviate writer’s block. While I might experiment with this new technology—mostly to see if it can write an epic poem about my cat—I don’t foresee using AI as a writing tool for my projects.


Though it may have felt counterintuitive to share so openly about the field of ghostwriting, which has been shrouded in mystery for so long, I am so grateful that so many of us came together to learn, to share experiences, and to network. I can’t wait to see what I learn at the next Gathering of the Ghosts conference!

Alice Sullivan Brainz Magazine

Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alice Sullivan is an award-winning ghostwriter, collaborator, and 11-time New York Times bestselling editor. A natural-born storyteller, she’s written 60 books and edited over 1,300 titles. She specializes in nonfiction—specifically memoir, self-help, and personal growth. She helps clients identify their goals and messages while creating engaging content to connect with their target markets. Her favorite projects are those that challenge her point of view and expand her knowledge.



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