I hear it's a terrific book! One of these days I'm going to read it myself.
Ronald Reagan on his autobiography, ghostwritten by Robert Lindsey
I just did not have time to sit down and write a book.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell on "her" novel Swan.
A ghostwriter is someone who writes in the name of someone else - normally someone more famous, who is presumed to be the author. Ghostwriting (short: ghosting) is often done openly, and no one doubts that royalty and most high-rank politicians, for instance, hire ghostwriters to take care of preparing their speeches and researching and writing articles.
This is a common practice, and ghostwriting is considered a legitimate business. Check out the ghostwriting category of the Open Directory Project - and try to remember the last time you saw those guys that were actually singing while Milli Vanilli were practicing their lipsync, advertising their services and line of business in the same manner. Ghostwriting isn't considered to be a fraud, whereas singing (or signing a check) in someone else's name is. In most cases, trying to pass off someone else's work as your own would get you into serious trouble. Not so with ghostwriting, at least as long as there is a valid contract.
And whether or not the ghostwriter is known, varies. The title sheet of a book written by a ghostwriter might say "as told to" or "with" followed by the ghostwriter's name - but the name might also be hidden in the acknowledgements or left out altogether. Naomi Campbell's publisher repeatedly refused to admit that her novel Swan was created by a ghostwriter, although the supermodel more or less admitted it herself. Others never really tried to hide it, as the Reagan quote above should illustrate.
Tables can be turned. Pamela Harriman, late Washington hostess and US ambassador to France, hired Time columnist and Maggie Thatcher biographer Christopher Ogden to write her memoirs in 1991. After giving some 40 hours of interviews, she dropped the project and refused to pay Ogden. He proceeded to use the information anyways and write the biography The Life of the Party, that became a bestseller - with Ogden's own name on the cover.
A different kind of ghostwriting is that of endless series of books written by several ghostwriters under one (often fictional) name - such as the stories of Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys, published by the Stratemeyer syndicate.
There might be a fine line between editing and ghostwriting, but no one denies the existence of editors or feels ashamed to have an editor. If there really isn't anything shameful in using ghostwriters, why do so few title sheets of so-called autobiographies by celebrities include the name of the person who actually wrote the book? Myself, I am not big on biographies in the first place, but I don't necessarily consider a biography written by someone other than the person in question less interesting - quite the contrary.
"The Writer's Encyclopedia" actually states that "The ghostwriter's personality/voice is completely hidden" in the work, which I think is taking it a bit far. Writing for someone else and trying to express their opinions and views is one thing - becoming that person is another, and to hide your own personality and voice completely, I should think that such a transformation would be necessary. Also, if you are writing for someone who can't write themself - as would often be the case - whose literary voice would you be using then?
Some works by ghostwriters:
Unconfirmed, but likely: A Mother's Gift by Lynne&Britney Spears (ghostwriter: Tom Carter)
Some well-known ghosted series:
Stupot made me aware of the case of J R Hartley, where a fictional book by a fictional author appeared in a tv commercial and later ended up as a real Christmas bestseller, ghostwritten by Michael Russel.
Please, should you know of good examples of ghosted works that ought to be listed here, /msg me. You will, of course, be credited.
The Washington Post article was what triggered this writeup, and some of the anecdotes here are taken from the article and/or confirmed by other sources. I am not trying to take credit for this excellent article by Gregory Baruch.