What’s the Difference? Co-author vs. Ghostwriter

What are they & how do they get paid?

I’ve been seeing more and more questions lately about what ghostwriting is, or ads looking for a ghostwriter but the way they write it is looking for a co-author.

So, let’s dive into the differences between a ghostwriter and a co-author.

What are a ghostwriter and co-author?

A ghostwriter is a writer who is hired to write books, speeches, literary works, anything which is officially credited to another person.

A co-author is someone who jointly writes the book or paper WITH another author with both parties actively writing and including their ideas. It is a partnership where both parties write and both have their name on the cover of the book.

Examples of ghostwriting:

Famous examples of ghostwriting are when celebrities hire a ghostwriter to write books under the celebrities’ name or speechwriters for political figures. Some lesser-known examples of ghostwriting are when CEOs and brand owners hire ghostwriters to write their e-books, companies often have people writing for their blogs as ‘ghosts,’ and putting the posts in employee’s names, and how many companies hire social media managers to write social posts under the corporate brand name, not as themselves.

Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Ascendancy (Jason Bourne series)

Specific examples of ghostwritten books:

  • The Babysitter’s Club was written by Ann. M. Martin for the first 35 books and then written by Peter Lerangis after that, with the books still published under Martin’s name.
  • The Animorph’s series was written by K.A. Applegate for the first 24 books and then written by ghostwriters after that for the next 27 books. She was transparent about this and even thanked the ghostwriter in her books.
  • Eric Van Lustbader ghostwrote the Jason Bourne series after Robert Ludlum died in 2001.
The Talisman: A Novel

Examples of co-authored books:

How does ghostwriting work?

I ghostwrite both books and articles for clients. It’s not as if the author just says “I want to write a book about marketing, go!”

It’s a lot more involved than that. The top two reasons someone hires a ghostwriter is that they have a lot of content and great ideas but either they are not good writers or simply don’t have the time to devote to writing a book.

So, they hire someone like me to take their outline, all of their notes and ideas, whatever they’ve written so far, and put it all together in a cohesive book.

I talk to them regularly to get more information, ask questions, dig deeper, and then I keep writing until there is a full manuscript.

The author then goes over it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure the content is correct and accurate and conveys the message they are trying to get out there, as well as make any additions or changes.

Once the author approves it (they have full creative control), the manuscript is ready to go to an editor.

This process can take weeks or months.

Basically, I am not coming up with and writing my own book based on my expertise and experienced. I am TAKING someone else’s expertise and experience and writing it down.

How does co-authoring work?

This varies from partnership to partnership. In most cases, the authors come up with the ideas and entire outline together and both have a lot of say in how the book will go and what they will include.

In some cases, they may split it by chapter and have each author working on different chapters of the story but working from the same outline and overall writing style and ideas.

In some cases, they actively work together in one room with one typing and both bouncing ideas back and forth. In others, they are writing it one chapter at a time and trading the chapter back and forth until they are both happy with it.

It depends on the partnership and how they work best together.

How do ghostwriters and co-authors get paid?

Ghostwriters typically sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) so they are not advertising their work on the book, and get paid an upfront flat rate.

Rates are generally calculated by how much time the ghostwriter thinks it will take times their hourly rate.

Contracts are signed and either the full amount is paid upfront or half is at the beginning and half at completion, or the full amount is agreed upon and then payments are broken out over the time working together. It’s paid out however the ghostwriter specifies in their contract.

Ghostwriters DO NOT GET ROYALTIES or their name on the book in most cases. We charge an upfront flat rate to get paid for our services on the front end, not on “potential sales.” There is no guarantee of those.

Co-authors are not paid upfront. They are an active author of the book and get full credit and usually, two or more co-authors split any publisher advance money, royalty money, and/or merchandise and additional stuff money. Co-author partnerships also have a contract stating who gets what and how things are split.

They don’t get paid for the writing process, they get paid on the back end after the book is complete and published.


So, the main two differences are the way ghostwriters and co-authors are paid and if they get credit for writing the book.

There are a lot of reasons someone might want a ghostwriter and there are many pairings of people who want to write a book together.

It is important to know the differences between the two so that you know what you’re really looking for and how they differ. If you’re looking for a co-author to share the writing process with and split royalties, do not advertise for a ghostwriter. It’s a completely different relationship and process.

Entrepreneur, writer, editor, book coach, cat lover, weirdo, optimist. Author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.” & “Concept to Conclusion.” jyssicaschwartz.com

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