How Can You Tell if a Book is Ghostwritten?

I know from experience that many authors who hire ghostwriters are really concerned about being found out. They want to know what the ghostwriter will do to keep their work confidential, who will know about the arrangement, and whether they have to legally disclose that their book was ghostwritten.

The great news is that there is no one way to tell if a book is ghostwritten. Authors are under no obligation to reveal whether they wrote the book with their own hands or hired someone to do it for them.

In some cases, you may find that the ghostwriter is credited on the book’s cover, as a co-author or using phrasing such as, “as told to Rhiannon D’Averc”. In other cases, the ghostwriter will be mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements – look out for nicely-put euphemisms such as writing coach, editor, co-conspirator, guiding hand, or so on. This gets tricky, of course, because sometimes that person really is a writing coach instead of a ghostwriter!

If you’re concerned about people knowing that your book is ghostwritten, you really don’t need to worry about it. Not only will no one know for sure if you don’t tell them, but it also doesn’t matter as much as you might think. Some of the biggest books of the last few years have been openly ghostwritten, and no one really bats an eyelid at the practice these days.

If you want to try and figure out whether a certain book was ghostwritten as a reader, there are a few tells you can look for – although nothing will be complete proof other than an actual admission from the author. Here are some signs a book may be ghostwritten – just take them with a pinch of salt!:

  • Is the book written by someone who isn’t known for their ability to write? For example, if the author consistently makes spelling and grammar errors on social media or has openly talked about hating the practice of writing, they may have hired a ghostwriter.
  • Is the book written by a subject matter expert? While it does happen, it’s not likely that someone would be an expert in a field unrelated to writing (for example, detective work at the very top of their field) and also writing at the same time, because it takes many years to hone a skill. The number of subject matter experts who write their own books themselves is dwarfed by the number who use a ghostwriter.
  • Is the book written by someone who is obviously very busy? Most celebrities or high-powered entrepreneurs don’t realistically have time to do the time-consuming work of typing out a book themselves. Many of them entrust this part of the process to someone else.
  • Is the tone of the book different to that person’s online and real life personality? If someone is known for their chatty posts on social media but their book is very formal, they may have hired a (pretty poor) ghostwriter who got the tone of voice wrong. This is fairly rare, and bear in mind it may also have been a stylistic choice from an author who wants to be taken more seriously or write in a more commercial way.
  • Is someone credited in the acknowledgements section in a way that could be a surreptitious reference to ghostwriting? Try to read between the lines!
  • Has the author spoken publicly about using a ghostwriter? Some relationships are an open book, such as J. R. Moehringer’s clients – who include Prince Harry and Andre Agassi. In his case, his clients are open about using his services because he’s known to be a celebrity writer himself.
  • Is a co-author credited on a work that seems to come out suspiciously close to the author’s last published work? Some of the major authors in fiction have started to use this tactic, putting out new titles in long-running series or even new standalone books using a ghostwriter who is credited alongside them. In reality, their involvement in the book usually extends only as far as suggesting the plot and then approving the finished version, allowing them to put out work at a faster pace than if they wrote it themselves. When an author is well-established, it’s easy for a ghostwriter to study their previous work and emulate their style exactly.


It’s not easy to tell whether a book is ghostwritten or not – and you may be surprised to learn that most celebrity books, a lot of fiction books under big names, and many non-fiction books by subject matter experts are all ghostwritten. It’s an open secret that has been part of the publishing industry for a very long time!

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