It's a typical refrain you hear from many women: they do all of the work but don't get the credit they feel they deserve. That feeling is backed by research, too: study after study after study shows that women receive less credit for their work than men do. But what if that dynamic — doing all of the work without getting the credit — was a lucrative career choice? What if you could monetise sexism? Turns out you can! It's called ghostwriting.
I met ghostwriter Jodi Lipper at a summer cocktail party. As we sipped ready-to-serve cocktails on a patio overlooking the New York City skyline, she told me about her life. She writes 3 books a year, she writes them from her home in New Jersey and she's in a ghostwriter group text with other ghosts. By the end of the conversation, I had to ask her: does she mind doing all the work but not getting the credit? Nope. As long as she gets paid.
But Jodi's first concern isn't money. "I work with a lot of female authors and a lot of authors who are people of colour. And I really make an effort to find those people and get their voices out there — that's really important to me."
Then Jodi told me that nearly every non-fiction book on New York Times bestseller list is ghostwritten, I was shocked. Literally. Look:
"Anyone with a big enough platform to sell that many books, they've got a lot of help," Jodi explained. Celebrities and public figures have great stories, but they usually aren't writers so they outsource it — mostly to women. Turns out, ghostwriting is a female dominated field. And the men who do it don't call them selves ghosts, because they want the credit on the front cover.
"Some of the male ghostwriters who are at the top of the field do fight more for cover credit — that's the 'with so-and-so,' more so than some of the top female ghostwriters." She explains that the men often shy away from the term "ghostwriter," instead choosing to call themselves "collaborative writers," or "co-writers."
"This is an option. It's something that people don't really know about because it is so secret and hidden, but meanwhile it's a lucrative career that I would say is strictly creative, it's just writing, that's something that is really important to women who want a career," Jodi explained.
So what does it take to be a ghost? "I think that's a big part of the skillset of actually being a ghostwriter is that ability to connect with different people. You have to earn that trust." For Jodi, it's not about credit. "To me it's not about getting credit or having my name on the book, it's about knowing that I have helped them tell their story."