10 Famous Ghostwriters Who Transformed the Literary World

By: Rafal Reyzer
Updated: Sep 27th, 2023

famous ghostwriters who transformed the literary world - featured image

Ghostwriting is a trade almost as old as any.

Rich and famous people commission ghostwriters to put together a narrative of their eventful life or ideas because they lack the expertise or time to write it themselves. The term “famous ghostwriters” seems to be an oxymoron since most of them remain anonymous. But then, some emerged out of the shadows and into the public eye. One literary ghost who later came to the limelight said: “Behind the title of a ghostwriter, I… converse with kings and billionaires… the homeless… rock stars and actors.” Literary ghosts are everywhere, some of whom later became famous and blazed the trails for others. Let these famous ghostwriters inspire you to take your writing skills to the next level.

10 Famous Ghostwriters You Should Know About

Many of these ghostwriters became celebrated authors. They transformed the literary world by writing stories that made people sigh, gasp, laugh, cry, cringe, scream, dream, and more. They also set a precedent for others to follow in the ghostwriting business. Showing the way to lend voices to popular courses, even though recognition is often minimal.

1. Alan Dean Foster

Alan Dean Foster

The novel Star Wars Episode IV: a New Hope, also known as Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster. Although George Lucas gets the most credit for turning this masterpiece into a 1977 classic film, Foster was its real author. While the movie broke unbelievable boundaries, there are still a lot of scenes that didn’t make it to the big screen and can only be enjoyed through the original novel’s pages. Foster also contributed other works to the Star Wars novel series. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of his novelization of several successful sci-fi movie franchises including Star Trek, Alien, Transformers, and The Terminator, totaling close to close to 50 books. Check out his complete list of published novels in the last half a century.

2. Ted Sorensen

JFK's speechwriter Ted Sorensen

Theodore Sorensen might be renowned as US President John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter, but he did more than that. The book for which J.F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize, Profiles in Courage, was ghostwritten by Sorensen. Even though the ideas expressed in the book were Kennedy’s, Sorensen professionally put them together. This is one notable feat in political ghostwriting, and it made Sorensen a highly sought-after ghostwriter when this information came to light. Ted Sorensen is a lawyer by profession. Although he was not as prolific as the other authors on this list, he published several books with a political theme in his lifetime. His most famous work is Kennedy: The Classic Biography, which was born out of his closeness to one of the most iconic U.S. presidents in history.

3. H. P. Lovecraft

famous ghostwriter H.P. Lovecraft

If you are a fan of horror stories, you would know H. P. Lovecraft. A creator of supernatural tales, he found fame for his short story collection titled The Call of Cthulhu. But he is a famous ghostwriter who wrote for the popular escape artist and onetime president of the Society of American Magicians, Harry Houdini. He was born in August 1890 and died in March 1937. While he was virtually unknown during his lifetime, his genius was posthumously recognized. He became distinguished as the master of supernatural and horror fiction of the 20th century. Weird Tales, the literary magazine founded by J.C. Henneberger, bought Lovecraft’s short stories. At about the same time, its founder hired Lovecraft to write a supposedly valid account about Harry Houdini entitled Under the Pyramids (Imprisoned with the Pharaohs). The outcome impressed Houdini so much that he hired Lovecraft to ghostwrite different stories for him until his death. Here is a link to the complete bibliography of H. P. Lovecraft. This Wikipedia page contains a list of the books published under his name, as well as his ghostwriting works.

4. Eric Van Lustbader

author Eric Van Lustbader

The fictional amnesiac former CIA operative Jason Bourne outlived his original creator in 11 more books, thanks to Eric Van Lustbader. Robert Ludlum was best known as the creator of the said character who has lived on in films like The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, even after he died in 2001. Was Ludlum dictating from the great beyond? He wasn’t. The series did not die with its original author because a ghostwriter continued The Bourne Series. With the permission of Ludlum’s estate, Eric Van Lustbader continued the saga from where Ludlum left off. He did this till 2018, adding almost a dozen bestselling Jason Bourne novels to the collection. Thanks to Lustbader ghosting off the ground, we have more action-packed pieces to enjoy. You can see here a complete list of Eric Van Lustbader’s published books. They are arranged in reverse chronological order as well as grouped by series.

5. Andrew Neiderman

Famous ghostwriter for V.C. Andrews, Andrew Neiderman

Discussing famous ghostwriters without mentioning Andrew Neiderman would be so wrong. C. Andrews was the author of Flowers in the Attic and other stories in the series. Her taboo family drama tales needed to be continued after her death in 1986 to satisfy the curiosity of many wondering teenagers. Andrews’ estate hired Neiderman to complete stories left unfinished by the legendary novelist. Neiderman did more than that when he wrote other similar series to her credit. How he has maintained the tone, style, and personality of the original author is worthy of mention. This former high school teacher who impressively leaped into ghostwriting has made a name for himself as well in literature. He published dozens of novels in his name, including the book The Devil’s Advocate, which was made into a movie starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves in 1997. You can check here to see the complete list of Andrew Neiderman’s books, including those published under the V. C. Andrews Trust.

6. Katherine Anne Porter

Katherine Anne Porter

Katherine is another famous ghostwriter who gained recognition after many years of work. Born in May 1890, she died in September 1980. Besides working as an American journalist, she was a short story writer, novelist, political activist, and ghostwriter. She ghostwrote the book My Chinese Marriage, published in 1921, for Mae Tiam Franking. Despite an abusive relationship that almost claimed her life, she broke free and made a name for herself as a short story writer. She even won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for a series of vignettes titled The Collected Stories. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Katherine Anne Porter only published one novel in her name, Ship of Fools, which was adapted into a hit film in 1965. She has several short story collections in print, though, including some that were published posthumously.

7. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

This French writer was married to the well-known literary figure Henry Gauthier-Villars (pen name Willy), who motivated her to write. Her first four novels, the Claudine series, were published under his name. He merely chose the novel’s subject and left Colette to come up with the body. Sadly, all copyrights belonged to Willy, so Colette had no access to the earnings from these books. They eventually separated in 1906, allowing Colette to reclaim her work and produce other bestselling novels. These include the books entitled Cheri and Gigi. College was hailed as France’s Greatest Woman Writer in her era. Several of her books played a tremendous part in the history of French cinema. You can check out this Wikipedia page to see a complete list of Sidonie-Gabrielle Collete’s notable literary works.

8. Peter Lerangis

famous author and ghostwriter Peter Lerangis

Although he’s a distinguished author of children’s and young adult fiction such as Seven Wonders and 39 Clues, this Harvard scholar is also a famous ghostwriter. He authored books for the Sweet Valley High series, Three Investigators, and Hardy Boys series under the alias A. L. Singer. He also worked on over 40 books in The Babysitters Club series. He also novelized over twenty film screenplays. It includes Beauty and the Beast, The Sixth Sense, Sleepy Hollow, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Here is a list of Peter Lerangis’ published works.

9. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain

Mark Twain

The Autobiography of General Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs of the Civil War may have been fully credited to the great American Civil War general and former US President, but it was Mark Twain who put it all together. Yes, Mark Twain, the American humorist William Faulkner called “the father of American literature.” With Twain’s help, former President Grant published his memoirs. This book became a bestseller and provided a means for the former president to retire comfortably as there were no lifetime benefits for presidents of that time. He also wrote the novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn under his pen name. These two books are among the greatest American classic literature. You can find here a complete list of Mark Twain’s published works.

10. Robert Lindsay

Robert Lindsay

Robert Lindsay is another popular author recognized as a famous ghostwriter. He wrote the 1990 autobiography of Ronald Reagan, titled An American Life, based on the significant events in the life of the late US President. The book made it to the New York Times Bestseller list, with Robert Lindsay getting most of the credit. There was a famous anecdote about a reporter who asked the former president about his autobiography, and he responded, “I hear it’s a great book! I mean to read it one day.” This indicates that he likely contributed little to the writing of the book. Lindsay later became successful with his true crime novels, one of which is the popular The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage.

Wrap Up

These ten famous ghostwriters or collaborators worked with people who either had an idea to express or had already laid the groundwork for a book but could not build it all the way through. This explains what many ghostwriters do. Although some never get public recognition, they might have felt some sense of fulfillment in knowing that their work become bestsellers. So, if you work behind the scenes as a content creator, making hit Facebook posts, Instagram posts, or Tweets for famous figures, we might not see you, but we hear you. It could be a stepping stone to becoming one of the many famous ghostwriters in history and publishing your work.

Rafal Reyzer

Rafal Reyzer

Hey there, welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time entrepreneur building two companies, a digital marketer, and a content creator with 10+ years of experience. I started RafalReyzer.com to provide you with great tools and strategies you can use to become a proficient digital marketer and achieve freedom through online creativity. My site is a one-stop shop for digital marketers, and content enthusiasts who want to be independent, earn more money, and create beautiful things. Explore my journey here, and don't miss out on my AI Marketing Mastery online course.