Are there hidden hands behind best-selling books?

The sentence is conclusive. “Politicians’ books are always written by someone,” says a ghost writer between nervous laughs. He has penned three best-selling titles for a third party, been translated, and brought the cover man to center stage on news media and video platforms.

The case of ghosts —ghostwriter in the Anglo-Saxon industry— is very common in the publishing circuits: there are all kinds and hairs. For amateurs who long to upload their memoirs to Amazon and there are those in the pay of publishers to unwind the skein of syntax and grammar for scientists, actors, musicians and celebrities with multi-million dollar contracts.

They write for others: they help to clarify the ideas of others, they set up narrative structures to turn that vague idea —barely an outline in thought— into an appetizing hook. At least one readable text. “You write to let go,” continues the ghost.

Also, most of the titles grouped under the commercial banner of wellness — priests, anchors, pastors, chefs, doctors — are written by someone who doesn’t attend press conferences or autograph nights.

The ghosts sign an agreement to receive an amount of money – between ten and fifteen million pesos for a 150-page job – and hide. A confidentiality clause shields those who use their services. Therefore, despite the rumors about the authorship of a work, there is no way to corroborate if this senator wrote his memoirs himself, if this medical guru wrote the recommendations for a healthy life or if this banker actually spent time before the blank page to reveal the mechanisms of his nose for business.

“This should not surprise people: no politician writes their speeches and there are several newspaper columnists who rely on ghosts,” says the ghost.

In other words, in the Colombian cultural and journalistic system there are writers who do not write and many who do receive a check once they complete the delivery of the unpublished and withdraw into the shadows.


The practice of renting someone else’s pen is not recent. In history there are many famous —and even funny— anecdotes of books signed by someone, but written by a third party. In ancient times, for example, the practice was very usual. Linguistic studies of the Bible, to mention one case, have strengthened the idea that the four Gospels of the New Testament were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Apparently they are the result of the work of communities from different places in the geography of the incipient Christianity. This perception extends to the rest of the sacred writings. “The only historicity, so to speak, that has been proven is that of some of the letters of Saint Paul. The other books are not known exactly who wrote them. In the case of the texts of Saint John, both the gospel, the epistles and the Apocalypse could be said to be the fruit of a community”, says the theologian Jhonatan Benavides.

In France there is a joke involving a first-rate author of enormous relevance to 19th-century literature. On one occasion Alexandre Dumas Sr. asked his namesake son: “Have you read my new novel?” Dumas son replied: “No, and you?”

Literary historians—sometimes turned into detectives—have discovered that behind The Count of Monte Cristo and the saga Lthe three musketeers —the main titles on which Dumas’s fame rests— were written almost entirely by Auguste Maquet.

The figure of Dumas fills a good part of the French literary manuals while that of Maquet was restricted to the role of a footnote in the biography of the former. Another resounding sample of a consecrated writer —and with the Nobel Prize— who received the help of ghosts is that of the Spaniard Camilo José Cela. With the investigation “Disassembling Cela”, the journalist Tomás García Yebra traced the traces of third parties in Cela’s books. He found them in all, even in the most important, Beehive.

“Cela was a great prose writer, with an exquisite style, but finding stories and stories was a problem for him,” he said in the essay. The names of talented writers, recognized for their books, who served as ghosts, are also known. HP Lovecraft —a legend of horror fiction— was hired by the editor of the magazine Weird Tales to write a column and two stories that reached the public with the signature of a superstar of the moment: the illusionist Harry Houdini.

“Almost all of us have been ghosts of someone. We have rewritten other people’s texts, we have corrected them”, says the ghost, who before being a ghost was the director of a magazine with national circulation.

“My daughter read Mrs. Obama’s memoirs, I’m pretty sure she didn’t write them. I’m afraid Keith Richards needed someone’s help to write Life, his memories. This book is a verraquera. Nor do I believe that Santos or Petro have written his books. With what time?

Every once in a while, ghosts change jobs. That happened to the Bogotá publicist and writer Sonia Ramón: after writing two novels for someone —one of them a best-seller— she decided to set up a literary consultancy, becoming a sort of writing coach. Now, on her social networks, she advises professionals of all kinds to put her ideas on paper.

In 2010, the controversial Roman Polanski premiered The Ghost Writer, film starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor. The film narrates the link between a politician in his twilight —Brosnan— and a young writer —McGregor—. At one point, the ghost character thinks to himself, “Ghosts never get invited to launch parties. We are usually an embarrassment, like a mistress at a wedding.”

Ghosts are just that: presences that roam the pages of other people’s books, leaving slight marks of their passage. Perhaps an alert eye is enough to perceive them.


Note: Sonia Ramón asked to make it clear that the books that appear on her website were not written by her. The authors of these received her support and guidance

We want to thank the writer of this write-up for this outstanding material

Are there hidden hands behind best-selling books?