Meet the ghostwriters who pen bestselling celebrity memoirs

Don’t believe everything you read. The inspirational bestselling book by your favorite celebrity, sports figure or politician was likely penned by someone else.

Even former first lady Michelle Obama, who had a huge 2018 bestseller called “Becoming” and received a whopping $60 million joint advance with her husband for both Obama memoirs, used a “collaborator” —  a ghostwriter — an expert wordsmith who can magically turn speech patterns and sentence structure into a cogent story and garner huge sales and big advances. Michelle wasn’t the first first lady to hire out. Hillary Clinton teamed with ghostwriter Barbara Feinman Todd for her 1996 bestseller, “It Takes A Village.”

J.R. Moehringer, 57, is the highest paid ghostwriter in the business. A Pulitzer prize winner, he began his journalism career at the New York Times and later wrote for the Los Angeles Times. He is said to have earned seven figures for writing Prince Harry’s memoir due to be published late this year. Still, his name never appeared in the advance news the publisher released on the royal’s upcoming book — nor will it appear on the cover next fall.

Even former first lady Michelle Obama used a “collaborator” for her huge 2018 bestseller, “Becoming.”AFP via Getty Images

Moehringer’s name also didn’t appear anywhere in tennis champion Andre Agassi’s 2010 autobiography or in Nike founder Phil Knight’s 2016 bestselling memoir “Shoedog.”

“There are probably 25 really top flight writers but few get credit on the cover — usually just the line ‘written with’ — it’s a battle to get the name on the title page of acknowledgments,” says New York Literary agent Madeleine Morel, whose agency 2M Communications, Ltd. has represented only ghostwriters for more than twenty years.

Curiously, it was Barack Obama who tipped off reporters that Michelle had used a ghostwriter for her memoir, “Becoming.” However, in the book’s acknowledgements, she credits several writers for helping her, including Chris Haugh, a journalist/author/speechwriter who was a fellow at the Obama White House. 

When Hillary Clinton’s memoir “It Takes A Village” was published, it was Washington Post Watergate reporter Bob Woodward who revealed Hillary’s secret — ghostwriter Barbara Feinman Todd penned the big seller.

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward revealed Hillary’s secret — ghostwriter Barbara Feinman Todd penned her bestseller, “It Takes A Village.” WireImage

But first lady Laura Bush openly acknowledged that Lyric Winik wrote her memoir, “Spoken from the Heart.”

Collaborator Ariel Levy wrote Demi Moore’s 2019 memoir, “Inside Out,” and Bizz Bissinger collaborated on Caitlin Jenner’s 2017 memoir “The Secrets of My Life.” Neither received credit in the book. Gwyneth Paltrow initially claimed to have written her 2011 cookbook, “My Father’s Daughter,” but later admitted it was with the help of ghostwriter, Julia Turshen.

“Using a ghostwriter used to be like admitting you had done internet dating, but no more,” says Morel.

And writers are thrilled with the work when other publishing avenues have evaporated.

Still, collaboration agreements are ironclad and generally top-secret.

Demi Moore’s 2019 blockbuster book, “Inside Out,” was written by collaborator Ariel Levy.Getty Images for goop

“Every collaboration agreement has a confidentiality clause in it, which means that anything the author may have told the writer which doesn’t go into the book is confidential and can’t be rumored about, disseminated or shared,” says Morel.

“I always negotiate a clause in the contract that the writer gets credit for the book in their publishing resume and sometimes on their website. If they are not allowed to reveal that they’ve written the book, it’s much harder to get more work.”

The average ghostwriting project pays $75,000 to $100,000 for as little as six months work. Pete Wentz, Pam Anderson, Ashley Judd, Leah Remini all turned to a collaborator to write their memoirs. Writer David Fisher has collaborated on over 70 books, including writing for retired quarterback Terry Bradshaw as well as the late attorney Johnnie Cochran and actor Leslie Nielsen.

J.R. Moehringer, 57, is the highest paid ghostwriter in the business.Getty Images

Ghostwriter Hillary Liftin has written 13 bestsellers. Writer Joni Rodgers has ghosted more than 30 books. Dan Paisner has ghosted some 50 books including working with Gilbert Gottfried, Denzel Washington, Serena Williams, Mayor Bloomberg and other politicos.

There are only a few celebs who have written their own book — among them Matthew McConaughey, Sharon Stone, Dave Grohl. “But the world of ghosting is not going to go away,” declares Morel. “It will only increase.”

“It’s all banner headline and names in publishing now.”