There are a few different definitions of the term ghost writer, but this one from your dictionary.com sums it up succinctly, 'a person who writes books, articles, etc. for another who professes to be the author'. In a two thousand and ten a movie called 'The Ghost Writer', directed by Roman Polanski was released to acclaim. In this film, a substitute paid to complete the memoirs of a politician uncovered deep dark secrets allowing him to be the one at risk. So it is obviously not all plain sailing out there for authors covering for a celebrity, sports person, public figure or anyone famous, particularly somebody who has made enemies along the way, or who has stumbled upon something that would have been best left covered.
Who Does It and Why
There are plenty of freelancers and journalists listed on various websites that have the desire and ability to author a work in somebody else’s name. So anyone looking for someone to make sense of his or her life and turn it into something readable can locate plenty of people out there who will do it for a fee. It may sound strange that a professional will happily let someone else take the credit for the creative work that they complete. One cannot imagine an artist allowing another person to sign their name to a painting or sculpture. However, hold on a minute, there have, from time immemorial, been some situations where this has occurred. In general, artworks are not signed until they are completely finished. This is obviously how a work is identified long after the artist is not around. In some cases, a mark instead of a signature is used, so it may be plausible that someone penning a work ostensibly created by another could add some kind of mark or identification, so that on very close inspection their identity could be revealed (perhaps when they are famous themselves).
High Profile vs. High Pay
Most author societies have their profiles listed online these days, and it appears that there are plenty of resources from these organizations perfectly willing to take money for writing an autobiography or memoir. It must be assumed that the higher profile an author has, the more a person will have to pay to hire them. One must also assume that it is very difficult for an author to make a lot of money from writing, so he or she must find employment, wherever they can. If a ghost is a nonexistent person or thing, then people who take on projects under another person’s name must also be invisible. We would take a stab at guessing that famous people would pay big fees to this invisible person to create an autobiography that was not their own. Many may argue that a celebrity does not care about the profit generated from the sale of his or her life in words, but is more likely to be more interested in the publicity such a vehicle produces.
So would you hire such a professional to develop your life on the page? At least there is always the opportunity to veto anything that you may find unflattering. Whilst hagiographies in the form of a biography are often heavily criticised, an autobiography is seen in quite a different light. Why would anyone render themselves unappealing in their writing about their own lives?