Jo Talks Books: On Ghostwriters

Hey everyone! 6 days to YALC! I am so excited. I have no idea how I’m going to get all the books I wanted to get signed down to London, but I will manage! Somehow. But anyway, that’s off topic. For today’s topic, I’m going to be talking about ghostwriters and the ethics of ghostwriting and the controversy surrounding ghostwriting. For anyone who doesn’t know and is wondering “what the hell is a ghostwriter?”, a ghostwriter is someone who is hired to write books or any other text, be it screenplays, manuscripts, speeches, blog posts (obviously not any of ours!) etc that are officially credited to someone else.

Obviously when you pick up a book with someone’s name on the front, you expect that they themselves have written the book and for the most part with fiction writing, this is true (only about 10-20% of fiction novels are ghostwritten). I’d hazard a guess that most of the books that make up ghostwritten fiction are books that are attributed to celebrities. I’m not going to say that every single celebrity who writes a novel (I’m not talking about celebrity autobiographies here because I think it’s widely accepted that most celebrities use ghostwriters for their autobiographies, I mean let’s face it, who thinks that somebody like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton has the time to write their own autobiography?) has it ghostwritten, I’m not even saying that a celebrity can’t be a good writer, what I am saying is that there are some celebrity books that will have been ghostwritten and there’s nothing wrong with that. These people are not professional authors, it’s natural that they are going to need some help with writing their novel. So why then is there such controversy about it?

I think part of it is you feel a little betrayed if you read a book and enjoy it but then find out that the person who you thought wrote the book didn’t actually write it. Sure it was their idea but when you read a book you are expecting the person whose name is on the cover of the book to both have had the idea and written the book. It’s all well and good if they are open and honest about the fact that they have used a ghostwriter but if someone (and I’m talking anyone here, not just a celebrity) claims to have written a book and it was actually written by a ghostwriter, even if the story was their idea, I can imagine that finding out the book wasn’t written by them could leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Plus there is a huge difference between ghostwriting for an autobiography and ghostwriting for a novel, when ghostwriting for an autobiography, it’s guaranteed that the person who’s autobiography it is is going to decide the content, after all it’s their life. When ghostwriting for a novel, there is always the possibility that aside from the initial idea and having their name on the cover, the person whose novel it is will not be very much involved and the words will actually all come from the ghostwriter, in essence, the person who’s book it supposedly is, is actually taking credit fro someone else’s words.

There is also the issue that the person who does all the work (ie the ghostwriter) is not going to get paid anywhere near as much as the celebrity whose name is attached to the book or the publisher that publishes the book and I have a problem with that, it’s not fair for the person who does all of the writing of a book to receive far less than the person who has their name on the cover even though they have done all of the work (and ghostwriters do receive a pittance compared to the person that they’re writing for), that just seems wrong to me and I’m sure to many other people as well. Admittedly, they are probably going to make more money writing someone else, who has huge name recognition’s book than writing their own book but that still doesn’t make it right that they do all the work and don’t receive much of the reward.

At least if the ghostwriter is credited and acknowledged then when they write books under their own name, people who liked the book that they had ghostwritten will remember them, they’ll be like “oh yeah, that’s the person who wrote (insert celebrity’s name here)’s book and they might get a little name recognition of it. By not acknowledging the ghostwriter, not only is the celebrity deceiving the public, they are also denying them the name recognition that they themselves enjoy. There’s no problem with finding someone who has more experience than you to help you do something that you’ve never done before, that’s fine, no one expects celebrities writing novels not to have help, but they need to be transparent about it. Otherwise people can’t help but feel duped.

There is some controversy that ghostwriting is akin to plagiarism. Now this is where things get difficult, because the technical definition of plagiarism is “claiming the words or ideas of others”. Technically if something is ghostwritten, then the ideas belong to one person, but the words belong to someone else. So if that is plagiarism, who would be the plagiarist? The named author? Or the ghostwriter? I suppose one could argue that ghostwriting is perhaps authorised plagiarism since the ghostwriter is paid to allow the named author to use their words. I honestly don’t think ghostwriting is plagiarism at all, obviously I’m not a ghostwriter, so I don’t know entirely how it works, but I’d assume there must be an agreement between the author and the ghostwriter, like you can take my ideas and write them down but in return I will be the one whose name the book is attributed to and both parties agree to this. Plagiarism is when someone takes the words or ideas of someone else without their permission, in the case of ghostwriting, both parties have given consent (I assume). I feel though that in order to avoid the slippery slope of plagiarism it would be best if both the ghostwriter and the author had their name on the book, like (insert celebrity’s name here) with (insert ghostwriter’s name here). Then at least you are covering all your bases!

Ghostwriting is not necessarily an entirely “evil” thing to do though, it gives writers a chance to write and get paid for their writing, which is something that every writer wants and if you’re lucky, then the book that you helped to write will sell well. Isn’t that what every writer wants? To be able to get paid to write something that people enjoy. I love to write and if someone was offering to pay me to write, I would do it, even if it meant writing for someone else! And I’d imagine that ghostwriting is probably a good way to find an in into publishing, after all, if an editor likes something that you wrote for someone else and thought it was good then they might want to look at some of your other work. If you want to get into the industry then it doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you do. And a lot of ghostwriters do want to remain anonymous, so if they’re willing to work on a project and don’t want their name to be attached to it, then there’s not really any controversy there about them not getting credited for it, because they don’t want that.

Ghostwriting is not only for celebrities, often series of novels that have a very large number of books are written by a group of ghostwriters under a pseudonym, which means you often find that whoever the name on the book is doesn’t exist. But in this case, one person is not pretending that they wrote something that was actually written by someone else, the group pseudonym is used for every book and then the individual author is credited in the copyright pages of the book. That is the difference. The individual ghostwriter in these large series of books is always acknowledged. The ghostwriter of a celebrity book often isn’t (side note: You would actually be surprised how many famous kids series are written by ghostwriters! I definitely was when researching this post! Seriously look up famously ghostwritten works and you’ll be surprised by what you find!).

So overall, I have no problem with the act of ghostwriting itself. It makes complete and total sense that someone who is not skilled in writing would find someone who is more skilled and has more experience to help them. What I do have a problem with is celebrities not acknowledging that their books were ghostwritten. You’ll be far more judged for passing someone else’s work off as your own than you will be for admitting that you needed help with writing your book. Even if the ghostwriter wants to remain anonymous, the celebrity/whoever had their book ghostwritten (yes there are some authors who employ ghostwriters; James Patterson is a famous), you can acknowledge that you had help. It isn’t that hard to do. There is a certain trust between readers and authors and the only way that trust can be kept is by being open and honest with your readers. Readers will probably not care that much if a novel is written by a ghostwriter, if it’s a good book and they like the named author, they will buy it all the same. However if you had a ghostwriter, then I think a lot of us would like to know. Because if you claim to have written a book and it’s actually been ghostwritten and the readers of your book find out then they probably won’t trust you if you say you’ve written further books. Trust is an extremely important thing between an author and their readers, I think. You don’t want to break it. Ghostwriting is a practice that has been going on for a long time and it’s going to keep going for a long time and that’s fine, I’m not asking that ghostwriting stops. All I’m asking is that there is a little more openness and honesty from the industry when a book is ghostwritten. We readers are the ones paying money to buy these books. We deserve to know who really wrote them.

Over to you! What do you think of ghostwriters? Do you think celebrities or anyone else who has used a ghostwriter should be open about it? Do you feel betrayed when you find out a book you’ve read has been ghostwritten? Do you think there should have been such a controversy surrounding ghostwriting (think the controversy surrounding Zoella’s book Girl Online)? Let me know in the comments!

Now today’s post will be my last post for July as I will be at YALC this weekend! THIS WEEKEND! (sorry if you can’t tell I’m a little excited!), but I will be back with my first post of August very soon, probably not next week as I will be doing my YALC wrap up posts, my July #RockMyTBR update and hopefully a review of my latest read Look Who’s Back as I’m hoping to have finished it by then, that in addition to my Top Ten Tuesday and other features and given the fact that I’m going away on Sunday, I probably won’t have time! I will definitely have a new discussion post for you up in a fortnight though, I’m going to be talking about the often discussed Periods In YA fiction and why I am not bothered by the lack of them. My next post in the meantime will be my newest Top Ten Tuesday post tomorrow, so make sure to stay tuned for that!




7 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On Ghostwriters

  1. Ashleigh 25/07/2016 / 9:49 pm

    I think when it comes to ghostwriting it’s a lot about whether the actual writer is acknowledged or not. It definitely doesn’t seem as bad for a celebrity to use a ghostwriter, since that might not be where their talent lies and everyone will pretty much know that. But if it’s a person whose entire job/money gain is from the book, they’re known as an author, and it turns out they didn’t even write it…I suppose it just makes people feel a bit cheated really.

    • iloveheartlandx 27/07/2016 / 4:13 pm

      Yes I totally agree! I think if you don’t know a celebrity didn’t write their book it’s a bit naive really but yes, when it’s a professional author who didn’t really write their own book then you can’t blame people for feeling a bit cheated.

  2. Briana 25/07/2016 / 10:35 pm

    I think you touched on most of the major points. My major issue with ghostwriting is when the writer is not in any way acknowledged. Because, yes, basically any book written by a celebrity has a ghost writer or at least MAJOR editorial intervention by the publishing house staff. Why? Simply because that person has (mostly like, I don’t know what everyone does in their spare time) never even tried to write a book before. The chances that you’re going to sit down and write your first book, whether nonfiction or fiction, and get the structure, pacing, etc. pretty good is very small. You need to practice writing to be good at it, so of course they have help.

    Is that fair? I mean, no. I have (in my opinion) some very interesting ideas for novels, but I can’t just call up Penguin like, “Hey, I have a FABULOUS novel idea! How about you find me a ghostwriter, and then we’ll publish the book under my name, with their name really small somewhere in the inside, and then split the profits?” It doesn’t work that way. Everyone else has to write their own books. But nothing is fair about being a celebrity vs. not being a celebrity, so it’s hard to complain. Their name sells books; mine clearly does not.

    But, yes, be open about it. Say you had “help” or a “co-writer” or something. I think it’s really deceptive to claim you wrote something you did not, even if you assumed “Well everyone probably realizes there’s a ghostwriter. I don’t have to say so.” That’s really under-valuing the work the ghostwriter did. And, honestly, ghostwriters can get a lot of flak anyway. I’ve heard publishing professionals (some; not trying to paint everyone with the same brush here) speak really disdainfully about ghostwriters, even while they were trying to find one to hire. It’s like they think it’s horrible and mercenary to write for money in that way. Sometimes I see ghostwriting pitched as a way to break your way into publishing, but sometimes it actually comes with stigma. People assume you have no creative ideas of your own and no artistic integrity. That’s really not fair when you’re perfectly willing to use the talents of ghostwriters to sell books and make money without giving them any credit.

    • iloveheartlandx 27/07/2016 / 4:20 pm

      Thanks! Yes, I have a problem with that too, I definitely think that the writer should be acknowledge. No one is going to hate a celebrity for not being able to write a book because that’s not what they’re famous for, it’s not where their talents lie, but they should have to acknowledge the person that really wrote the work that their name is attached to. Yes, nothing is fair in regards to celebrity vs non celebrity and they don’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else. I agree it is really deceptive to claim that you wrote something that you didn’t and definitely de-values the work of the ghostwriter if you don’t admit to using one. I think that’s terrible! They’re only trying to do a job, same as anyone else, it’s not that much different than anyone else writing for money. No it’s definitely not fair to look down on ghostwriters when publishing house are quite happy to use them in that way. The industry definitely needs to change their attitudes about ghostwriters, if you are willing to use them to sell books without giving them credit, then you should be willing to look at their work (after all, you wouldn’t have hired them if you didn’t think they were talented!)

      • Briana 27/07/2016 / 8:10 pm

        Exactly. They clearly have talent, or you wouldn’t be hiring them. The book literally wouldn’t exist without them. So I think trying to hide their role in publishing in the book or refusing to consider them “real” writers is absurd. If you’re willing to benefit from what they do, you should at least respect it and give them some credit.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.