Recently, I was approached by someone to become a ghostwriter for their adult thriller novel. Mixed emotions ran through my system. The initial inquiry was heartfelt with a story of a friend who had recently passed away, resulting in the writer struggling to get her mojo back. I did sympathize, but the fundamental tenants behind ghostwriting to me are just wrong.
For those who don’t know, ghostwriting is where another writer writes a piece so someone else can take the credit for it. Many politicians and celebrities hire ghostwriters to write their memoirs. There are writers out there who make a pretty penny by taking on these contracts, but these writers can never get the credit for their own work, not unless that politician/celebrity publicly announces that they didn’t write that book that they have now been famed for. The issue becomes even more complicated when you are talking about a fictional novel.
Many writers are struggling to get their voices heard by the publishing world — I count myself among them. We spend countless hours slaving over our manuscripts to make them all sparkly. It’s hard work. Anyone who says otherwise has never written a book.
Saying that, I can see the allure of being a ghostwriter. You want to make a living as a writer, struggling to put food on the table. You need to pay the bills somehow. A contract comes along where you will get paid handsomely, but you can’t take the credit for what you produce. Hey, it’s the price you pay for putting food on the table and a roof over your head. I get it. But there is the long-term situation to think about.
That ghostwritten fictional novel has taken off. It’s become a best-seller. Go you. But you don’t see any of the royalties or reap any of the rewards that come along with it. You’ve actually written something that is doing well, meanwhile, anything written using your own name is struggling. What’s worse, you get accused of copying this style and voice of this best-seller that you actually wrote. Sorry, guys, but this is where I have a problem with the entire concept.
Let’s add to the situation: say that the so-called author finally agrees to reveal that they weren’t the one who wrote that best-selling book. It’s good news for the ghostwriter, but bad news for that best-selling author. Fans feel cheated. Sales might go down and future sales could be affected in a negative way.
Some might ask how is ghostwriting any different to using a pen name or a pseudonym? Well, with a pen name, you still get the credit. When it comes to the contracts, you sign them with your legal name. You might have a pen name for any number of reasons, but you can still claim that pen name. It’s still you. For a ghostwriter, another person entirely claims the work.
In some recent conversations about this with fellow writers, one said she was fine with the idea of ghostwriting because she is also a graphic designer. However, graphic designers are nothing like ghostwriters. They can still claim credit for the work they’ve done. They may not get any additional financial reward from a certain contract, but they at least get the credit where credit is due. This is not how ghostwriting works.
Other writers have suggested that they were more than willing to be ghostwriters for memoirs. Let’s think about that for a moment. It has become the IN-thing to have a tell-all book. Most celebrities and politicians with these autobiography/memoir books are not writers. Many of these books have been ghostwritten. But I still feel that the writer should get the credit where credit is due. They put the time and effort into writing that book. They should reap some of the rewards.
However, in doing some research for this article, I’ve discovered a group of ghostwriters that will never be allowed to get credit for their own writing. For this group of authors, ghostwriting is the only way they can have their voices heard. I’m talking about blacklisted authors.
Writing can be thought of as an incurable disease. When you have something to say, you need to say it. I can only imagine what it would be like for those blacklisted authors. Writing under a pseudonym might work for some, but only for so long. Once the connection is made between the two names, it’s all over. The same can be said for the ghostwriting situation, but at least with ghostwriting, there is a public face that can be put on the writing, providing a level of distance that using a pen name doesn’t.
Personally, I could never accept a ghostwriting contract. While the money might be good, I would want credit for the writing that I do. Even if it’s a memoir or other non-fiction work, if I wrote it, I’d want my name to be attached to it. I wouldn’t mind if my name was only in small print — it’s a marketing thing — but give credit where credit is due.
Okay… Rant over. You can now go back to your regularly scheduled program.
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016