Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Ghost Writing - Yay or Nay?

From the definition, a ghostwriter is: "a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person. Celebrities, executives, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, magazine articles, or other written material."

I caught a feature on a television programme last night concerning ghost writing, and the ethics behind it i.e. whether the ghostwritten books were failing under the sales descriptions act, by promising something that doesn't actually exist.

One of the examples given was novels by this author:

If you were a child and had read and enjoyed books in the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton, when you picked the above novel off the shelf who would you believe had written the words within?

Enid Blyton, right?

Nope. Wrong. This book - and many others continuing the canon of Blyton's most famous series - are written by Pamela Cox.


You wouldn't know from glancing at the cover. Unfair, surely, to children who buy a book believing it to be by their beloved author? And unfair, almost certainly, to Ms Cox who doesn't receive any of the plaudits for said book.

How about this one?

People buying this book would expect that model and celebrity Jordan - aka Katie Price - had written Sapphire. A not unreasonable assumption, I think you'll agree, considering her name is emblazoned across the cover.

Wrong again.

Katie Price has admitted that she thinks up the ideas, but has an assistant actually write the novels that carry her name. Here we have a case of wondering exactly how much work should go into a book before a person can expect to have their name on the front of the book! I mean, I can dream up plenty of ideas for a book - but the writing of it, the hard graft, is beyond me. If I hire somebody to write for me, can I put my name on a book?

Take a look at this:

"Created by Tom Clancy." But written by David Michaels - which is, in turn, a pseudonym for Raymond Benson! Confused? Me too. I approve more of this one, however - at least Mr Clancy is not claiming ALL the credit....

Finally, last year there was a great deal of kerfuffle about this book:

James Frey is one of the names behind Pittacus Lore - and, in 2009, Frey formed "Full Fathom Five," a young adult novel publishing company that aimed to create highly commercial, high concept novels like Twilight. In November 2010, controversy arose when an MFA student who had been in talks to create content for the company released her extremely limiting contract online. The contract allows Frey license to remove an author from a project at any time, does not require him to give the author credit for their work, and only pays a standard advance of $250. A New York Magazine article entitled, "James Frey's Fiction Factory," gave more details about the company, including information about the highly successful "I Am Number Four" series, a collaboration between author Jobie Hughes and Frey. The article details how Frey removed Hughes from the project, allegedly during a screaming match between the two authors. In the article, Frey is accused of abusing and using MFA students as cheap labor to churn out commercial young adult books.

So, are we feeling positive about ghost writing?

I would love to hear a favourable impression about ghost writing because, personally, it seems to be all about the money. Milking a series once a beloved author has died; using a celebrity name to sell books to those who don't know better; forcing poor contract terms and abusing naive authors who just want to be published.

I have to say, I'm left feeling very negative about ghost writing, and as though it would actively deter me from reading something that has been ghost written.

What are your impressions of ghost writing? Can you tell me about any decent ghost written novels that might change my mind?


  1. I don't really have anything good to say about Ghost Written novels. I think Tom Clancy has the right idea - It's his concept (so he's rightly credited) but the writer get's the plaudits.

    If it's not written by you, you shouldn't claim it is.

    I'm sure someone will get this point across far more eloquently than I can, though!


  2. I agree about the Tom Clancy thing. In general I'd like to see this "Writer A writing as Famous Dead Writer" Sebastian Faulks did this when he wrote a Fleming novel, I'd prefer to see that on the Enid Blyton books as we know it can't be Enid Blyton. I think the writer should get the credit/blame they deserve. With 'autobiogs'they should at least put in "As told to Writer B'.

  3. As long as somewhere on the cover, front or back, it's made clear who wrote the book, I think it's Okay.
    I've ghost written several technical articles for quite famous 'technical gurus' in the past and always felt uneasy when seeing it in print. Almost as if I'd aided and abetted in a fraud.
    Then the cheque arrived and I was able to buy more cardboard for my son's shoes and all was well again.

  4. I think *most* ghost writers go into the situation with their eyes open. James Frey's fiction factory is a different kettle of fish as he seems to have dedicated his career to being as unpleasant and as untrustworthy as possible, whilst getting rich from other people's effort.

    The ghost writer or the 'Snooki' book seems to have positive things to say about the experience here - but it seems like she got a lucrative contract from that [info here]: http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/life/snookis-better-half-the-ghostwriter-behind-quot-a-shore-thing-quot-2437056.

    As far as celebrity works are concerned, I think that it's damaging to have bestseller books, by people whom otherwise present as gleefully uneducated, and who have no regard for literature in any form. To them releasing a book is just another product, a way to expand their brand, like a perfume, or makeup line.

    A lot of well known authors went on note to say it was disheartening to see the Snooki (reality show contestant) book on the best-seller lists, when Snooki herself, seems to revel in the persona of being dumb-for-dumb's-sake.

    I just don't know if the people who bought the Snooki book would necessarily have bought another text had that one not been available.

    Do you think celebrity books written by the celebrities themselves would sell any worse than ghost written ones?

  5. I don't think anyone really believes Katie Price writes her own books. But I have to say, as a reader I don't like the practice of labelling a book something it isn't. I'm okay with someone taking credit for their concept in bold letters and letting a less well known writer take a small print credit. It's advertising, and celebrity endorsements will always dazzle some people.

    But I don't appreciate deception. All books are collaborative works, but ultimately the person who writes most of the words is the best indication of the quality of the book.

    Celebrity books actually written by celebs with no writing experience would be pretty poor, though, on average. But that's even more reason why they should disclose an "as told to" credit.

  6. Ghostwriting is awful IMHO. If you write something, you ought to put your name on it, and not someone elses.

    I'd rather know who actually wrote the volume.

    The Tom Clancy ones get a bit of a pass if only because at least the other guy's name is on the cover....but it's not like we don't all know that Splinter Cell was a Tom Clancy idea...why does his name have to go on the cover at all? Money I guess. Name recognition.

    Beyond all this, the Frey thing pisses me off to no end, as apparently the contract he gets these kids to sign is (according to a literary lawyer who saw it) tantamount to Frey having them as slaves and he gets every bit of recognition for something he didn't have anything to do with creatively. He's a parasite on humanity and one on the literary world as it stands...

    ..and on that note...Frey is going to be at my local book store next week...I'm going to go and heckle that shithead from the crowd. Gods, he makes me angry!!

  7. I wonder if children today would even realise that Enid BlytonTM is supposed to be a name..!

  8. I agree that Tom Clancy is the only decent example there, since the actual author is getting credit for the work (though it's set in the world that Clancy has created). The whole "I am Number Four" thing really annoyed me and I won't watch the movie based on what happened with the novel. I'm not a fan of ghost writing at all; writers should get credit for their work no matter who they're writing for.

  9. To be honest, if you're reading Katie Price's autobiography, I doubt you're a)going to care about the quality of the writing b)going to care if she was the one that actually wrote it as opposed to recounted the anecdotes to whoever did. Maybe I'm being too harsh on readers of celebrity shite. I suspect not.

    "Pittacus Lore" btw. L O L. Whoever thought that sounded anything other than risible and ridiculous? Great pseudonym. No, really, top marks. O HAI GUYS, I'M A COOL AND EDGY AUTHOR. CHECK OUT MY COOL, EDGY, AND TOTALLY NOT RIDICULOUS NAME. Please excuse me, I'm gonna go chuckle at "Pittacus Lore" some more.

  10. Authors aren't always getting exploited when this happens - one exception would be the Daisy Meadows books, where the four authors use that one name, presumably to better establish it as a brand. But it does surprise children to learn that there is no Daisy Meadows.

    For that matter, I remember the look of shock when I told my wife that there was never a Carolyn Keene...

  11. I'm not a fan of ghostwriting. I want the actual author's name on the book, plus it's gotta be pretty close to violating the sales description act especially when celebrities have books ghostwritten. I'm always pretty positive they're not actually writing, but I'd like to have the truth.

    I think the issues people have with the contracts, such as Frey's Fiction Factory, are kind of silly. If you don't like a contract, don't agree to it. It's that simple.

    Obviously it's not really helping your career anyway since you're name's not going on anything. If anything it's helping your writing skills and I guess you get what you pay for.

  12. I'm really not sure about ghost written novels, just the idea puts me off. Saying that, all the Nancy Drews mysteries I used to love were written by different people using the Caroline Keene name... Bit shocked when I found out!

  13. I don't think ghost-writing as such has to be a bad thing as it's pretty much the norm for celeb autobiographies, a statement to that effect in the acknowledgement would be preferable. As for the Clancy book, is that really ghost-writing? Isn't that more akin to playing in someone else's sandbox? Sort of like writing in a licensed universe? If not, James Patterson does something very similar to this were both he and the collaborating author get credit, but apart from plotting most of the work is done by the other writer, or at least I remember reading an article to that effect last year.

    James Frey is a whole different ball game. He makes use of the fact that most of these MFA students who really don't know about business (yet) and locks them into a contract that's super exploitative. I've read and heard quite a few authors say that taking a business class should be a required part of an MFA.