To ghost or not to ghost?

Last Thursday, I read a piece in the New York Times about celebrities like Kourtney, Kim and Khloé Kardashian, Nicole Richie and Hilary Duff  who had  “written” or “were writing” novels.  Of course, everyone knows these women are using others to help them (or maybe do all of the work) but these writers are anonymous—they are “ghosts.”  This made me think of others who use ghosts.  Robert Ludlum, for example, who long ago passed away, has “written” many novels since his death.  Eric von Lustbader is universally acknowledged as the writer of his books, giving a new, ironic spin on the term “ghost writer.”

And this is true of many other authors—those who are published writers and those who aren’t writers but who want to “write” books.  I often wonder why these authors don’t just acknowledge those who are helping them rather than keeping them under wraps.  The writer does an enormous amount of heavy lifting and deserves credit for their work.

Of course I work with many collaborators and sometimes they ghost and sometimes they openly collaborate.  I feel it is extremely helpful to the collaborator/ghost writer’s career to be acknowledged publicly for the hard work that they do.  Ultimately, book publishing is a collaborative business.  It takes a village, to paraphrase Hillary, to bring a book to life and I think acknowledging all the people involved can only make for a better experience all around.

I would love to know what your thoughts are about this.  Does it bother you to know that a book has been ghostwritten? Do you think ghostwriters should be openly acknowledged?

9 Responses to To ghost or not to ghost?

  1. Julie Nilson says:

    If it’s a situation where the author is being touted as an expert on the topic, then I think that the “ghost” should be listed as a co-author, or get an “as told to” credit of some kind.

    As for those celebrity books that you mention, it’s probably just a paycheck for those ghosts–I mean, who *really* wants to be known as the person who wrote the Kim Kardashian book? I think they’re better off not carrying that stigma–just getting paid and hopefully making valuable contacts that will allow them to get work published under their own names later.

  2. Sophie Li says:

    Ghost Writers are actually my main reason refusing to purchase celebrity memoirs/biographies.

    As an aspiring author I know how difficult it is to actually write a book. The hours of editing, fine-tuning, and more editing. It’s not as easy as people think.

    So for these celebs to just magically pop out a book from thin air seems a little insulting to the craft in labeling them as ‘published authors.’

    I think Ghost Writers should definitely be given the credit where credit is due. It doesn’t make any sense for public figures to use ghost writers and then try to conceal it because let’s be honest, no one really believes that ‘so-and-so’ actually wrote a book.

  3. Sara says:

    It doesn’t bother me to read a ghost written book, as long as I KNOW it is ghost written, or at least have a serious inclination about it. I don’t want to be tricked.

    The only scenario I can imagine agreeing to write one would be much further in my career when I’d already published some FULFILLING works, and the ghost piece was something I wouldn’t care to have associated with me anyhow. And of course if the $$$ was great :)

  4. Laura says:

    I always roll my eyes when some celebrity who clearly didn’t write his or her memoir (or novel) goes on the interview circuit and never mentions the ghost writer. Maybe it’s partially because we’re supposed to just know that the celebrity didn’t actually write the book, but it all strikes me as so ridiculous. And a little insulting, honestly.

  5. Dave Sosnowski says:

    I used to do a kind of ghost writing — gags for greeting cards and a few cartoonists, one famous (Bob Thaves of “Frank and Earnest”) and another, less so. I needed the money and wasn’t too concerned about getting credit for the gags until a few of the cartoons I wrote for the lesser known cartoonist got picked up by Harper’s and Psychology Today. That’s when it started to hurt.

  6. Bethany Neal says:

    Oh my god, Jane, I do this scoff-laugh thing every time a celebrity says they’re writing a book. With the exception of someone like Steve Martin, none of them are “writing” anything but checks to their trainers/assistants. (That was mean spirited, wasn’t it? Sorry.)

    The only one of them I’ve ever heard admit to getting “help writing” was Hilary Duff during an interview on Lopez Tonight. It was totally a slip up though. She tried to cover her tracks, but ultimately admitted to working on the concept of her YA novel Elixir, not necessarily the actually writing of it. At least she was honest! I knew there was a reason I watched Lizzie Mcguire back in the day.


  7. I don’t see anything wrong in a celeb having a ghost write a memoir without credit. It is the celeb’s story and even though never having put pen to paper, the celeb is the author. However if a celeb claims to have authored a fiction novel, which is in reality the work of a ghost, then when that book hit’s the stores, the celeb, the true author and the publisher are all trying to obtain money under false pretences. In short this is fraud.
    Wouldn’t it be fun to take a celeb to court for this! Think of the publicity that could be achieved for yourself in doing it.

  8. Jenni Wiltz says:

    It bothers me that the publishing industry sees these types of books as a valid investment. It bothers me that they would rather publish a book “written” by Snooki instead of taking a chance on someone new who might not be a safe bet.

    As an unpublished writer, it’s difficult enough to break into the industry when I have to compete against top sellers like Janet Evanovich as well as literary successes like Jennifer Egan. Now they’re telling me I have to compete against books “written” by Snooki, Hillary, Kim, etc.? It’s like discovering there are snapping alligators in the moat surrounding the castle with 10-foot-thick walls.

  9. Gilbert J. Avila says:

    Where would the Richard Castle novels “Chained Heat” and Heat Wave” fit in? The book jackets have pics of Nathan Fillion, who plays Rick Castle on the TV series “Castle.” Even the copyrights page doesn’t have the real author’s name, which is often the case.

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