Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ghost writers

Apparently it’s getting quite common for well-known authors to farm out the writing process to other people and avoid the gruelling ordeal of actually producing a book. Quite often the ghost writer’s name is not even on the book so the public has no idea they’re being cheated.

It’s claimed that all crime writer James Patterson does is send four line chapter summaries to a co-writer who then fleshes them out into a complete book. Which is how he managed to publish 14 new titles in one year.

Personally I wouldn’t read a book that I knew was largely written by someone else. It’s that particular author‘s style and flavour I appreciate and I wouldn’t want to read another writer’s probably inferior attempts at copying it.

Though if the author’s writing style was so prosaic and run-of-the-mill that any halfway competent writer could copy it slickly enough to fool the public, I wouldn’t want to read it in the first place. I would stick to someone original enough that any cheap imitation simply wouldn’t be convincing.

I also think that if a ghost writer is being used, not only should they be credited on the cover of the book but it should be made clear just how much of the book they’re responsible for. To deliberately pass off a book as entirely the work of someone who has merely produced a plot outline is outrageous.

I also wonder why on earth someone like James Patterson needs to resort to such subterfuge when he is said to earn around $94 million a year. If he’s tired of writing, why doesn’t he just retire gracefully and do something more enjoyable with his time?

Of course any author with any integrity would throw their hands up in horror at the idea of hiring a ghostwriter, and would never ever hand over the writing to another person. They‘re far too protective of their own individual style to entrust it to anyone else, however talented they may be.

There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that Nickhereandnow is written entirely by a team of unpaid teenage interns based in an ugly office block in Chipping Norton. I can’t understand where such vicious smears come from. I can assure you this tedious rubbish is entirely my own work from start to finish.

My thanks to Genevieve Hassan of the BBC, whose article this post is indebted to.

25 comments:

Secret Agent Woman said...

Hm. On the one hand, if I enjoy a book, I can't say that I care who wrote it. On the other, I don't appreciate deception and I've never understood the idea of ghost writers. Either you have written a book or you haven't. I think it should be the same as in the academic community where whoever had a major hand in writing an article gets credited, and the order of the names reflects the amount of the contribution. If a team a folks want to write a novel it makes no difference to me but they should, out of intellectual honesty, all be listed as authors.

And yes, once you've amassed that kind of money, why in the world wouldn't you retire? It just adds more evidence to my feeling that no one ever gets really rich except off the backs of others.

Secret Agent Woman said...

*of folks

Nick said...

I was also thinking of academic texts where as you say the authors are normally listed in order of how much they contributed. And yes, out of intellectual honesty all the authors should be named.

I totally agree that the rich only get rich off the backs of others. Money doesn't grow on trees.

Ursula said...

Some people are ideas people, others execute those ideas, bring them to life. It's how every business works. The inventor of the wheel didn't list every cog making the running of the wheel possible, did he? Da Vinci, Michelangelo, you name them, had their apprentices work their designs. Just as Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney don't stitch the hem of their every couture. Some of the greatest conductors bring a composer's music to our ears in a way even he might have quite envisaged (am on wobbly ground on this last example).

And what of the EDITOR? That slave who - often better educated and more eloquent - puts not only punctuation right but bloody grammar and the rest of what eventually result in a 'good' read that sells?

On another level,and yes I am sure you don't employ domestic help, but say you did: When your guests admire the design of your house, its cleanliness, the divine cooking, I am sure even you will be in no hurry to announce the names of your architect, cleaner and cook respectively.

The whole point of a ghost writer (and I am on firm ground here) is that it's similar to that of the spy working for your country (or two). Your whole purpose is to stay in the background. It's not about you (the ghost writer). It's about the name on the dust jacket (the one that makes the money). And if you, the ghostwriter, were accredited you'd hardly be a ghost writer, would you? That you, Nick, the idealistic reader, may be disappointed, maybe. However, it's were I agree with Secret Agent: If you enjoy the end result who cares who wrote it?

Mind you, having said that, there are authors I'd kill posthumously if I ever found out they just put out a synopsis and let others phrase their witticisms.

U

Bijoux said...

I've never read Patterson, but I wonder if a lot of those formula 'writers' who churn out numerous books a year have ghost writers. Although since the books all have basically the same plot, how hard are they to write in the first place?

Nick said...

Ursula: But you do expect a book to be written by the author named on the cover. You don't expect a house to be built by the owner or a bottle of perfume to be made by Coco Chanel.

Indeed, I clean forgot about editors. I think the editor should be named as well, as they always make changes and sometimes totally rewrite the book.

And of course if the ghost writer doesn't want to be mentioned or named, that's fair enough.

Nick said...

Bijoux: Ah, but if you've never read Patterson, how do you know the books all have the same plot? Judging by similar books I've read, I suspect the plots are not so much similar as implausible.

Grannymar said...

If these ghost writers are so good, why are they not publishing their own work?

Nick, I know that your blog posts are not written by teenage interns based in Chipping Norton and I have no intention of spilling the beans that I sit in my garret churning out the words for you!

Nick said...

Grannymar: I think some of them are, but they do ghost writing on the side to get a decent income.

Sssh, nobody's supposed to know!

John Gray said...

I have not written my blog for years.....it's all the work of auntie glad, who gets 4 £ a week for doing so

Nick said...

John: Ah yes, as I suspected. You're far too busy tending the menagerie to write one of them blog things. But watch out, Auntie Glad will be agitating for a pay rise soon, not to mention a Christmas bonus.

Bijoux said...

Haha, yes Nick, you are right. I guess I shouldn't literally judge his books by their cover, which look like action-packed boredom to me, involving simplistic characters, language, and story lines. A male version of chick lit?

Nick said...

Bijoux: They certainly look like a male version of chick lit (dick lit?), which is why I've never read them. Who knows, maybe the ghost writers might actually improve them?

Secret Agent Woman said...

Dick lit. snort

Bijoux said...

Did you just coin that phrase? Cuz that's pretty damn awesome!

Wisewebwoman said...

I think I read a Patterson back in the day. Enjoyed it but not so much as to beg another.

The money game, was it ever thus. the more you have the more you want.

I wish I had enough money to be put in that dilemma. H'mmm.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

Agent and Bijoux: No, the term is already out there. Varying definitions though. Urban Dictionary: "Books aimed at young men, typically with lots of action, adventure, and explosions." Huffington Post: "Books that include sex, love and family from a male perspective."

Nick said...

www: True, millionaires and billionaires can never get enough of the stuff. They really really need that fifth yacht....

Jenny Woolf said...

Sometimes a ghost writer is just useful if the person who wants to write the book can't write. I am talking about a biography, really. After all not everyone can write. Obvously this does not apply to fiction - with that, I agree, there really is NO point!!

Secret Agent Woman said...

I don't have a problem with someone writing a biography about another person, but then that's not a ghost writer. If it's an autobiography, on the other hand, the person should either write it or acknowledge that they wrote it with someone else.

Rummuser said...

Let us look at it from the ghost writer's point of view. He cannot get his work published and does not have any other marketable skill. He sells his ability to a man who will pay him for it and from what I gather from a ghost writer, well at that. Two people win, the ignorant reader buys the trademark rather than the product, a very common phenomenon now a days, and everyone is happy. Why strike a moral chord at the phenomenon?

Nick said...

Jenny: Yes, I agree ghost writers sometimes serve a purpose, like writing the autobiography of someone who simply can't write (I assume you meant autobiography?) And in those cases they are usually credited on the cover.

Agent: I think Jenny meant autobiography. And you're right, either write it or acknowledge the co-writer.

Nick said...

Ramana: Well, everyone is happy as long as the ignorant reader doesn't mind being palmed off with an unacknowledged substitute! I wouldn't be happy knowing that say, Ian McEwan's latest novel had actually been penned by A.N.Other.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

I absolutely agree with you, Nick. I think it is an inexcusable deception, and yes, with that amount of money coming in on a regular basis, it must surely be only pride or a love of the fame that makes him do it?

It is said that Barbara Cartland, (queen of the 'bodice ripper' that stopped before anything actually got ripped) used to lie (fully made up, perfumed and dressed to kill) on a sofa and dictate her books to a secretary, but at least it was her own words that ended up on the page!

Nick said...

Jay: Indeed, nothing wrong with dictating the text to a secretary, it was still her own work and not someone else's. Like her I'm always perfumed and dressed to kill as I dictate my posts....