Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How Do You Like Your Ghosts?


The Truth About Ghost Writing


Years ago, before I even considered writing for publication, an acquaintance made me an offer. I would write a book about a subject I knew quite a bit about, and she would publish it under her name. She knew only a little about the subject, but thought a book would be good for her career. I would be paid, but my name would not appear, and I would sign an agreement to never disclose this connection. I felt funny about the whole thing and turned her down.

At that time I had no idea how common this sort of arrangement is.

Years later, before I was published but after I told friends I was writing, I got a similar offer. By then I had not only learned about ghost-writing, but knew someone who had done it. The ghost-maven advised me that this route is fraught with problems I cannot even begin to imagine. Because I knew only a little about the second book’s subject and was not drawn to it, it was easy to turn down.

After I was published I had two such offers, both from acquaintances who felt they didn’t have the time to write their books, but had the money to pay for their books to be written in their names. In each case I knew little about the subject, and cared even less. These, too, were easy to turn down.

Sounds like I’m a quick turner-down, ey?

I have an aversion to secrecy, so while I am discrete, I don’t want to invite a mega-dose of covertness into my life. I cherish ghost stories, not ghost writing.


A few years ago I watched an illuminating interview on the subject. A well-known writer, Michael Korda, who by then had come out as the ghost writer to a few people- (presumably they allowed this revelation) said that almost all books written by people who are not professional writers were in fact not written by them. This blew my mind.

By now I have come to accept it. Most anything can be bought. Why not this service as well? Only live performances can’t be faked, er…, pardon my Milli-Vanilli memory lapse.

Things ain’t what they seem, and never were.

I don’t know how you feel about it. Surprised? Scandalized? Shoulders-shrugged?

At this point, I’m not sure how I feel, either. The world is what it is. Just saying.



  1. I know several ghost writers and they all enjoy bringing an interesting story to light along with being paid. Often they get credit (by X as told to Y) but more often not.

    Work-for-hire isn't all that different and I do a fair amount. Many times I cannot disclose I've even written the book! But I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it. Alas, it does take away time from my own pet projects, but nobody is beating down my door to buy them. Sigh.

  2. Work-for-hire is the bread and butter of many who make a living from writing. It is honorable, just as you are, Vijaya.
    The issue, for me, is more the declared authorship being a false one in the projects I described above. So-and-so whose name is one the cover (and no mention of another's) is not the author. So-and-so will be going around waving this credit about.
    Maybe it isn't an issue, and maybe my moral compos is just skewed. But it feels funny, or not quite right.

  3. It's funny but even assuming this, I still find it surprising. Like this celebrity didn't write her own book? Of course not, I know that. I think I would be mortified to put my name on a book I didn't write.

  4. I'm with you, Mirka. I'd just feel weird about it. Besides, I barely get time in my day to do my own writing, let alone someone else's.

  5. I couldn't be a ghost writer. I know a lot of famous people use them though. That our they "co-author", but I don't believe they are writing much of anything. I think they have the idea and someone else writes it and gets credited as the co-author. Maybe that's a better deal.

  6. Ugh, famous people 'writing' books is such a pet peeve of mine. Money sure does buy everything! Though I do have to say that it seems if you're an actor/actress in Hollywood, then you can automatically sing amazingly well too. It's crazy how many stars can also sing their socks off.

  7. Interesting post. I'm with you, Mirka. Similarly, I would feel very funny if a friend asked me to bake a cake for her and then claim that she baked it herself. (Not that anyone would ever ask me to do that, as I'm not the best baker.) Just saying.

  8. Someone asked me to ghostwrite his memoirs. I needed the money at the time, but I turned it down because it would have caused a lot of problems for me. When I saw the published result I was extra happy about my decision. The "memoirs" included a lot of fiction. It definitely would not have been worth the hassle.

  9. It is odd, isn't it? To want the world to know you wrote something and you didn't. I have a friend who is a well-known freelancer in the Christian markets. She has ghost-written many books for high profile people. It just doesn't seem right. She's well-paid, but still...(Helen shakes her head.)

  10. Yup -- most books "by" people who aren't professional writers were written by people who actually are, whether they get "with" or "as told to" credit or not. When I learned that not even Bill Cosby, who has a PhD in Education, wrote his own books, I understood just how much the norm this is.

  11. I've heard of ghostwriting but haven't met or known anyone who does it. I'd have felt funny if someone asked me to do something and let her pass off as the author/creator. Just like what Laura said up there about baking.

  12. I know it's a pretty common practice, but it just doesn't sit right with me. Just feels like a deception of sorts.