As told to...

After recent suggestions that teen blogger Zoella’s new book was ghost-written,

there’s been some discussion in the bookosphere about people taking credit for

work produced by ghost-writers. Jesse Owen’s thoughtful piece sets out the case

against giving credit to the named “Author” of a book if they are known not to have

written it. I made the point on Twitter last night that many ghost writers, myself

included, have written books for which they don’t expect any credit and indeed don’t

particularly want credit. I don’t think it should be assumed that ghost-writers are all

frustrated that their name isn’t on the cover. If Zoella has a ghost-writer it may well

be the case that he or she doesn’t particularly want to be known as the person who

actually wrote the words.

It’s hard to disagree with anything Jesse wrote in the case of celebrities passing off

someone else’s work as entirely their own and that publishers should be careful to

not mislead in this regard, I think there are other cases though where it is entirely

reasonable for publishers to avoid acknowledging the ghost-writer. I’ll give you three

examples from my own ghost-writing experience:

Another Author’s World

The authors of some series fiction (not mentioning any names) are not real people.

The names are made up. The books are written by various writers, usually according

to a formula dreamed up by a team of creative folk in a studio. I have written a

number of books like this. I have also written books which were set in a world

created by another, real, author, and are variations of stories that that (possibly late)

author wrote. Very often in these cases, the editor of the book will make substantial

changes to what I have written. Because it’s not my book, and not my world, I have

little control over how the text ends up. It would not be appropriate for my name to

appear on the cover or even be prominently displayed on the imprint page. I may

have done some work on the book, but it is not my creation. I am the writer of the

book, and perhaps not the only one. I am not the auteur.

The Detailed Brief

One novel I worked on was written to order, under a pseudonym, and followed a

detailed, lengthy brief. This was basically just fleshing out a story that someone else

(in fact a team of people) had produced. Some parts of it were re-written, or edited

savagely before publication. And whilst I did most of the actual writing work, I can’t

claim in any real sense to be the author of that book. I was part of a team that

created the book together. I don’t think the book in question is my best work. It’s not

something I’d have chosen to write myself (or at least I would have written it very

differently) and it’s not a book I want my name on. Which isn’t to say it hasn’t done

well. In fact it’s heavily outsold anything else I’ve written and at one stage was in the

top ten paid eBooks for Kindle and number 2 on the iBooks charts. I’m happy that I

receive royalties for that book. But I don’t mind that my name isn’t on the cover.

The Script Doctor

Another book I wrote for someone else didn’t do so well. I followed a rough brief and

took a partially completed manuscript that needed lots of work. I finished someone

else’s story and was paid a flat fee for it, no royalty. I was reasonably happy with the

result. Interestingly, though I only noticed this after publication, the author whose

name is on the cover had changed a lot of what I wrote after I submitted it. I didn’t

necessarily agree with the changes made but it wasn’t my call. It wasn’t my book. In

that case I was pleased my name wasn’t on the cover. How would I have felt had the

book become a best-seller? I guess disappointed not to be getting a royalty and

determined to drive a better bargain if asked to write the sequel!

None of this addresses Jesse’s main point though; that some celebrities, and their

publishers, are perhaps benefitting from being a little economical with the truth. It’s

a fair point, but we must also remember that in most cases, the celebrity in question

will have worked closely with the ghost-writer and told their story in some detail. It’s

the job of the ghost-writer to try and tell the story in the celebrity’s way. Judging by

my experience, the amount of creative input provided by the person whose name is

on the cover can vary a great deal but it’s unlikely they will have contributed nothing

at all. Not everyone can write, but many people have a story to tell that others may

be interested in. If they employ a ghost-writer to put that story into words, then is

the story no longer theirs? I have Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography lying on my

desk. The ghost-writer Boria Majumdar is credited on the title page and the back

jacket flap, but not on the cover. Would it have affected sales to have added Boria to

the cover as well? I doubt any Sachin fan is going to drop the book in disgust upon

learning that the Little Master didn’t actually hold the pen. On the other hand, the

publisher wants to make it clear that this is Tendulkar’s autobiography (albeit ghost-

written). To put someone else’s name on the cover might have given the impression

it was a biography. This is Sachin telling his story to Boria, who simply writes it down.

It is not a book by Boria about Sachin. It’s an important distinction. At the end,

Sachin scored the runs, Sachin is the story.

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