Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ghostwriting?

So, you think you've been in this business for awhile. You think you know how things work. You think that you can't be surprised anymore by the lengths to which people may go to puff themselves up shamelessly. And then... well then something sort of pops up and surprises you. I don't mean something totally new, but then again when you turn it a bit and look it in the face it's like... wtf?

I haven't spent too much time thinking about ghost writing. No big deal. It's celebs needing someone to "help" them right bios, right? Reasonable enough. We don't expect actors or sports stars or most politicians (Obama not included) to be able to put a series of sentences together to make a cohesive, honest or interesting narrative. The idea here is that the celeb - for better or worse - has experiences, charisma, fame, whatever - that people want to read about. They're bringing something to the bargain, and just getting a little help putting the sentences together. No problem.

Thing is, I recently heard some writer friends talking about ghostwriting fiction. That's right: fiction. Writing a novel, for example, by the terms of a contract, getting paid, and then having that novel published under some other actual person's name. I don't mean writing under a pseudonym. I'm talking: I write the book, I give it X, get paid, and then X pretends to all the world that he wrote it. Does this not sound fundamentally wrong? (The getting paid part is good, but still...)

Scott Westerfeld, the very successful sci/fi writer (who doesn't ghostwrite anymore) wrote about it in a blog post a while back. It's a great piece. Read it because he knows a lot more about all of this than I do.

(This crustacean, by the way, is a Ghost Crab. He looks kinda suspicious.)

I'm still left stunned, though... Have you or I read a "novel" not really written by the person named on the front? Makes you wonder...

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Dave said...

I copied Scott's post to read later, but I agree, it's damn weird. And disappointing. :-( Rumours have been flying lately about Wilbur Smith GWing, Clive Cussler too, and don't even let me start with James Patterson... Anyway, I would never allow myself to either write it or take the credit for it, no way.

12:27 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Yes... Scott and others I've heard on this subject make it pretty clear that some of these ghostwritten books are published under names we would all recognize...

12:38 PM  
Blogger Ink said...

Yeah, I've heard a lot about this, too. And it's usually in regards to some pretty big names... Their name sells the book, and someone else writes it. But I've heard about this for quite awhile, really, going back to some open "collaboratiaons". Big author and little author team up to write a book, with big author's idea... and little author writes it. Big author checks to make sure it's okay, and then bingo. Big writer gets an extra sale, and their name sells the book... while on the other end little author gets part of a nice paycheck, and also gets their name out there, as having co-written with so and so a book that sold this many copies...

Obviously, some collaboratins are more collaborative... but in the end it comes down to a brand. The brand creates exposure, and the rest is sort of beside the point... I mean, I thin there's some dead authors who still have books coming out. V.C. Andrews? could be wrong there, though. You could do it openly, like Lustbader writing new Bourne novels, or Sebastian Faulks (a very good writer) doing his Ian Fleming impersonation... or you could skip the openness, and have it all done behind the scenes.

Makes you wonder how many readers notice... "I read 'big time thriller writer', I read every one of his books. He's the only one I like!"

Is he now...

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

12:55 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

It's that "behind the scenes" part that weirds me out. As a novelist, it just seems unimaginable to write a book and then not have my name on it anywhere. It's hard enough convincing employees at the local B&N that I wrote my own books (as in, if I'm going in to offer to sign copies), how bizarre to think I could pick one up that was filled with my words from beginning to end and know that I have no claim to it. I can tell nobody about it. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if the book in question isn't one you're very proud of, but still... seems sorta like selling a child and then only being able to watch from a distance as somebody else raises them...

1:48 PM  
Blogger Meghan said...

I've known about this for awhile now. That's why certain authors I tend to disregard when it comes to their most recent works because I'm pretty sure they had little to do with it. It's sad though; you should write because you love it, not just to make money! If you ever do that David I'll be sad. :(

6:06 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Me? Never! At least, I don't think so. Err... It probably wouldn't be prudent to not at least explore any offer, but... um... No. Never. Of course not!

6:17 PM  
Blogger Incubus Jax said...

David I'll write that next book for you for just $35.95. Just send me the outline, and I'll hook you up.

Seriously though hasn't the Bourne Series been ghostwritten for a while now?

Does anyone know if the last Wheel of Time book is going to be "Ghost Written" or is the new guy going to get the credit as writing "The Last Book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Series"?

I'll be kinda freaked if it just has RJ's name on the cover! ;)

6:58 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Brandon Sanderson was quite publicly announced as the author of the last Wheel of Time book. I don't imagine his name will be as prominent as Jordan's is, but it'll be on there, I'm sure. And I can't complain about this. It's Jordan's world, his characters, and presumably a great deal of what happens was mapped out by him. So, again, for me, no problem with that arrangement.

If they had hired Brandon to write it, sworn him to secrecy and then pretended that Jordan HAD written the book himself... that would be a problem. Although, if they'd done that we might never know they'd done that...

Interesting offer on the $35.95... I should warn you, though, that MY advance (on your hard work) is likely to be a quite a bit more than that. Wouldn't want any hard feelings. Maybe we should just keep things friendly...

7:15 PM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

Well, I know my friend is writing some Nancy Drew books under the Carolyn Keene moniker - but she's been dead for a number of years.

Didn't Andy Warhol do this, but with art? Of course, he was making some sort of ironic statement about the disposability and mass production of art, but even so.

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Stephe said...

Nauseating.

It would nauseate me even more to consider doing it myself. That would be a hell-to-the-no.

I don't automatically read books based on the author's name, so hopefully I haven't come across many...

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Steven Till said...

When you see a novel written by two authors (one big name, the other unknown), does the big name author actually do any of the writing or give any input? Or do they do nothing at all and just take most of the credit? Would this be the same as ghostwriting? You see a lot of these types of novels with James Patterson and Tom Clancy.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Stephe said...

Ah. A novel that immediately comes to mind after reading Steven Till's question is CRADLE. I inherited the book from a friend's mother and was thrilled to finally read an Arthur C. Clarke work, even a "collaboration" with another writer. After all, the greater percentage of it would be Clarke, right?

Wrong. In my honest opinion, not only was the smaller (by far) portion of it Clarke, you could clearly see where Clarke ended and Lee began. It was like two different stories spliced together, small snippets of imaginative, brilliant imagery and huge chunks of bland, stereotypical stuff, one genre interspersed within an entirely different genre. I really wanted to finish it, but just gave up after page 120.

My son gave me books by Patterson and Clancy this year... so does anyone have any thoughts on Steven's question?

5:22 PM  
Blogger Incubus Jax said...

Meh, $35.95 is fine with me... but you know you get what you pay for...

"... And then Corrin, all in her pretty yellow dress and pretty curly hair, fell from the edge of the cliff to her death. And then an army of carnivore ants converged and devoured her. After that, a diseased ant eater feasted on the flesh of those same ants and squealed with maddening glee, but not before an elephant fell on top of the ant eater..."

And so on and so forth.

Why? Because I could.

:)

11:49 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hiya. I'm writing with a view of the North Sea, white-capped waves crashing, wind howling, two woodstoves going and all quite coozy. Good stuff.

As for Steven's question... I'd say that's not ghostwriting, but I'm aware I've developed my own definition - at least in terms of how it relates to fiction. I can see a ghostwriter having their name on a nonfiction book - like an "autobiography". Even with the name there you hardly notice, especially if the main name and the photo on the cover is of someone really famous.

But with fiction I think of ghostwriting as meaning that the person who did the writing gets no credit. Those celeb authors probably don't do that much work when there's somebody else's name included. Why would they? If they did why even have the other person's name on their it at all? Certainly, lots of celeb authors have assistants that do plenty of work for them - perhaps including writing scenes. So, I figure when there's a second name on the book that second name probably did most of the work.

But at least they do have their name there. That seems like a reasonable adult choice. Having one writer do the work and having another writer take the credit entirely - that's a con.

12:10 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Mr. Jax...

In that case, I'm thinking that perhaps you should pay me that $35.95...

Either that or I should embrace this completely. Maybe we should open up a "fan fiction" section on the Forum. That could be interesting...

12:17 PM  

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