A ghostwriter is a professional writer hired by someone to write a book that will feature the employer’s byline (for instance, Bob Jones would hire John Smith, a ghostwriter, to write a book. John would do most of the work, but the published book would say “by Bob Jones”).
Basically, a legal form of plagiarism. The way I see it, there are two types of ghostwriting – one is permissible, and one is not.
Society has an obsession with actors, musicians, politicians, etc., and they all have stories to tell. Very few of them have the skills to write those stories, but they all seem to be coming out with books anyway. This is thanks to ghostwriters, and it is a sensible way to fill a need. I object, however, to calling the celebrity an “author” and allowing the byline to include their name only. It should be classified as a co-authorship, and the ghostwriter’s name should appear beside the celebrity’s on the cover.
Sometimes an author of series fiction gets tired of writing one series, but the publisher thinks there is still money to be had. So they outsource future books to a ghostwriter, providing a basic plot structure the ghostwriter should follow (hence “formula fiction”). While the celebrity situation is acceptable, for an author to do this is disgusting. It goes against everything I believe in. The author is cheating his readers by paying others to do what he should do himself. He can’t put his soul into it because he is not writing it, and the ghostwriter cannot put his soul into it, because he is writing under someone else’s name. Inevitably, then, the book will have no soul. It will be a thin, runny, concoction of words without real feeling. It’s just empty entertainment.
This is no insult to the ghostwriter’s skills. As a copywriter, I have experience writing things for other people, and skill has nothing to do with soul. I work hard to make it good, but it is still not mine – it is the client’s. It will look and sound how the client wants it to, and do what the client wants it to. This is expected from advertising copy. But in novel form, it is the cheap fiction we read as children, the Nancy Drews* and the Babysitter’s Clubs, which we remember with vague fondness, but wouldn’t pick up again – whereas other children’s fiction, the Narnias and Borrowers and Winnie the Poohs, we gladly pick up again, because their authors actually wrote them, instead of farming the work out to be stamped with cookie-cutters.
What’s your take? Is ghostwriting a despicable cheat, or a legitimate business arrangement?
*Nancy Drew wasn’t technically ghostwritten; it was written by a group of writers sharing a collective pen name. It is still, however, formula fiction.