The recent flap over Oprah and Frey’s book (clearly fiction, but labeled a memoir), combined with an email from a friend, reminded me of a resolution I made several years back. And since the spotlight is once again on truth in publishing, I’d like to write about this issue.
You know all those celebrities who write books and novels? You may be surprised to learn that they didn’t actually write those books and novels. In many cases, if not most, a ghostwriter was hired to create those books.
I used to be a ghostwriter. At the time I accepted it as industry practice. I thought the publisher was hiring me in the same way I would hire an artist who was skilled with paints to paint my picture. After all, when the picture was done, it would still be ME, even though I had never even lifted a brush.
But then another godly friend helped me see that there’s a huge difference in saying, “Yes, that’s my picture” and saying (or even implying), “Yes, I’m an accomplished portrait artist.”
My ghostwriting took place in the realm of nonfiction–I took people’s ideas and put them into books. The ideas were theirs, the writing (and a lot of the research) was mine.
And I began to think–what would it cost the “ghostee” to admit that he’d had help in writing a book? Nothing. After all, we don’t expect everyone to do everything well.
I’ll let you in on a secret–it takes YEARS to become an accomplished novelist (I don’t think I’ve yet arrived.) So these celebrities who apparently sit down and whip out a novel–well, my friend, it didn’t happen. Either they had a complete ghostwriter or they had an “editor” come in and recraft the work after submission.
I think readers deserve truthfulness in advertising. I think celebrities need to be honest about their abilities. And I think it’s time that publishers stopped the practice of hiring ghostwriters. You can still have a celebrity name on the cover (provided he did actually supply some ideas), but let’s give the hard-working writer his due. As our mothers always said, “just because everybody does it doesn’t make it right.” Christians are supposed to be truthful in every aspect of life.
For the record–the novels I wrote with Grant Jeffrey were joint efforts. Grant supplied many of the ideas and a lot of research, together we plotted out those ideas, and I wrote every word. To his credit, Grant insisted that my name be on the cover from the beginning.
That may have been the beginning of my “seeing the light.” That was a fruitful and respected partnership, and it serves as a model of the way things ought to be done if it must be done.
Mostly, though, I think people should exercise their own God-given gifts and abilities. “But we want to get this message out,” a publisher might say. “So we’ll let Famous Teacher publish a novel really written by Mr. X.”
Why not let Mr. X write the novel under his own name and let Famous Teacher put a blurb on the cover? Should work just as well, and it’s honest.