14 Mar

Ghostwriting. The practice and trade of writing all, most, or some of a written work – nonfiction, fiction, novel, short story – for someone else, and having someone else put their name on the book to have it published. This practice is separate from the practice of “co-authoring” a book, when someone famous’ name gets put on a book written mostly by someone else, but the real author is credited relatively prominently.

I am not a fan of either practice. I think it’s dishonest, and needs to be stopped, especially pure ghostwriting.

I have nothing against the ghostwriters. They are doing what they love to do, and making money from it. Kudos to them. It’s the people who hire ghostwriters that I have the problems with. I honestly consider it plagiarism. I strongly believe that credit should be given where it’s due.

But, you may say, what if ghostwriting is just a way for the ghostwriter to reach a wider audience with their ideas? This is a valid point, but I don’t believe it stands on its own for two reasons: one, the ghostwriter is almost never in charge of the project’s direction and purpose (though without a doubt they can usually slip in their own messages and themes), and two, the reaction to the written material will likely be very different, as I believe a reader’s perception of a text is colored strongly by their knowledge of the author. Ghostwriting distorts the message of the ghostwriter to the point of unrecognizability, in many cases, especially when done by politicians. In fiction, the ghostwriter usually has more control, and often their style can come through and be easily recognizable. H. P. Lovecraft, for instance, made his living primarily as a ghostwriter, and his ghostwritten works stand on their own.

Not only is the author unfairly not getting their due, but I believe that the phenomena of ghostwriting is a reflection of larger social issues in the world. First, it’s sad that many writers have to turn to ghostwriting to make a living doing what they do. The publishing industry is extremely restrictive, and society as a whole is largely unappreciative of books, which means, directly, less people spend money buying books, and therefore it is harder to make money as an author. Writing has become more of a hobby for many (those of you who make it professionally writing, you have my respect and admiration, especially if you’re an independent author), which is fine; if you write for the money only, you shouldn’t be writing. However, by delegating writing to only a hobby, it not only devalues the author as a person and occupation, it also limits the frontiers of literature by not allowing good writers to develop their potential; they are instead forced to waste their time trying to earn the money needed to  write. This is the author’s burden, and I think it’s sad that truly talented writers often cannot make it just because of the way the publishing institution and literacy rates in the world are going.

The second major social issue I think ghostwriting reflects is the cult of the celebrity. Generally, stories are ghostwritten by talented authors for famous people. This adds to the cult of personality surrounding said famous person, as those without a keen eye or knowledge of the ghostwriting system ( a sadly high number of people) will think that on top of everything else this person does, they also are well-educated and smart because they can write a book! Yay! This adds to the prestige of the person taking the credit, and also, at the same time, makes the ghostwriter dependent on the celebrity for money. This further focuses society on the celebrity/famous person, and therefore reinforces our disturbingly celebrity-centric society.

I just wanted to get that off my chest. I am aware that many people will disagree with me. So, what do you think of ghostwriting? Does it serve a useful purpose? Is it awful? Is it good? A necessary evil? What does ghostwriting mean to you?

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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Philosophical Musings


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