Focusing on books, there are many categories of ghostwriting. Some of these are: secret ghostwriters (the writer is legally restricted from acknowledging she worked on a project), credited co-authors, books published posthumously and next generation writers where authors’ children continue writing their parents’ book series.
Ghostwritten non-fiction books, especially autobiographies, are fairly common. For instance, John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, was penned by his speechwriter, Theodore Sorenson. Fatherhood, authored by actor Bill Cosby, was ghosted by Ralph Schoenstein. Hillary Clinton’s, It Takes a Village, was actually written by Barbara Feinman.
Ghosted fiction books are not unusual either. Carolyn Keene, author of the teen sleuth Nancy Drew mysteries, didn’t actually exist. The books were written by a series of ghostwriters using a template and expected style. Mystery author, Ellery Queen, (the pen-name for two cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee whose names were actually pseudonyms) also didn’t exist.
Today, the trend continues with series such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell thrillers. While Tom Clancy’s name is used in the title, the books are credited to David Michaels--a pseudonym created by the publisher. Also, books “written” by deceased authors such as gothic fiction novelist V.C. Andrews, who died in 1986, and thriller author Robert Ludlum who passed away in 2001, continue to be churned out.
In an effort to keep an established author brand name and franchise alive, some children of famous authors continue series their parents began. Thriller author, Clive Cussler, is in the process of handing off his Dirk Pitt series to his son, Dirk Cussler. Science fiction authors, Brian Herbert and Christopher Tolkien continue to write the respective Dune and Middle-earth series their fathers created.
In the past it was common to brand character names like James Bond or Nancy Drew. However, that has changed and author names are now more often branded. The author most well-known for this practice is James Patterson. His current manner of working is to create a vision for each book or series, write a detailed outline then have one of his five regular co-authors who specialize in a Patterson genre, draft chapters and rewrite with Patterson having the final say. It is a streamlined process and some readers complain that his books are too “cookie cutter” lacking the emotional ride of the original books he authored.
In an interesting marketing/brand name twist, the name of Richard Castle, who is a mystery writer character from the television series, CASTLE, is used as the author name on books. On the back of these books is a photo of the actor, Nathan Fillion, who plays Richard Castle and on the back flap is a biography of the fictional Castle’s life and family. The copyright is for Castle ABC studios with no mention of the real author. Who wrote the books? It’s a mystery.
There are advantages and disadvantages to be weighed when considering ghostwriting. Some positive aspects are that the ghostwriter gains experience, gets compensated and is not solely responsible for a book’s success. Several drawbacks are that the writer receives limited or no credit of authorship, needs to be able to write in someone else’s voice and risks being perceived only as a writer for hire.
Also, the use of ghostwriters raises ethical questions. While it is an established practice, some see it as deceitful since it’s not always transparent to the reader who wrote the book. They ask, what is the difference between paying someone to write a book with your name on it and paying someone to take a test for you? In school you would get punished for taking credit for someone else’s work.
But does this harm the reader? Research suggests that most readers don’t care who writes the book as long as it lives up to what they have come to expect from their favorite author. Other readers disagree saying they felt cheated and stopped reading an author once they found out the author was a ghostwriter. Even worse, a few demanded their money back once they discovered that their favorite author was deceased and didn’t write the book they just purchased.
One last thought--it seems the publishing field is becoming more like other creative businesses such as television, music, cinema and advertising. In those industries many people collaborate to produce a product using a shared vision. The most recognizable name or company name receives the credit. Think about your favorite movie or TV show. You probably remember the main actors’ names but it’s doubtful you know the names of everyone who had a hand in making the production including the writers.
How do you feel about ghostwriting? Have you ghosted a book? Would you?