Monday, 9 March 2009

Ghostwriting

When you see a book with a celebrity's name on the cover, or a memoir about someone’s appalling life, you shouldn't automatically assume that the person named on the cover wrote the book alone. Chances are that they got their publishing deal because of their celebrity status or amazing life story, and their publisher quietly arranged for a ghostwriter to give them whatever help they needed to get the book written.

The level of help received can range from a little editorial assistance to writing the whole thing although it is usual for the “author” to participate in the process, perhaps by spending time discussing their ideas or their life story with their ghost, or providing journals, letters or emails to provide something more personal than can be achieved by the usual background research.

I once saw Katie Price, better known as Jordan, insists that while her children's books were ghosted for her she'd done all of the difficult stuff herself by coming up with most of the ideas; while when Naomi Campbell was asked what her novel was about, she notoriously replied, "I don't know, I haven't read it yet."

36 comments:

NICOLA MORGAN said...

What is even more annoying is when the book is shortlisted for an award, as Katie Price's was, and the author swans around as though deserving praise. And some don't even come up with or contribute to or sometimes even want to know about the ideas. Did you know that when children's authors ghost celeb books for kids what they write is not even called the story - it's called "the book words" .... So the celeb is the "writer" and the author is just the supplier of book words.

Sally Zigmond said...

And we all know that 'coming up with ideas' is the hardest part of writing, don't we? Any idiot can do the rest.

BuffySquirrel said...

I wonder if Naomi Campbell really did say that. Not that I find it incredible, but I don't find the newspapers all that reliable either.

Jane Smith said...

Nicola: "book words". Good grief. That's brilliant and appalling all in one go.

Sally, I realise you're being sarcastic there but did you realise that lots of aspiring writers (and I use that term with its own fair share of sarcasm) feel exactly that way? That writers come up with the ideas and if their writing doesn't actually come up to scratch then some anonymous editor will step in and miraculously transform their work into something wonderful. Lawd.

And Buffy, yes, she really did say that: I can remember watching the interview on TV, and the Katie Price one too.

Rod H said...

Katie Price has published novels and I believe the name of the person who wrote them for her is known, though not by me. Like Nicola Morgan I found it astonishing when Katie appeared at an awards ceremony.

If you want to publish, become a celebrity first.

TOM J VOWLER said...

I always wanted to be a book-wordist when I grew up.

writtenwyrdd said...

If it's a memoir that is one thing; but to publish a novel that's ghostwritten is such a sham, especially with awards given to the person on the cover. Bleh. It might not be illegal, but it defrauds the readers, imo.

KAREN said...

I might have to get myself a supplier of book words and then I can finally swan around being an author!

Jane Smith said...

Tom, perhaps we should start a society of book-wordists, to separate ourselves from all those authors out there who we arrange words for. That might be useful.

And WW, funnily enough I've got a blog post written (not yet scheduled--probably next week some time) about the legalities of ghostwriting.

As for you, Karen, perhaps you could team up with Tom. He's quite nice, is mostly house-trained, and does tend to get his words in roughly the right order. He'll go far in the book-wording profession (or is it a community?), just you wait and see.

BuffySquirrel said...

In which case I can offer no defence :). I wonder what's worse--not having bothered to read the book that has your name on it, or knowing/believing/thinking it really doesn't matter? The mind boggles.

BuffySquirrel said...

(oh, and it's notorious that Jeffrey Archer's agent is the one who really writes his books)

HelenMHunt said...

I once heard a radio interview with Katie Price about her 'autobiography'. When the interviewer asked her about a particular incident recorded in it she said, 'Oh, I haven't read that bit.' So, like Naomi Campbell, not only had she not written it, but she hadn't even bothered to read it either. You'd think they'd at least pretend to take an interest wouldn't you?

BuffySquirrel said...

Obviously these people live in a different world from the rest of us, where these things just don't matter. It's enough that their name is on the cover.

*boggles quietly*

Jane Smith said...

Helen, what makes it even worse is that the book concerned was Katie Price's "autobiography", and not a work of fiction: so if she didn't know what happened in a particular part of the book, that implies that she didn't know what happened in her life, either.... I thought it was just me who couldn't keep track. It's good to know I am in such feted company.

I'm going to sit in the corner now with Buffy. We can boggle together (although I bet I boggle more noisily than Buffy does: anything for attention).

BuffySquirrel said...

Can the cat join in? She's always open to new experiences!

Donna Hosie said...

I actually find it difficult to put blame on Katie Price. I think what you see is what you get with her - if people are daft enough to shortlist her for an authors award, knowing full well there is no way in a million years she actually wrote the book, well, that is their fault really.

I don't tend to buy any books by celebrities or actors or sports stars, because I know they didn't write any of it. The one exception is The Late Hector Kipling by actor David Thewis which was fantastic, but then it is clear he actually wrote that.

Do ghostwriters get their name on the book, even in miniscule font?

NICOLA MORGAN said...

Very annoyingly, a comment I wrote just disappeared, and I'm sure Jane didn't censor it ...

Donna - I know what you mean, but the problem in that case is that it was a children's story, not her ghosted memoir. The child readers would have thought she'd written it. This (and other examples of celebs "writing" children's books, such as Darcy Bussell, the ballerina) deceives children on many levels and is harmful to real writing (though the real writers who take on these tasks are often good writers. Though sometimes the books are just produced by a team in-house).

Ghosting itself (when a professional writer tells a person's biographical story) is quite legitimate - and no, often the author's name is not on the book, though it may sometimes be - and I certainly believe that if someone has a powerful and interesting life story but is insightful enough to know that they aren't the best person to write that story, then getting a good ghost-writer is the right thing to do. But my gripes are with a) air-head celebs who pretend they've written their book and that writing is such a doddle and b) celebs who think, "I know what i'll do next, I'll bring out a children's series - how hard can that be? But wait a sec, I don't really have time - never mind, I'll get someone to write the book words and we'll put my name on the cover so all the kids will think they're buying MY book because they love me."

These are people who've usually written one more book than they've read.

TOM J VOWLER said...

And whose lips move upon reading said book.

Sally Zigmond said...

Did Madonna write her children's books herself? She seemed to imply she did. And didn't she say she 'wrote' them because she couldn't find any suitable books to read to her children? And then couldn't name one children's author? Not even the classics...

And can I sit in the boggling corner, too, please? I need to perfect my technique.

graywave said...

If the boggling corner's full, Sally, you can join me over in the bar where I'll be weeping into my beer.

BuffySquirrel said...

Sure, Sally, all welcome :). Don't mind the cat.

graywave said...

Do you suppose the ghost writers see much of the six- or even seven-figure advances the air-heads are pocketing?

NICOLA MORGAN said...

Apparently Madonna did write her own books. Whether they'd have been published if submitted on the slushpile by Mary Jones, is another question entirely ....

DanielB said...

I can imagine Madonna reading *slightly* more than I can imagine Jordan or that Halliwell bint doing so. But still, not to be able to name any children's writers is just ghastly.

Anonymous said...

I don't suppose Madonna COULD find suitable books if you bear in mind her list of instructions to Guy Ritchie about what the children were allowed to eat, drink, read and think!

Amber

Donna Hosie said...

There is a lot of duplicity involved in "celebrity" (how I detest that word!) books, whether fiction or non, but these writers are aided and abetted by a publishing industry that is prepared to pay huge advances and actually publish books in their names in the first place. I guess my point is that the anger should be dispersed around a bit more, not just aimed at the likes of Katie Price and Geri Halliwell etc.

BuffySquirrel said...

Let's not forget the people who buy these books for the sake of a celeb name--ultimately, they're to blame! :D

Jane said...

Regarding Katie Price - this 'coming up with the ideas' is UTTER COCK. Because I know the lovely writer who writes her pony books and she said that Ms Price's involvement with the editorial process began and ended with her looking at a pile of proofs and squawking: "Can you make 'em more pink?!!"

Oh and when Hadley Freeman ghosted Victoria Beckham's 'book' - 'That Extra Half an Inch' - Hadley was called to Beckingham Palace to receive a present for her hard work. Very excited Hadley showed up to find no Victoria, a bunch of flowers and a signed copy of the book that she herself had written. Classssssy!

Jane said...

Arrgh! I just read Sally's post about Madonna 'not being able to find' books for her children. If celebs were just honest instead of that 'I'm doing the literary world a favour' cobblers. Jools Oliver did that too. She is also writing a children's book because she 'couldn't find enough good simple stories for children.' Well thank HEAVENS for Madonna and Jools. Up to now our children have had to put up with such talentless nonentities as Philip Pullman, Babette Cole, Roald Dahl, J.K Rowling. Thank goodness those two ladies of letters have come to rescue us from this literary dross.

Jane Smith said...

Jane. I think I love you.

I don't think anyone else will ever write the words UTTER COCK on my blog with such good cause. Thank you so much!

Jane said...

You are most welcome. I love your blog - full of vigorous sense and a big smack in the 'marf to any fool who thinks writing and publishing is easy.

The final thing I want to say about celebrity ghostwritten books is (correct me if I'm wrong) but many of them don't sell after the initial hoopla. I know those pink pony books with Katie Price's name on the cover do, but Private Eye once published a comparison list of the massive advances paid out compared to the actual book sales. On one particular year, the only real bestselling celeb book was one by Peter Kay which he had written himself. The rest were a wasteland of crappy Big Brother biogs (Oh My God, the story of that intellectual giant Chantelle Houghton being a case in point) Kerist what a waste of trees!

BuffySquirrel said...

Private Eye are fond of spotting books that scored huge advances in the remainder piles. One of many reasons to love them!

Kiskadee said...

BuffySquirrel:
I don;t know if Naomi actually said that, but I do know it is true. Many years ago I read an interview with her ghost, who said that she read the book entirely on her own, that Naomi had no interest whatsoever in the outcome, and that she didn;t read the book. I think it was Caroline Upcher.

Kiskadee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kiskadee said...

Oh dear. It gets worse. I justchecked, and Naomi Campbell's "novel" was indeed written by Caroline Upcher. Campbell has explained, "I just did not have time to sit down and write a book".

So, you see, all she needed as TIME and she could have written it herself. Aaaargh...

(Had to delete the last post and re-ener it - I cringed at the mistake in it!(

BuffySquirrel said...

Presumably she did have time to put her name on it.

What is it with these people? All that fame and glamour not enough for them--they have to Have A Book too?

*does not understand*