Friday, February 19, 2010

Ghosts I have been

The Telegraph UK ran this article the other day. Well worth reading. My comments follow the excerpt.

Now we can all believe in ghostwriters
There's more to a book than the name on its cover, says Andrew Crofts.

By Andrew Crofts
Published: 6:36AM GMT 16 Feb 2010
Comments 30 | Comment on this article

Mine is a secretive profession, more accustomed to the shadows than the limelight. But two new films have made ghostwriters the centre of attention: Roman Polanski's The Ghost, and L'Autre Dumas, which tells the tale of the French writer's overlooked collaborator. People seem shocked to discover that a book is frequently not the work of the single author on its cover.
Everyone knows that film and television scripts are collaborative efforts and that politicians hire speech writers. Why, then, are we so wedded to the romantic illusion of authors as poor, tortured, hungry souls, labouring in unheated garrets until the day they are discovered and rewarded with fairy-tale fortunes of Rowlingesque proportions?

At least half the titles in the best-selling non-fiction charts are penned by ghostwriters, and at least a quarter more are edited so heavily that they might as well be. There is even more outrage when fictional works are created in the same way. Novels marketed as being "by", say, Katie Price seem particularly to offend the sorts of people who would never dream of buying such a genre. I don't believe that the readers who enjoy these stories care who actually does the typing, any more than they care whether Mr Kipling actually bakes his own cakes.

for the rest go here:

Ed here:

Several of my friends have ghosted books for celebrities. Sometimes these are novels bearing only the celeb's name and other time's they're "non-fiction" as in celeb autobiographies, many of which are mixtures of fic and non fic.

I've ghosted three of them. Two of them were pleasant breaks from my own writing and made me some money. One made me no money at all and left me really pissed off. Everybody I know who's ghosted reports similar experiences. If you're not careful you can get hosed ghosting because there are some who believe their modest talents are essential if the planet is to survive.

Many assignments can't ever be publicly acknowledged, though I'm told this is changing. Awhile back there were a number of articles in the mainstream press about how important celeb-driven books were to the bottom line of the current publishing world. And they do continue to pour forth.

The writer-ghost war stories are legend and legion. Before the contract is signed the celeb tires him-her-self lavishing praise on you. He's read at least three pages of one of your novels and proclaims you Proust. This sometimes changes when you show him the first few chapters. He thinks they're neatly typed. As for the writing itself...maybe it could tweaked. Just "a bit; a tad; a smidge." This is what he tells you. He tells his agent "This guy couldn't write his way out of a pay toilet. I'm really going to have to get involved in this." Left Behind has nothing on how this will all play out.

The first thing to go is the outline that you went over with him at least eight or nine times. He gave you many many suggestions and you used only those that wouldn't have his audience rolling on the floor in disbelief. He signed off on the outline, so did the agent and the editor. So you wrote the chapters.

"You know when I said I wanted this set in Bolivia and a lot of it on the submarine where the lead is a military man who saves the world?"


"Well I had this dream--I always pay attention to my dreams--and I think maybe we should put it in Vegas and have the lead be a blackjack dealer who tumbles to the fact that one of the show girls is a terrorist. Her boobs are bombs."

"Sure Rocko but the editor is expecting--"

"One thing I can handle it's chicks. I fly to New York and take her out for an evening. Believe me there won't be no problem after that."

I'm merging two different war stories here: The celeb I had so much trouble with told me that his father reviewed books for the Cumquat Gazette of Cumquat, Ohio and had impeccable literary taste. So the celeb wanted his old man in on every decision and the old man's decision was final. By the time his deaf-dumb-blind old man had changed everything many times over I, known for my even temper, started pushing back. And was shortly after dumped. He may well have been right. I had my doubts about the book anyway. Not my kind of thing. But I worked hard and made nary a penny.

Fortunes of war. But I'd be happy to take on another one providing the celeb's old man is in a coma or living on death row.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I've heard some pretty scary stories about doing this. Glad your weren't horrific. The good stuff is there's; the bad stuff, not.

Charlieopera said...

I started one for a former high profile bookmaker once. Genuinely nice guy; tough as nails, had done some time ... liked most of what we started with, but then his wife got in the middle of it. I was on the phone with the guy (as I said, genuine tough guy) and she started screaming about what she wanted and he turned into a gernud (milquetoast) ... charlie the ghost retired.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

I remember reading a long time ago that some of Harold Robbins books were ghostwritten. And vaguely remember him being sued by Richard Matheson for monies owed. Not sure if this is true or not.

Deb said...

Cleveland Amory was asked why he quit the "cushy" job of ghost-writing the Duchess of Windsor's autobiography. He replied something along the lines of, "No matter how hard she wants it, it's impossible to turn the wicked stepmother into Snow White."

Richard S. Wheeler said...

In the 70s I started to ghost a book for an actress who lived up Laurel Canyon, off Sunset Boulevard, who had lived a remarkable life not only as an actress but as an aviatrix. After some interviews and time spent with her in her daily life, I started in. After I had about fifty manuscript pages drafted, she asked to see these. So I showed them to her, and soon got an emotional call, her howls so loud that I had to hold the phone away from my ear. She was firing me. "It's just not me," she said.

Maybe she was right.