The clandestine activities of ghostwriters

My book launch party for Through the Monster-glass, available now in both ebook and paperback, went very well this past weekend, despite printing glitches. I need time to decompress from that experience, though, and will share more about it in a future post.

In the meantime, I read a fascinating article written about his own experience by Prince Harry’s ghostwriter, J. R. Moehringer. He wrote Spare, a book that’s become one of the most notorious tomes in literary history for its revealing content about a controversial institution in our modern world.

Who’d ever want to become a ghostwriter? After reading the article, I’m still not sure.

Ghostwriters basically write books, speeches or other literary pieces (and music as well) on behalf of someone else, but they rarely get credit for it. Their job is to disappear – on the page and in real life. On that basis it seems like a strange profession to me, but plenty of people do it, and make very good money at it. Apparently the ghostwriter for Hilary Clinton’s memoir(s) was paid $500,000!

I think ghostwriters of non-fiction, particularly memoirs ‘written’ by celebrities of one kind or another, are the most well-known type. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography was ghost-written, even though he spoke eloquently enough, as was Donald Trump’s (no surprise there, the man can’t even get the names of countries right).

The degree to which ghostwriters are involved in the finished project varies, from polishing a rough draft to writing the entire book based on lengthy research and sessions with the subject of the book, as was the case with Moehringer. Prince Harry had very defined input into the telling of his own story, however, and Moehringer got to know the prince and his immediate family very well – including an eye-opening look into the media’s feeding frenzy around every aspect of Harry’s life.

And perhaps that’s part of the appeal of ghostwriting: the up-close-and-personal work with a celebrity and what you get to know about them. Still, as you’ll read in Moehringer’s illuminating article, it isn’t an easy job, and it seems like many writers don’t get treated very well.

There are writers who’ve ghosted in fiction as well, which makes even less sense to me. If I feel that I’m a good writer and craftsman, why on earth would I let someone else take the credit for my words?

Sometimes publishers bring on ghostwriters to boost the number of books by a well-known author, i.e. more than said author could put out themselves. That bothers me on so many levels, especially the pressure on a traditionally-published author to continually churn out books and the duping of readers who assume they’re consuming authentic works, all for the sake of making the publishers more money. I can’t envision a time when I become so famous and so jaded a writer that I’d let other people start writing my stuff.

When famous authors pass away, sometimes their publishers or estates will hire a ghostwriter to continue putting out novels in their name, as has been the case with gothic novelist V.C. Andrews. I suppose that’s fair enough, under the circumstances, but still decidedly inauthentic. Still, on one of my favourite series ever, Castle, the title character gets very excited when his agent tells him he’s on the verge of being tapped to write novels about a certain super-spy who inspired his own writing journey – but that’s more like an homage, isn’t it?

Ghostwriting seems like a challenging profession to me, much less fun than what I and thousands of other fiction writers get to do, which is make stuff up for a living. However, I give all due credit to the patience, fortitude and dedication of the many ghostwriters out there. If the idea intrigues you, you can find out more information on these two sites: How to Become a Ghostwriter, by NY Book Editors, and How to Become a Ghostwriter in 8 Steps (Pro-Level Advice), on the Reedsy Blog.

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