Friday, January 27, 2006

Let's Be Honest in Publishing


The recent flap over Oprah and Frey's book (clearly fiction, but labeled a memoir), combined with an email from a friend, reminded me of a resolution I made several years back. And since the spotlight is once again on truth in publishing, I'd like to write about this issue.

You know all those celebrities who write books and novels? You may be surprised to learn that they didn't actually write those books and novels. In many cases, if not most, a ghostwriter was hired to create those books.

I used to be a ghostwriter. At the time I accepted it as industry practice. I thought the publisher was hiring me in the same way I would hire an artist who was skilled with paints to paint my picture. After all, when the picture was done, it would still be ME, even though I had never even lifted a brush.

But then another godly friend helped me see that there's a huge difference in saying, "Yes, that's my picture" and saying (or even implying), "Yes, I'm an accomplished portrait artist."

My ghostwriting took place in the realm of nonfiction--I took people's ideas and put them into books. The ideas were theirs, the writing (and a lot of the research) was mine.

And I began to think--what would it cost the "ghostee" to admit that he'd had help in writing a book? Nothing. After all, we don't expect everyone to do everything well.

I'll let you in on a secret--it takes YEARS to become an accomplished novelist (I don't think I've yet arrived.) So these celebrities who apparently sit down and whip out a novel--well, my friend, it didn't happen. Either they had a complete ghostwriter or they had an "editor" come in and recraft the work after submission.

I think readers deserve truthfulness in advertising. I think celebrities need to be honest about their abilities. And I think it's time that publishers stopped the practice of hiring ghostwriters. You can still have a celebrity name on the cover (provided he did actually supply some ideas), but let's give the hard-working writer his due. As our mothers always said, "just because everybody does it doesn't make it right." Christians are supposed to be truthful in every aspect of life.

For the record--the novels I wrote with Grant Jeffrey were joint efforts. Grant supplied many of the ideas and a lot of research, together we plotted out those ideas, and I wrote every word. To his credit, Grant insisted that my name be on the cover from the beginning.

That may have been the beginning of my "seeing the light." That was a fruitful and respected partnership, and it serves as a model of the way things ought to be done if it must be done.

Mostly, though, I think people should exercise their own God-given gifts and abilities. "But we want to get this message out," a publisher might say. "So we'll let Famous Teacher publish a novel really written by Mr. X."

Why not let Mr. X write the novel under his own name and let Famous Teacher put a blurb on the cover? Should work just as well, and it's honest.

Angie

5 comments:

Ruth said...

Excellent post. Thanks for the call to truthfulness.

julie said...

I'm a former ghostwriter for trade pubs. My first novel will be released by Bethany House in early 2007. Anyway, I wrote for banking, insurance, etc. industry execs by interviewing them and then writing stories in their "voices". A strange thing happened. One of the execs felt underqualified and dropped out. The mag still wanted the piece so I agreed to research the topic (which I knew nothing about at all) and to write it for them. I did that, and can you believe this? The agent wanted to put someone else's name on it--after all, I was technically just a "ghostwriter." Ugh. You better believe I fought that one--and won. That was the last 'ghostwriting ' assignment I ever took.

Kristine dB said...

Hi Angie,
(Warning: off topic comment!) I might have said this in an earlier comment, but it bears repeating for this - I'm in a Book and Magazine Publishing program.
For one of my classes I have to write a sample page of catalog copy. The instructor said it was fine to use a book that is being written, but to ask the author first. So, just wondering if you would mind if I used your WIP and your name for mine. Let me know - if you want more info or anything, you can email me at kdenboon@hotmail.com.
Thanks in advance, Kristine

Katy said...

Angie--I have a close friend who ghostwrote non-fiction books for some of the biggest name Christian "celebs" out there.

"Her" books have sold literally millions of copies, all told. She began to wonder if she should at least be earning a royalty on top of the flat fee, since the books were such huge successes. But, no. She finally got disgusted and quit.

Once, I saw her credited in the acknowledgements as something like an "admin assist without whose efforts I could not have written this book," but other than that, her name appeared no where.

It does seem like a dishonest aspect of the business to me. Katy Raymond www.fallible.com

BJ said...

Angie said: Why not let Mr. X write the novel under his own name and let Famous Teacher put a blurb on the cover? Should work just as well, and it's honest.
_____
You'd think, wouldn't you? But unfortunately, publishers know that Famous Teacher's name will sell more books (thus making more money--ah!) than Mr. X. And that's why the practice continues.

However, I think there's hope that in the Christian publishing market, this will one day disappear. More and more authors and publishers are waking up to the reality that it really *is* dishonest and refusing to engage in it. It helps that honest authors--like Angie Hunt--are taking a stand against it.

BJ