Though less common than non-fiction ghostwriting, fiction ghostwriting goes on a lot more than people realize. When I say “goes on” instead of “occurs”, yes, I do mean to imply that it’s not such a good thing. At this point in my post, I find the practice despicable. I could change my mind by the time I reach the end of this post. That often happens when I think through something more thoroughly than usual. It’ll be interesting to see where I end up on this subject.
I first heard about fiction ghostwriters a few years back, but didn’t pay much attention (I won’t ghostwrite for fiction authors). This past January, however, I was rounding up 26 of the best writers I could find living in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, for a collaborative art project I conceived and was organizing: 26 Blocks.
Adventure author Clive Cussler’s name came up several times and so – having heard of, but never read – I did some research to see if I thought he was worthy of a top placing in 26 Blocks. The most casual perusal at my local bookstore revealed more than a decade’s worth of books with several “co-author” and “with” name credits. More research tells the truth: Cussler’s NUMA Files book series was ghostwritten by Paul Kemprecos. His Dirk Pitt character is now being ghosted by his son, Dirk Cussler.
I was aghast at the discovery and rejected Cussler outright as a candidate for my 26 Blocks project.
Just how many well-known fiction authors hire ghostwriters, anyway?
In “Whodunit? Your favorite author may be just a brand name”, journalist Kerry Lengel wrote in 2007’s Arizona Republic about these popular ghostwritten fiction authors. I’ll summarize.
- Robert Ludlum died in 2001. Fifteen books have been published since his death, many of them credited to Ludlum, all of them written by other authors.
- Tom Clancy. Five of “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell” novels and two other books were ghostwritten by David Michaels (whoever that is. It’s a pseudonym.)
- Fiction author, James Patterson, released one book every two months in 2007. “The majority of his books are written by “co-authors” who take a detailed outline and flesh it out, then turn it back to Patterson for edits,” writes Lengel.
Near the end of her article, Lengel concludes, “The fundamental question is, does it matter to you if your favorite author may not be who you think it is?”
Authors have editors, editors have publishers, publishers have marketing departments. All of those departments– all of those people–affect the look, marketing and content of the book in one way or another. What matters to me is that the author is not even writing the first draft. The author has one primary responsibility: write the book. If he or she (though I’ve not uncovered any female authors who hired a ghostwriter) is not going to write it, then don’t claim to have written it.
My opinions come back to challenge me….
I write books all the time for other people. Their name is always on the cover. The implication is that they wrote the book. Sure, it may say, “with” or “and” between their name and mine, but the public doesn’t generally know that the 2nd name is the ghostwriter. Does it really make any difference if it’s non-fiction or fiction that’s being ghostwritten?
Is it getting hot in here? My collar feels tight. I’m not sure I like this question anymore.
Lengel says it’s a question of branding instead of authorship.
Is that it then? The whole ghostwriting for fiction authors is not really the question, but the questions is how the author is branded?
In some cases, like ‘Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell” series, the publisher has made it fairly clear that the author is not Tom Clancy. The pseudonym author’s name is in smaller letters at the bottom of the book cover. In other cases, like with Clive Cussler, he’s given co-authorship credit, but in fact, the 2nd name is the one writing the book.
What is writing? Do I need to define that now?
This isn’t as perplexing an issue as it seems. The issue about ghostwriting fiction comes down to this: Why is it being done? Curiously, it’s the same question that’s at the heart of my questions for a ghostwriting client. Why is it being done?
In the end, it doesn’t matter to me that someone else is ghostwriting a fiction book. I know that I won’t do it. On the other hand, who knows what circumstance may someday arrive where I’ve been asked to do so and find myself wondering if it’s not such a big deal.
I’d be curious to hear what you think about this topic. I’ll gladly engage you in dialogue, if you’re up for it.
What do YOU think: Is there any wrong with ghostwriting fiction?