This is part two of our examination of ghostwriting at WritingThoughts.
In part 1 of this series, I pointed to some other posts on the topic. I also invited other writers to respond.
Updated 8/1/2014: This is one of the earlier posts on WritingThoughts. As a result, many of the links to the ghostwriting discussions on other sites no longer work and have been removed.
To date, here are the writers who have responded (if you responded to the topic and I didn’t put on the list, send me the link to your response and I’ll add you):
- Mihaela Lica was the first to respond to the original post by leaving a series of comments. Mihaela blogs at eWritings – Online Public Relations.
- Finally, Merry Jelinek gave the topic some serious consideration.
First of all, I want to thank all those writers who responded. One of the reasons that I started WritingThoughts was to explore writing-related issues and questions.
I’ve always considered myself a type of “ghostwriter.” As a technical and business writer, I have rarely gotten credit or acknowledgement for my writing. That’s because most of the projects I work on require me to sign a confidentiality agreement in which I agree that the writing I produce belongs solely to the client.
To tell you the truth, the lack of acknowledgement doesn’t bother me for the type of writing that I do, nor do I consider it unethical. To me, an online help system or a manual for XYZ Software makes no sense if it’s not accompanying XYZ Software. The study guides that I write can be interesting, but typically they are not on topics that I would choose to write about.
That’s not to say that I would always give my work away. There are cases where I might feel that I’ve put enough of my heart and thoughts into a work that I wish to retain rights for it. For example, the contents of this blog are copyrighted. Readers are encouraged to link to it, but may not reproduce entire posts without express permission. However, I always identify these instances before a writing project begins.
The ghostwriting discussion (and I’ve lumped in the use of pen names since it also deals with the writer not getting credit for their work), however, forced me to take a deeper look at possible issues surrounding ghostwriting. I think that this type of examination is good and healthy for our industry.
The Good About Ghostwriting
Ghostwriting is an established tradition. I still remember being disappointed as a child to learn that Carolyn Keene, “author” of the Nancy Drew children’s series was not a real person. Mark Twain, of course, was really Samuel Clemens. There’s even been some discussion about whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote all that is attributed to him.
Not only is ghostwriting common in the literary world, but it exists in other arenas as well. The political arena is a prime example of an area in which ghostwriting flourishes. Nearly every president in the last century used a ghostwriter to write speeches, memoirs, and other public communications.
Some of the bloggers make the point that ghostwriting enables the purchaser to exploit the actual author. In this scenario, a celebrity (or other moneyed person), pays the actual writer a mere pittance of the actual proceeds of the ghostwritten work.
Another point against ghostwriting is the deception point. Blogging is an example that has been raised. For example, should a corporate CEO pay someone to blog while posing as him or her?
Ghostwriting, as I believe it is most commonly used, is intended to positively contribute to society and to the body of written work by helping those who cannot write benefit from the skills of those who can. When used in this fashion, I believe that ghostwriting is not unethical.
I think most people are not fooled when a celebrity or politician “writes” a book or speech. In fact when I see such a work, my first assumption is that it was ghostwritten.
(I do think that it would be healthier and a bit more honest for celebrities to acknowledge the ghostwriter as their collaborator on a work, and some celebrities actually do this.)
In the end, however, ghostwriting is an agreement between the writer and the celebrity. To be honest, most of these books would not sell as well without the celebrity’s name on them.
That’s not an excuse for exploitation. I definitely feel that writers should earn their worth. However, it is the writer’s responsibility to make sure that they do not enter into unwise business arrangements. Ghostwriting a celebrity’s memoir or novel for a few hundred dollars is not a wise business arrangement.
A possible ethical problem I see with ghostwriting is when it is used to intentionally deceive or mislead people. I would have an issue with a blog of glowing product reviews supposedly “written” by Suzy Smith, satisfied customer of product XYZ, if it turned out that there was in fact, no real Suzy Smith. I think that is an example of intentional deception.
However, I wouldn’t have an issue with a blog written Fido, the family pet, endorsing XYZ dog food. Why not? Because everyone knows that dogs can’t create blogs, therefore there’s no deception with that blog example.
I asked the other writers to answer some questions, so it’s only fair that I answer them as well.
- Would you completely write a book, play, or other creative work and allow someone else to have the credit?In most instances I would not allow someone else to claim an original creative work of mine as their own. However, I have sold exclusive rights for my work that required that the work be attributed to me. I would (and do) provide editing services for other writers.
- Would you write a blog and allow someone else to claim it as their own? In most cases, I would only do this if the other person were extensively involved in the process. For example, if a CEO wanted me to blog for him or her and was willing to provide an outline of what they want to be covered and signed off on each blog post as being accurate, I might create such a blog. However, I would be happy to serve as a blog columnist or in a blogging position.
- Would you use a pen name or pseudonym? While I don’t use a pen name for those few pieces that I write that get a byline, I’m not opposed to their use. For me, it’s just convenient to write under one name.
- Would you write a nonfiction piece and allow someone (or something as in the case of a company) to have the credit? Yes. As a technical and business writer I pretty much do this all the time.
- Would you write someone’s term paper for them? Absolutely not. The purpose of writing a term paper is to allow the student to learn. Part of that learning experience is doing the work for themselves.
Contents (c) Copyright 2007, Laura Spencer. All rights reserved.