Ghostwriting and employing ghostwriters, right or wrong?

ghostwrite

verb

ghost·​write | \ ˈgōs(t)-ˌrīt  \
ghostwrote\ ˈgōs(t)-​ˌrōt  \ghostwritten\ ˈgōs(t)-​ˌri-​tᵊn  \

Definition of ghostwrite

intransitive verb

to write for and in the name of another

transitive verb

to write (a speech, a book, etc.) for another who is the presumed or credited author

I just got into it with a mutual on Twitter, and as usual, I had no idea someone was getting upset with me until they snapped at me and hurt me. I mean, why do people persist in asking questions and searching for clarification if they don’t want the fucking answers? I’ll never understand that.

Isn’t the point of social media to be social and talk about things? If not, what the fuck is the point of it anyway?

I really suck at social shit. Autistic, yo? and one of those autistics who has a LOT of problem with social shit. It’s my biggest weakness because of my autistic brain. (I still wouldn’t change my brain, I love being autistic.) I will probably NEVER manage to catch on that I’m annoying someone before they either block me or snap at me or subtweet me or whatever.

I’m totally cool with people not agreeing with me, I’m used to it, but if you ask a question, and I’m in the mood, I’ll tell you my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me! Ask me to drop the subject, whatever, I’m fine with that. But I’ll always be hurt by impoliteness. I’ve been abused too much in my life not to be. Politeness, to me, is the very least amount of consideration another person owes someone, and yeah, rudeness can make me cry.

So I’m in tears, there’s that.

I do feel the need to write a bit more clearly and deeply about why I feel ghostwriting fiction or employing a ghostwriter for fiction is so wrong. Since it’s my damned blog you can choose to engage with it or not.

I do feel it’s wrong. I can’t help but feel it’s wrong in fiction with the way it’s done now.

And yes, I’m well aware that a lot of marginalized writers choose to ghostwrite to pay the bills so they can afford to write their stories.

As with anything marginalized people have to do to get by, go for it. It doesn’t change that I feel it’s wrong, (and I’m lucky enough to have the privilege to not be forced to do it myself) but I hope you manage to survive long enough in publishing that we get your actual stories, because those are the ones I desperately want to read.

I’ve even considered ghostwriting fiction myself (for about 30 seconds). I *have* made money ghostwriting non-fiction.

Now… those are two different animals. Non-fiction and fiction, and the expectations of readers are different, too.

For generations, non-fiction has been openly ghostwritten, just because someone is a celebrity or has something to say doesn’t mean they know how to write. It’s a skill, after all. I believe the ghostwriter is often credited in the book somewhere for doing the actual writing. It’s on the up and up, no one is trying to hide anything from anyone. The ghostwriter is often paid a living wage for the work. It doesn’t work that way in fiction.

I don’t know when the switch in fiction happened, sometime in the last century or later part of the 20th century is my guess. I could go do the research to find out when it started, but I don’t want to, it’s not the point for this piece.

But it’s not a time-honored tradition. It’s also not on the up and up.

In fiction, the ghostwriters aren’t paid well, by and large. (I’ve looked at listings for them, 500$ for a full-length novel that I have no rights to is GOOD pay for that kind of service when you’re first starting out. $100 is more average.)

They’re also not credited for their work, and the consumer often has no idea the book is ghostwritten. Lies upon lies. I want my food labeled with the ingredients, why the hell wouldn’t I want my books labeled too? That makes no damned logical sense at all.

I’m, unfortunately perhaps, unable to NOT see it when an author’s voice changes. I buy and read books primarily for the authors voice. It’s my first criteria for a book. I can’t manage to ignore it when the voice changes. It’s just not something I can do.

Something about how my brain and memory works makes it incredibly clear to me when the voice in a series of books changes. That means I’m not, as the consumer, getting what I paid for because I paid for the original author’s voice and words. Not the ghostwriters.

The way it seems to work in traditional publishing is that the author gets big enough with their own writing that there’s more demand for it. They’ve made their readers love their voice, worlds, and characters so much that they desperately want more. Every writer’s dream. But then the author starts getting pressured by corporate publishing to produce books faster and faster. I mean, why would corporate publishing want to bother looking for new authors when they have a sure winner they can just hassle into writing faster?

Several big-name paranormal authors are doing it now. Any of the leaders, I almost guarantee, are probably using ghosts to write their work if they’ve got a fast release schedule.

I’m not demonizing the ghostwriters any more than the authors who hire them. In my unvarnished opinion, they’re both contributing to the fucked up mess that is modern publishing. The real bad guys here are the corporate fat-cats who run publishing, but we’re all of us implicated. From the person who buys books they know are ghostwritten, to the desperate author who can’t keep up with her publication schedule, to the ghostwriters themselves. We all contribute to this mess.

Maybe the ghostwriters have to do it. Like I said, I have the privilege to NOT have to do that. I can quit writing and go get a sales job if I want to. (I don’t. I’d rather shove a fork in my eye, and currently, my partner makes enough money that we can scrimp by, barely, hoping like hope that my books take off enough that I can make a living wage at this. It’s not looking likely folks, and ghostwriting… well, that’s part of the reason why.)

Reasons I hate it, and this is on both the author who hires the ghostwriter and the ghostwriter who does the work. It’s a two-way street.

  1. A) Dishonesty: It’s dishonest to put out the books in a series as being written by THE AUTHOR when they’re written by a ghost. Dishonesty doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people as much as it does me. I’m incredibly bothered by a lie, and that’s what it feels like when the ghostwriter isn’t credited as being the one who did the work. In fiction, they almost never are. It’s treated like a dirty secret. Authors who use ghosts are accused of not being REAL authors. (And I mean, they aren’t, are they?) On those listings advertising for ghostwriting, there’s almost always a DND (Do Not Disclose) meaning you can’t tell anyone, ever, that you wrote the book, not the author in question. Lies.
  2. A) Saturation: It keeps the market saturated. These authors who release a book sometimes as often as every three months… yeahnope. I write incredibly fast. I can easily do a 5k day (write 5000 words in a day) and I’ve had 11 and 18k days. (Most full-length novels are between 80,000 and 120,000 words in romance.) So for me to doubt any author is writing a polished and releasable book that fast has some worth to it. Is it technically possible? Sure. But it’s technically possible for a lot of things to happen, that doesn’t make it bloody likely for EVERY paranormal romance author who are household names to be able to keep to that kind of production schedule. But they all seem to manage it, don’t they? Ever wondered HOW? No? I have.
  3. B) Saturation: Keeps the market saturated. What do you think happens to authors like me, the newer ones who write paranormal romance (or any other saturated genre) and want to break into that? There’s still a demand for it, readers are still buying it, but because the top 4 or 5 big-name authors are releasing books every 3 months or so… (probably ghostwritten by a stable of ghosts who aren’t paid enough and aren’t credited for their work) we don’t have a chance. Paranormal Romance is my ultimate favorite sub-genre, that and SFF Romance. With authors who keep pumping out books every 3 months… newer authors just don’t have a chance in hell. We can’t compete with that, and there’s no demand for our books with that going on. I can’t find an agent for my work, because the books won’t sell, because the market is saturated by these big names. If you think that isn’t playing into the hands of corporate America and capitalism, think again. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with my writing. The industry is broken. If we don’t talk about dirty little secrets like this, how in the world can we ever fix the industry? We can’t. Corporate sure as hell doesn’t want it fixed, I guarantee it. They’ve got a working methodology, they don’t CARE if marginalized writers are hurting and giving up their dreams.
  4. B) Dishonesty: I choose where my book money goes very carefully, because I can’t afford to buy every book I want. As with anything in the world, we choose what we want the world to look like by where we spend our time and our money. The authors I choose to support are the ones I’m hoping will have a chance. I’m saying with my purchase that I want more of THEIR story and THEIR words, THEIR voice. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I buy mostly marginalized people’s work, and it’s often Indie, either from an independent publisher or a self-pubbed book. I’m trying to send the message with my reading choices that no, I don’t want the mass produced ghostwritten stuff that ISN’T as good as the original authors work. I want to support people who don’t use ghostwriters. I want to read ownvoices stories written by the person whose name is on the cover of the book. I don’t feel that’s wrong. I DO feel it’s wrong to lie to me about who is writing the book. I mean, who likes to be lied to? (It also opens me up to the risk of plagiarism, like the recent brouhaha in romancelandia and Cristiane Serruya. She claimed to have used a ghostwriter who plagiarised other authors and that she didn’t know. (Whether I believe that or not is a separate situation, cause I don’t. But it does open me up to the risk that the ghostwriter isn’t honest. It’s MY name on the books, so it’d be me who was guilty of plagiarising, if I’d used a ghostwriter who had.)
  5. Quality: I’ve seen self-professed ghostwriters saying they don’t put the sweat and blood and work into a ghostwritten piece that they would into their own work. Maybe… just maybe, that’s part of the reason the quality of writing in a vast majority of books published these days stinks so badly? Just a thought.
  6. Skewed Expectations: With the schedule of production being releases by ‘the same author’ every 3 to 6 months, readers get the idea that all authors can do that. Let me break down how long it takes me to write a book when I’m on my game, okay? I can draft a full-length novel (first draft, it’s a mess) in 4 to 8 weeks, because I write ridiculously fast. Not all authors can do that. Then, because I care about the quality of what I put out, I let it sit for a week or so before I dive into rewrites and edits. That usually takes several passes to get right. So usually, I’m ready for my critique partners to take a look at it around draft 4 to draft 6, at this point, it’s 4 months into the process. They usually take about a month to get their opinions and suggestions back to me. That’s 5 months. I then go through a couple of more passes to incorporate the suggestions they’ve made that I want to add. That can take up to two months, putting us at 7 months. If I need sensitivity/authenticity readers, I then send it to them. 8 months. 9 to incorporate their suggestions/remove my fuckups. So 7 to 9 months, depending, before the book-baby even goes to my editor at my publisher. Then it enters the publication schedule. At my publisher, that’s 6 to 8 months, so it’ll be another 5 to 7 months before I do another round of edits and we start the cover making process. It’s slightly different if I’m self-pubbing it, but the time is roughly the same. From the moment I put the first word on the page, to the time a reader can buy the book, we’re looking at 14 to 16 MONTHS between books. Not three. And I write fucking FAST. You see why I doubt the every three to six months bullshite so many authors are pulling out of their arses? That’s why. If I wrote slowly it’d be different, maybe I’d find it more believable, but I don’t. I’m one of the fastest writers I know of (not the fastest, I can name several who are faster, but I AM fast.) I can buy that it’s possible to do it if you’re really damned good at juggling edits and drafting and can work on multiple projects. But most writers I know can’t do most of that. We’re either shite at scheduling, or we can’t focus on more than one project, or, or, or…

Sigh.

There’s no such thing as ethical consumption in a capitalist society, but there are shades of grey within that maxim. If I have the choice of buying a struggling, marginalized indie authors work vs a big name who is dishonest about the source of the words published under their name… I’ll always choose the struggling author. I empathize with that too much NOT to.

In doing so, I support that persons’ dream of being an author.

Because ghostwriting isn’t a victimless industry. If you think it is, you’re more naive than I am.

Ghostwriters and those who hire them keep people like me, marginalized authors with ownvoices stories in saturated markets from getting agents and book deals. That’s just the facts of it.

If the big name authors took a year or more to release a book, publishing would be forced to open the door for more, newer authors, thus giving them a chance.

You know the reason I don’t ghostwrite fiction? Other than the fact that it felt yucky to me? It’s because it’s like shooting myself in the damned foot to cave in to that. It really is. I’m exactly the type of author most often taken advantage of by people who hire ghostwriters. I’m fast, I can write well and cleanly, I’m marginalized up the wazoo, I’m desperate to get my stories out there… but I choose not to ghostwrite. (I do have that privilege, and I’m aware that it’s a privilege. Not everyone has that, and I wish we all did.) I choose not to so that I, and other writers like me, MIGHT have a chance to break into this godawful industry. So that we MIGHT have a chance to see our words in a book with our names on it.

No matter how often people want to believe there’s a seat at the table for all of us, there isn’t a seat at the traditionally pubbed and supported table for all of us. Not with the way it works now.

We are lucky enough to be writing in a time period when self-pub, indie publishers and other methods of getting our stories out there EXIST. When I first started writing, if you didn’t have an agent and a traditional deal, you didn’t get published. Period.

But that doesn’t mean the industry is fair to marginalized writers. It just isn’t. So many of those authors I’m almost sure are using ghostwriters are white, cis, not mentally ill and they’re neurotypical. They’re keeping to their schedule of production by taking advantage of often marginalized writers who are struggling to break into the very field they’re hiring the ghostwriter for. They’re not paying the often marginalized ghostwriter a decent wage, they’re certainly not giving them credit for the work…

How in the world can that be right? Where the fuck is the integrity of that? Non-existent is where.

Now, IF an author wanted to be honest about using ghostwriters, give them credit in the books and pay them a living wage, it would be a completely different story. Patterson hasn’t written a book in YEARS, and he’s honest about that. People buy the BRAND more than they buy words they think Patterson himself has written.

But so many people in other genres just treat it as a dirty little secret that no one can speak about or they’ll get crucified for it.

I do kinda get sick of being the one crucified.

Or maybe I’m just a fool for not advertising for a ghostwritten piece, paying $100 dollars for it and sending it on to agents as my own work. Hell, I could have a contemporary romance line if I did that. (I don’t even read contemporary, in general) I could have cis, white, neurotypical characters if I did that. Maybe I could even have a successful career at this, if I did that.

But at the end of the day, I have to be able to meet my children’s eyes and proudly declare that ‘I’m an author’. I have to be able to look in the mirror at my own eyes too, when I finally quit writing and say… hey… at least I tried and I tried it while maintaining my integrity and personal values. I can say to myself then, ‘I was an author’.

Maybe consider buying me a kofi or becoming a patreon? If I can make it to some sort of living wage between my royalties and my patreon before too much longer, I can keep writing. I can keep providing content and being an advocate for people like me who don’t want to speak the words or have the heat on them.

I can keep trying. ‘Cause being disabled? If I have to go back to work out of the house there won’t be enough left of me to keep doing it all. I’ll disappear, me and my stories both, like a tumbleweed in the desert. That’s the cost of ghostwriting peeps. Don’t lie to yourselves and think it isn’t.

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I have limited ways for people to talk to me privately due to months of harassment, unsolicited private body parts pictures and death threats, so if you have something you want to say to me, you’ll have to email.

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