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October 12, 2010 posted by Christina

I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghost

When it comes to being a celebrity, there are certain things that come standard. A stellar music or movie career, legions of adoring fans, maybe a rockstar boyfriend or two and the hottest stars on your speed dial because you’re BFFs.

It seems these days to be a star there are certain extras you need to have in your repertoire to achieve true celebrity status. Usually it’s a clothing line, perfume or beauty range. The latest addition to that list is a book deal. The one thing they each have in common is that though these items have the celebrity’s well known name attached, behind the scenes they’re created by a team of  regular people. The same applies to books, and everyone from Hilary Duff to Snooki are using ghostwriters.

What is a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter is a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts (in this case, fiction) that are officially credited to another person.

Books “written” by celebrities have been a hot topic that has divided the book blogging community. I personally am not a fan of the concept. I haven’t yet read any of these kinds of books but my issue isn’t with the book itself, I’m sure plenty some of them are quite good. It’s to do with something Hilary Duff said at a recent signing for her book Elixir, “I wrote a book, so it goes to show you that anyone can write a book if they have an idea”.

What irks me is who the credit goes to. Yes, she came up with the idea for the book but she, and other celebrity “writers”, did not write the book. I’ve got plenty of good ideas for a books but if I were to pen them myself they’d be the most boring, unreadable stories you’d ever read. That’s if I managed to finish writing one.

It takes time, dedication, skill and talent to write a good novel. Which I don’t doubt the ghostwriters have, but that skill, should come with the credit. As a fashion designer, I hate hate hate seeing a celebrity say ‘I’m bringing out a clothing line!’ as if it’s that easy. Whether it’s writing a book, designing clothes, or anything creative, it’s hard work. Because of that, I don’t feel a celebrity should be able to stand next to someone like Richelle Mead or Cassandra Clare and call all three of them authors.

But that’s one opinion.

I sat down with a former ghostwriter, with many years experience to get their perspective.
How do you in general feel about celebrities ‘writing’ books?

I’ve definitely scoffed at some of the books I’ve seen by celebrities. But overall, the industry has enough room for us all. And if a celebrity can help turn someone who may not be a reader into someone who purchases books more often, than that’s amazing. I’m of the mindset that any kind of reading is good reading — and that reading itself is a gateway to more, and better, reading. So I don’t have any issues with celebrities writing books.

To your knowledge, how involved do celebrities (or person who comes up with the concept) get in the writing process?

I’m afraid I don’t have much insight into this. But I do think it’s important to remember that the process of publishing a book involves a lot of people, and a lot of input. Any book I pick up off a shelf has been read by multiple beta readers, at least one agent, several editors, copyeditors, and more — all of whom make changes to the work. So if a celebrity who writes a book has more (or less) editorial help than a non-celebrity author, I don’t have a problem with that.

Do you ever feel cheated that someone else’s name is on the book? Or that ghostwriters don’t get enough credit?

I can see why someone would think that, but the answer is honestly no. In my experience, the ghostwriter doesn’t handle the plotting — which, in this ghostwriter’s opinion, is the hardest part of writing a book. We don’t come up with the concept, the characters, the conflict — all of that is taken care of by the author. In some cases, even the jokes are created by the author, not the ghostwriter. So I don’t feel cheated at all. I get fairly compensated!

Do you get annoyed that many good stories by writers are being passed up for publishing yet books with a celebrity’s name attached gets picked up straight away?

If someone has an amazing manuscript, it will get sold, whether it’s by a famous person or not. That said, it’s probably true that celebrities have an easier time selling their manuscripts — but that’s because the public buys them more often than they buy debuts from unknown authors. Publishing’s a business. If the buying public stopped buying celebrity fiction, publishing houses would stop buying (and marketing) celebrity manuscripts. They’re just catering to the market.

Do you think having celebrities like Hilary Duff and Lauren Conrad ‘writing’ books makes book seem more accesible to that younger age bracket or it’s just a way for publishers to make more money?

It’s not mutually exclusive. Yes, Lauren Conrad’s books can make reading feel more accessible to audiences. And yes, it makes publishers — as well as bookstores — money. I view it as a win/win situation. (I have no idea whether ghostwriters were/are used in those books, by the way, but to be honest, I find Lauren Conrad’s books infinitely more readable than some other recent bestsellers-turned-blockbuster-movies — which helps demonstrate, as I said above, that there’s room in the market for all of us.)

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Thank you to our ghostwriter, it definitely gives you something to think about, maybe even change your mind?

How do you feel about ghostwriting? Don’t mind? Don’t care? Share your thoughts.

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7 Comments

  • I’m okay with it. If it’s really penned by a celebrity, it probably won’t be as good. The ghostwriters themselves agreed, and get paid anyway, so why should we be angry. If the ghostwriter does not like it, he/she can reject ghostwriting for them.

    The publishing houses get to earn more money, we get to read better written books, the celebrity gets more publicity, the ghostwriter gets paid and to write more (or practice) so in the future they can write better and gets published under their own name. And since the publishing house earns more money now, they have more money to publish more great works by non-celebrities. How many wins are there LOL.

    I guess it’s kind of like a cycle.

    Oh and even Gossip Girl’s author, Cecily von Ziegesar used ghostwriters. D:

  • I get kind of annoyed with celebrities who feel the need to do a million things. Like, it seems no one can ever just be an actor (or whatever) – they need to be a singer too, and have a fashion or make-up line. Now that list seems to include books. But I don’t really have problem with ghostwriters, just that in general annoys me haha. Great post, though.

  • Fabulous post!! I would love to know which, if any, celebrity authors actually wrote a book without a ghostwriter. I suppose I feel the same about ghostwritten books as I do about singers who use autotuner – I respect them less as artists, but if the book/music is good, I still enjoy it and see nothing wrong with it.

  • I care. A lot. As a writer the idea of having these people ‘writing’ stories and having bestsellers is…..horrible and wrong. They get all the attention, money and fame and sometimes even credibility as writers when they actually just give the idea for a “novel”. So yes, I care.

  • How can you be so sure she didn´t wrote it? You talk about it like you had the information first hand, when it is all expeculation, so if you don´t have proof of what you say you should use more expresions like “I believe” or “in my opinion”. I definetley think Hilary wrote the book and I´m planning on reading it.

  • That’s because it -is- true. Hilary came up with the concept and partnered with Elise Allen to handle the writing. You can google it…

  • What is clear is that celebrities are not any better at creating good plots. I didn’t read Duff’s book, but I read the blurb and some reviews. It’s your typical Twilight scheme. It only proves that celebrities will do what they always do: create what sells to most.

    In any case, technically, a celebrity is allowed to do whatever he/she wants. I mean, they already have all the money in the world, so I don’t see what could refrain them from writing a book and becoming an imitation of Stephenie Meyer.

    Yet, you have to see it as a collaboration work. Not everyone is capable of writing well, so they usually team up with a writer, and work together. One is the ‘thinker’ and the other makes the ideas come to life. The problem here is that, yet with Duff’s book as an example, the name of the writer does NOT appear. It’s all right making a collaboration, but BOTH of the names should appear on the cover. It doesn’t mean Hilary is super popular and well known that she should receive all the credits, or that if her name is beside the name of someone that is not a celebrity her fame will go down. I think that is the main problem.

    People are mainly irked to see a collaboration book with celebrities because they are celebrities, and it feels like they are allowed to do all they want only because what they do is known to sell well and brings in lots of cash.

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