by guest blogger Karen Cole
Does it matter that a celebrity autobiography was not actually written by the celeb, or that a fiction writer is taking credit for a book someone else wrote from her plot outline? In other words, what about the ethics of ghost writing - and just how much of the work is done by the ghost and how much by the named author?
When it comes to ghost writing, a lot of people think that there is something illegal or otherwise wrong about hiring a professional writer to work on their memoirs or other works. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with it. Every state in the USA has laws regarding “work for hire” projects, which is what ghost writing entails. It’s legal all through the United States and all over the world, as far as I’m aware. So it doesn’t matter whether or not a book is penned by the author listed on the cover, or if it is even entirely written by someone else.
This certainly applies fully to celebrities as well, although the media doesn’t seem to believe it, serving up steaming plates of how terrible it is that so-and-so didn’t write their own book, screenplay or rap music lyrics. This happens all too frequently, and the truth is that hiring a ghost writer is the same as hiring a mechanic to work on your car. It’s still your car, and you own all of its parts and the body of the car, keeping all rights to it, but you are hiring someone else to do the work and repairs on it. I wish people would get it, that ghost writing is no different than hiring someone to do work for you on a regular or intermittent basis is – it’s simply a “work for hire” project in all cases.
Also, in the case of fiction writers and others, a lot of people simply don’t have the time, the inclination or the professional talents of a paid professional writer. So writing a book from a plot outline or any writing, tapes or interviews supplied by the author client is perfectly legal and all right to do. The ethics of ghost writing are legally sound, and it just doesn’t matter how much work is done by the ghost writer and how much of it is done by the named author client of the ghost writer.
And usually a legal contract is signed regarding this, in cases where a lot of money is involved and also where the client wants to ensure that they keep the full copyrights to all of the material, whether it’s created by the client or the ghost writer. So the idea isn’t to lie, cheat or steal here; it’s to create solid writing and editing work that involves the client’s original ideas, plus any new ones and new material supplied by a paid professional writer - who can work the material into the right “shape” to make it much more marketable and saleable. Nowadays, publishing is a hard industry to enter, so having a professional writer prepare your work really assists you in a lot of cases. The better the ghost writer you hire, the more likely that your work will be properly reviewed by a book or literary agent, and finally picked up by a commercial publisher.
Karen Cole is Executive Director at Ghost Writer, Inc - ghost writing, professional marketing, promotions, sales and publishing.
Note from Alec: I'd love to hear from readers what you think about these ideas.