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Blowback

25 February 2019

From Fall Into The Story:

Current totals on #copypastecris as of this morning: 51 books, 34 authors.

Blowback’s inevitable when you go public–especially on social media–about any issue.

With this one, I’m finding (unsurprisingly) people who object, complain, or smack at me and others tend to be protecting their own interests.

It’s all, yes! Fix this, fight this, go after the crooks and scammers, make the system fair. But don’t talk about or criticize or upset my personal apple cart.

Ghostwriters aren’t to blame, stop being mean to us!

The profession itself is certainly not to blame. But that profession is being used and abused by scammers, and by those willing to ghostwrite ebooks fast and cheap, often for the same ‘author’ who then tosses up multiple books a month.

They couldn’t generate those books, crushing the honest self-published writers without the ghosts who provide the service. So stop providing the service if you’re an honest person.

I’m not, and was very careful not to toss the entire profession or honest ghosts or work-for-hire authors in that same muck. But the practice of hiring ghosts, the practice of ghostfarms to generate scam books has to be exposed.

This is a cheat to the honest writer and to the reader.

. . . .

Free or cheap books. I explained my thoughts on this as best I could. The reason so many self-pubbed must give away or sell their honest work so cheap is BECAUSE the scammers exploit a weak, flawed system. A readership now accustomed to fast and cheap demand it. And many of those readers don’t understand an actual writer can’t produce a book a week.

Link to the rest at Fall Into The Story

PG notes that Fall Into The Story is “The official blog for Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb readers”. The author of this particular blog post is “Nora”.

PG didn’t have a post category for ghostwriters on TPV but has just added one.

Here’s an excerpt from one of Jane Friedman’s posts, entitled What to Expect When Hiring a Ghostwriter written as a “guest post is from author and ghostwriter Stacy Ennis”:

When I see a new book by a celebrity or politician, my first thought is always the same: I wonder what professional writer behind the scenes helped make it happen.

That’s because I am one of those writers. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books—almost all for other people. Sometimes I’m credited on a piece and sometimes I’m not; clients choose what works best for them. When you see a book “written by John Adams with Grace Allan,” for example, chances are Grace wrote most of the book but John was a close collaborator.

Ghostwriting is a fantastic option for people who have valuable ideas to share but lack the time, energy, or skill to put them into written form. Working with a ghost can have benefits beyond the final content, too. Many ghostwriting clients find that the interview process helps them develop clarity about their methods, business, and brand. Explaining their ideas to someone else forces them to articulate and clarify—something these busy professionals often don’t take the time to slow down and do. Often, powerful written content (like an article or a book) feels like a bonus.

. . . .

Here’s the thing: ghostwriting is far from inauthentic. The process of ghostwriting a book typically involves deep engagement by the named author. While, yes, someone else sits down and “does the work” of putting words on the page, the process requires a high level of intellectual involvement from both parties.

When I ghostwrite a book, I strive to embody my client’s voice. I pore over hundreds of pages of interview transcripts, looking for patterns. I piece together ideas. I build on my client’s genius. Although I write the initial words, we are very much co-creators. This is reflected in the fact that most ghostwriting clients leave the process feeling like they wrote the book—only they typically save more than 300 hours of time in the actual writing process.

. . . .

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that ghostwriting isn’t cheap. The return, though, is usually many times the investment. While most clients often won’t make their money back in book sales, publishing a (great) book will often yield bigger clients, better speaking engagements, and even entirely new business opportunities. I can say this from personal experience, both from publishing my own book and watching the success of dozens of clients over the years.

So, what does it actually cost? According to Writer’s Market, hiring a ghostwriter for a book that includes the writer’s name—the “with” or “as told to” on the cover—ranges from $22,800 to $80,000. If no credit is given, that range jumps to $36,200 to $100,000. These amounts can slide higher or lower depending on the book’s length and complexity. Hourly rates for shorter content like magazine articles or blog posts are right around $100 per hour. Keep in mind that ghostwriters for hourly projects bill for interviews, e-mails, and phone calls in addition to writing time.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG will note the obvious vis-à-vis Ms. Serruya, there is a perceived difference between hiring a ghostwriter on Writer’s Market vs. hiring ghostwriter on Fiverr.

But what is that difference?

If Kim Kardashian writes an erudite book about the increasing tension between the United States and China, a great many people will assume she made heavy use of a ghostwriter. That was certainly the case with Snooki’s first book, published by Simon and Schuster a few years ago.

The New York Times even wrote about it:

Aspiring fiction writers, don’t take it too hard, but the Kardashian sisters, best known for their skill in cozying up to reality-show cameras, are about to publish their first novel.

“As wild as our real lives may seem on TV, just wait to read what we’ve dreamed up to deliver between the covers of our first novel,” Kourtney, Kim and Khloé said in a statement last week, announcing that William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, would publish a novel they had written.

. . . .

Like a branded fragrance or clothing line, the novel — once quaintly considered an artistic endeavor sprung from a single creative voice — has become another piece of merchandise stamped with the name of celebrities, who often pass off the book as their work alone despite the nearly universal involvement of ghostwriters. And the publishing industry has been happy to oblige.

“Publishers are smart enough to cash in where it’s appropriate,” said Ira Silverberg, a literary agent. “The question, I think, for many of us is: Is it simply commerce and we should laugh it off? Or does it take a slot away from a legitimate writer?”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG understands the original eruption about Ms. Serruya derived from accusations that significant portions of at least one of her books were plagiarized from novels written by others.

However, when Ms. Serruya mentioned a presumed ghostwriter she hired on Fiverr, the scorn storm turned into Mount Pinatubo.

If Snooki was accused of plagiarism in one of her three books, what would the reaction be when she blamed her ghostwriter?

For an author of fiction, when is it proper to use a ghostwriter and when is it improper?

PG doesn’t follow James Patterson closely, but has lately noticed several books that list Patterson as the author in large type on the cover and another name, presumably a co-author, but maybe a ghostwriter, below Patterson’s. If we’re dealing with what others might call a ghostwriter doing what ghostwriters often do, PG thinks listing the ghostwriter is a nice move by Patterson since most celebrities effectively claim full credit for ghostwritten books.

As an aside, in a recent Patterson novel, The President is Missing, Patterson cedes the top position on the cover to Bill Clinton. What are we to assume about Mr. Clinton’s role in creating the book if he’s listed on top? Are Clinton and Patterson really coauthors or is Patterson an acknowledged ghostwriter? Is there another unacknowledged ghostwriter in the background?

To be clear, PG doesn’t approve of any sort of plagiarism. It is a form of theft and anyone participating should be condemned.

Additionally, in an era where a Google search will generate a long list of online plagiarism checkers, plagiarism is a really stupid thing to do if you’re a freshman at State U or a romance author.

OTOH, in a genre as packed with tropes as romance, innocent similarities in character types, recurring plot elements, etc., are certain to occur. Romance author Mindy Klasky has a long list of romance tropes on her website.

While plagiarism is an old story, PG is interested in the ethical considerations that apply to a fiction author who uses a ghostwriter. He would be interested in thoughts from the visitors to TPV in the comments.

Ghostwriters

15 Comments to “Blowback”

  1. I think personally that authors should be aware of the risks of using a ghost writer, One of them is that if The ghost writer does something nefarius or shady the author will usually get the blame because that’s the name that’s on the cover, that’s the brand, in the same way that a customer might not be able to remember the name of a rude employee in a retail store but they will remember which store is happened in..
    I also think that it is general good practice when hiring a ghost writer for cheap to google some of the excerpts to see if they show up in Google books.

    • If you search fiverr for creative writing, you’ll find an offer to deliver you 20000 words in 3 days for $30.

  2. To paraphrase First Amendment attorney-blogger Ken White, when you outsource your work, you outsource your ethics. Anyone hiring a subcontractor, whether for building a bridge or ghostwriting a book, is responsible for due diligence both before hiring and after the work is complete.

    For an endeavor as closely tied to personal brand as fiction writing, anyone hiring a ghostwriter should be especially confident in the ghost’s skills and ethics.

  3. @ PG

    Since you’re a lawyer, I’d be interested in your take about an author who hires a ghostwriter (from a cheapo website or anywhere) and the ghostwriter commits plagerism, is the hiring “author” responsible for the ghostwriter’s actions?

    It’s my understanding about the laws of agency that a principal is legally responsible for a hired agent’s actions. Is this the case here, and for any author hiring a ghostwriter or other manuscript massager?

  4. @ PG

    “So, with that background, how would the visitors to TPV suggest PG advise an author/client who had committed plagiarism on more than a small scale?”

    Well, there’s always seppuku! (And the lawyer needs to get a BIG retainer ASAP!)

  5. As much as I want to jump on the blaming bandwagon as the OP might, I am forced to hesitate for a very simple reason. One of my favorite series from my youth was “ghostwritten”, sort of at least.

    When we use the term ghostwriter, we usually mean a celebrity who issues a book (like Snooki) knowing full well that they didn’t write it on their own. Maybe they collaborated, maybe they were interviewed, maybe they were only a sounding board, but they often are involved enough that they feel they “helped” write it (without really knowing what that REALLY means). Any writer knows they didn’t write it at all, any more than your agent or editor did.

    But before we say FIVERR is horrible, note that websites use places like FIVERR and other Gig economy websites to hire freelancers to generate content all the time. Many of the “Top 5 blah blah blah” articles are generated by people who are on FIVERR. They google, they summarize, they put together crap in a short amount of time, and voila, instant material for the site complete with click bait titles. You almost NEVER see a byline on those articles for that reason. It was “contracted” work, and the IP rests with the one who paid the freight. But I know freelancers who DO offer services through Fiverr and Turk, and don’t do low bid stuff, they just list themselves there.

    Rewind to the era of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and there were a ton of “contracted” writers…there was no FIVERR to find them, but their names rarely appeared in the novels. The IP rested with the company, I think almost always?

    My favorite series as a kid was The Three Investigators series, all done under a moniker of “Alfred Hitchcock and…”. There were about five authors hired over the series, but the copyright doesn’t rest with them. They were contracted.

    Lots of our big name authors from the past like Lawrence Block did contract novels under other names, there are a large number that even KKR and DWS have done, and their names are not on them. Some they’re able to buy back, so to speak, although I’m not even sure that’s the right term in those circumstances.

    For Patterson, my understanding is that he outlines the book and the “secondary” writer writes to that specification. Janet Evanovich seems to do more of a chapter by chapter trade off, but I don’t know if that’s universal.

    It’s a pretty broad spectrum…not sure ghostwriter is really the right term of art anymore for this type of “contract” work.

    Poly

    • I agree with you, Poly. The novels of the Stratemeyer Syndicate (Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and many others) were different than ghostwritten novels. They were work-for-hire written under a made-up penname. There was no such person as Carolyn Keene even though that’s the author name that appeared on the Nancy Drew books.

      I took the Patterson Masterclass when it first came out and one of the sessions is on his collaboration with other writers. Previous lessons explained his process, which always includes extensive outlines, in the neighborhood of 30 pages IIRC. For some books, he hands this outline over to his collaborator, who then writes the actual book. Patterson then edits what the collaborator writes and it gets published under both names.

      With a ghostwritten novel, the ghost is usually anonymous (other than the “as told to” sometimes added) and the fiction is that the author named on the cover actually wrote the book. That’s why many of these are written under NDAs, so the person who did the writing can’t come forward and announce that it’s really his or her book.

  6. Lots of our big name authors from the past like Lawrence Block did contract novels under other names,

    As far as I know he used numerous pen names in the 1960s for everything from spy thrillers to caper novels to over the top lesbian fantasies, but that’s it. I’ve never heard he wrote books for other real flesh and blood authors, on a contract or any other basis, where another real human being would pass off Block’s writing as their own.

    If that’s not the case, do you know the authors he did this for? I’m kind of a Block fanboy, (barring the Bernie Rohdenbarr series which I’ve never liked) so I’d make an effort to track them down.

  7. Half of the shade being thrown is “oh no how dare u use ghostwriters” and the other half is being tossed at authors who write fast.

    Any author who writes more than a book a month (or even just a book a month!) is now put on notice that they are “suspect” and are “raising eyebrows”.

    Really? This is a business. Competition means you have to get better and faster at your craft to beat out your competitors. It sucks, but there it is.

  8. From what I’ve read of Patterson’s current approach I think his recent works can be filed under collaboration rather than talking about ghost writing. I also do not think it’s right to put Nancy Drew and the like under ghost writing, as we are not talking about a real live author putting out works written by someone else, rather a group of authors sharing a pen name.

    Richard Castle is similar case as here we have books supposedly written by a fictional author and really have a pen name selected to use a TV series’ success to sell the books.

    For real ghost writing the best story I have read is that from Dean Wesley Smith about ghost writing a Jonathan Frakes novel:

    https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/writing-a-novel-from-a-cover/

    This should disabuse anyone who believes too strongly in trad pub’s quality standards in the good old days.

    As for plagiarism, is it actually illegal or even always immoral? The current case seems to clearly involve breech of copyright which needs to be stamped on but what if the author re-uses a story without using any of the words or detailed descriptions, etc? At what point does it become more than a trope? No-one seems to care about Shakespeare’s borrowings or the steady stream of fairy tale variations but presumably something can be too close to the original?

    I ask because I’ve just read a romance (actually a very good one) that uses the plot of The Shop Around the Corner (originally a 1937 play, then a film, later a film musical, a Broadway show and finally remade with some plot changes as You’ve Got Mail). The characters, the locale, the nature of their related employment are all original to the book and, to me at least, make it sufficiently different from the movies that I consider the re-use totally unobjectionable but have no idea what the law would say. (nb. it is possible that the original play is in the public domain which would presumably remove any legal problems).

    • Ideas are not copyrightable, but how the idea is made into a story is. So, the basic idea can be used, but specific words/phrases and the light can’t. Thus the issue with the copy/paste Cris, since she took entire passages and used them verbatim, with little to no changes at all. I’ve seen screen caps, and there’s no way to say these things were coincidence.

      On the other hand, I think Nora Roberts is getting people worked up over ghostwriting in general, and indies in particular, to the point that people are swearing off any book in KU, or by a self published author, or by anyone who writes fast. Good grief. The woman needs to back off and focus on prosecuting the woman for stealing her works, and leave the “scam” business of self publishing alone.

  9. Block wrote at least one William Ard book. I’m not sure if it was ghostwritten before or after Ard’s death… but Ard was a real author (he also wrote under the Jonas Ard pen name)

  10. On Ghost Writers – people need to make a living – and if Ghost Writing pays the bills – so be it.

    Plagiarism – lifting whole passages from other books verbatim, is another story. Call it copyright infringement in the case of #CutPasteCris since we are talking about lifted passages.

    But the scandal at KU’s doorstep has more elements than just the one author/plagiarist, dozens of authors wronged and dozens of books.

    There are book-stuffers, click-farms, review-farms, and entire 5 to 7 book series being offered for sale on underground message boards. There’s an entire ecosystem of scammers sucking the life out of real Indie Authors.

    No wonder so many Romance Authors have quit. There used to be a fair number of us on this board, and I don’t see many of us any more.

    I started out in Romance, I’ve given up on the genre, myself. Literary Fiction isn’t my thing, but at least I’m still writing under my mother’s pen name.

    Take a look: https://twitter.com/i/moments/1100103117717336064

  11. The following authors have written one or more of the 600 Mack Bolan books. Don Pendleton is listed as author on many, and others say, “Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan.”

    Tom Arnett
    Andy Boot
    Nicholas Cain
    E. Richard Churchill
    Chet Cunningham
    Les Danforth
    Kent Delaney
    Mark Ellis
    William Fieldhouse
    G. H. Frost
    Carl Furst
    Jack Garside
    Paul Glen
    Roland Green
    Jon Guenther
    Aaron Hill
    Paul Hofrichter
    Robert Hoskins
    Tom Jagninski
    Michael W. Kasner
    Steven Krauzer
    Peter Leslie
    Michael Linaker
    Larry Lind
    James Lord
    Dan Marlowe
    Charlie McDade
    Mike McQuay
    Stephen Mertz
    Nathan Meyer
    Gerald Addison Montgomery
    Will Murray
    Patrick Neary
    Judy Newton
    Michael Newton
    David North
    Raymond Obstfeld
    Mel Odom
    L. R. Payne
    Don Pendleton
    Rod Pennington
    Alan Philipson
    Nick Pollotta
    Larry Powell
    Rick Price
    Rich Rainey
    Thomas Ramirez
    Kevin Randall
    Ron Renauld
    David L. Robbins
    Chuck Rogers (1985–1987)
    Chuck Rogers (1996–present)
    Patrick F. Rogers
    Ken Rose
    Mark Sadler
    Kirk Sanson
    Dan Schmidt
    C.J. Shiao
    Wiley Slade
    Tim Somheil
    Gayle Stone
    Dan Streib
    Rex Swenson
    Timothy Tresslar
    Nik Uhernik
    Jerry VanCook
    David Wade
    Saul Wernick
    Glenn D. Williams
    Douglas Wojtowicz

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