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Is Ghostwriting Fair? Ask Anne The Pro Writer

Hi Anne:

I just came across the following article on Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Takes_a_Village

I was confused by the ghostwriter’s lament over a lack of acknowledgment.  Isn’t the whole idea behind a ghostwriter, well, to be invisible?  It really sounds like Clinton was going for complete ownership of the project and the writer’s fee that she was paid seems to be reflective of this.

ghostwriter-sculptureWhat’s your take on it?  Am I being horribly naive here or is a ghostwriter supposed to get some kind of acknowledgment in the final product?

Best Regards,

Angela West

Hi Angela:

I almost didn’t publish the link because H. Clinton can generate such controversy. But I agree with you. If the numbers reported in the wikipedia article are correct, and they very well may be, the ghost was adequately paid and should have kept her mouth shut.

Getting paid and giving all credit to the author is what ghostwriters do. If we’re lucky, we will get some sort of an acknowledgement. I’ll even suggest that my name be mentioned if the person I’m working for seems to want to do something more than pay me, but I never ever demand it.

What we don’t know is how the contract was drafted. I suspect it included statements saying that the named author retains all rights, including the right to be named as sole author. I do that in many of my ghosting contracts and know that other  ghosts do the same thing in one form or another.

There is some thinking that there’s something dishonest about ghostwriting or hiring a ghost to write a book. I don’t think it’s a problem because ghost writing is  such a time-honored tradition.

I do caution the people I write for that with the internet it probably will be impossible to keep the fact of the ghostwriting secret if my client gains true notoriety. So far that hasn’t happened, but who knows.

By the way, just to provide some balance, maybe, there is this headline over at Huffington Post: Lynn Vincent: Palin Chooses Evangelical Magazine Editor To Co-Write Memoir.

Co-authorship is different. Although the co-author usually does all the writing just as the ghostwriter does, the co-author’s name appears on the cover and in other places along with the celebrity.

In fact, ghostwriting and co-authoring contracts get written all sorts of ways. A writer who signs one shouldn’t complain if he doesn’t like the results.


The seriesMy Start5 Ingredients I Bring To A ProjectElements Of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement | The Working Table Of Contents AKA OutlineIs Ghostwriting Fair? Ask Anne The Pro WriterInterviewing To The Working Table Of Contents


The photo is of the head of the incredible ghostwriter sculpture that hangs in the The Evans ton Public Library (EPL), located in Evanston, Illinois by Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter. More phots to blow you away – on Helmick and Schechter’s pages.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Anne-
    I know this is an older post, but I thought I would ask a question. You know I have no problem with the ghostwriting since it’s a big part of my business. I ghostwrite articles and would like to move into ghostwriting books in my niche.

    My question is, how do you establish your credibility as a ghostwriter if you cannot take any credit? On my site for my articles, I have a statement that I have written numerous ghostwritten articles that I do not post, but I would be happy to provide samples upon request. Would it be any different for a book?

    Also, I noticed that you do claim credit for some of your ghostwritten books. Was that something agreed to in your contract? How often do you ask for that?

    Thanks, as always, for your help, Anne.

    P.S. I’ll give you a call next week when I am in SD. 🙂
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Tagxedo Means More Cloud Coverage AheadMy Profile

    • Actually, I’ve answered this in an upcoming post on Carol Tice’s blog… short answer is some of my clients have given me permission… another couple let me use them as references… I’ve learned to ask. Looking forward to meeting you f2f!

  • “Time-honored” or not, there is in my mind an instinctive revulsion to learn that someone has been taking sole credit for another’s writing. I can’t blame the ghost writer–we do have to pay the bills and feed the kids. Lack of credit is something else. If the contract says the ghost is a ghost, so be it. If you sign it, you keep your mouth shut. I suspect Feinman was given verbal assurances that she’d be credited (“No PROBlem, Babs-baby!”), only to get the old razzle-dazzle at contract time, after she’d already bought the Maserati.

    I also find repellent the false pretense that the famous person is capable of writing an entire book when they’re not. This is, pardon the expression, a LIE.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

    • Anne

      Maybe because I ghost I have no revulsion at all 😉 The lack of credit doesn’t bother me a whit… probably because I have a bunch of my own stuff published as well.

  • Ghostwriting is NOT for every writer. You most likely will not receive credit for the work, hence the term “ghostwriter.” I agree also agree that 70% of books are ghostwritten. I’m sure there are some talented celebrities out there who can write, but come on, the majority of them use a ghostwriter.

    Most writers allow their ego to get in the way of their work. Writers who cannot let go of of the fact that they will not receive acknowledgment for their work may want to leave ghostwriting to writers who are happy to write and get paid for it. The other alternative is to co-author a book, but again, the ego can get in the way of this as well.

  • Thank you for this post Anne. The Barbara Feinman / Hillary Clinton ghostwriting debacle is an extremely rare case. I have been a ghostwriter for more than 16 years, and worked on 31 commercially published books. My client “authors” have appeared on Oprah, in Publisher’s Weekly and Amazon’s bestseller list. Never once have I come forward to “declare” that the author credited on the cover of the book did not actually write the book – that would be unethical and a breach of the ghostwriting agreement. It is believed that more than 70% of books published each year are ghostwritten – it is a common business practice of the publishing industry. If a writer wants to receive credit, than the hired writer works as a “co-author”. In the Feinman case, it appears this is how her original agreement was constructed and somewhere along the way she was relegated to ‘hidden’ status and wasn’t going to go quietly.
    .-= Laura Cross´s last blog ..12 Techniques For Beginning Your Nonfiction Book (Part 2) =-.

    • Anne

      Hi Laura, good to have you here. I didn’t know the number was as high as 70%, but it doesn’t surprise me. And yes, it’s rare for a ghost to break their promise of staying anonymous.

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