Wednesday, February 20, 2019

In Defense of Ghostwriting

Have you heard of the recent #CopyPasteCris scandal? The "author" under fire for plagiarism blamed her ghostwriters from Fiverr for inserting scenes copied from over 26 authors. In response, people tweeted that ghostwriter was one smooth operator on Fiverr, who really screwed the poor, unsuspecting author over.

However, later on, several of her ghostwriters came forth to say that this writer provided her with already plagiarized scenes (unbeknownst to them) and asked them to doctor the book and make it something readable. This is what book doctors and ghostwriters do for a living-- they make the unpublishable publishable. I should know, because I am one. And this sort of thing-- that one of my clients is behaving badly-- is my worst fear.

In the wake of this scandal, I've seen quite a few people asking, "Why would anyone bother ghostwriting? You don't get your name on the book and you get paid peanuts! It's immoral! Unjust! These people should be ashamed of themselves."

Well, sure. In any business, there are unscrupulous people. It turns out, this author was to blame. But one should not call a ghostwriter unscrupulous just because she keeps her name hidden. Many beloved novels are ghostwritten and there are many reasons people choose ghostwriting. It's not always because we couldn't "make it" with books under our own name.

For me, I write YA under my own name. But I like to write in different genres. I hate marketing, so I don't want to self-publish. So I found a couple years ago that ghost-writing suited me well, complementing my traditional publishing career.

Why is that? Well, first of all, I write very fast. I can write a book a month, usually two books. Are they going to win me Pulitzers? No, but most traditionally published books that take years to write don't win them, either. With my traditional schedule, the publishers wanted a book a year. That meant I had a lot of time for hanging out and doing nothing... or writing. I decided if I could get paid for it, why not?

Secondly, it's largely impossible to make a living as a traditional author, writing one book a year. You sell your book... six months pass... you get your contract... six months pass... you finally get half of your advance, which, even for most traditional authors, isn't enough of a yearly income to sustain your career. So either you get a second job and writing becomes your "hobby", or you look for other avenues of sustaining your love for writing. Not to mention that traditional advances have fallen so much and selling books traditionally on a reliable schedule is damn hard (even though I've done it 10 years, I always think my next book will be my last). Ghostwriting pays a hell of a lot faster, and more reliably.

But how much does a ghostwriter make? Peanuts, right? Well, I had to quit my day job because I was booking ghostwriting gigs several months in advance. Note, not all of these writers want entire books; some need help doctoring their books to make them publishable. Some are people who just "have a book inside" but don't have the skills to get it out. Some got an editorial letter from a publisher and need help tackling the developmental edits. And yes, a few want full books that they can put under their name, for whatever reason (some have lost the mojo, some have trouble keeping up with demand).

Me? I usually write 1-2 full books a month (or 1 full book and 1 doctoring a month), so I write about 100,000 words a month, with a client either providing me a manuscript to doctor or a detailed plot to write from. I also write plots for people who need fresh plots to write from. My rate is .10 per word.  You can do the math. YES, there are quite a few people who inquire, wanting to pay me much less, but my time is worth more than that.

As such, I make much more ghostwriting than I do with my traditional career, especially being paid out as slowly as the big houses pay. I can actually have a career, and work from home, and make 10 times more than with my traditional "career" (which wasn't even a career, considering I had to work a full-time job I hated in order to sustain it).

Are these books I write shoddy pieces of crap? HELL NO. I put my full heart and soul into every book I write and while I don't obsess over them like I do my traditional books, I do give them my best. Yes, I write fast. I've been writing books since I was 5 and it's something I do pretty easily. But I want my clients to be happy with what I write. If I'm trying to emulate their style to fit into a canon of work, I also read their work so I can try to infuse that into their books.  I take pride in my work, because seriously... I LOVE WRITING. Love it love it love it. So frankly, all the people on their high horse saying ghostwriters are moron, no-talent wannabes... I'm sorry but that's not the case. I count myself lucky that I get to do what I love every day.

Am I cheating the reader? I don't think so. In the end, I'm about providing the end goal of an entertaining story, and not everyone will like a certain book, even if it is by a favorite author. I'm also about helping other authors that might have written themselves into a corner. I love my clients, and I consider each book we do together as a team effort, so that it's not ever MY book; it has their name all over it (literally, and figuratively as well). I want them to succeed. So if I have to help them a little in order to get them there, I will, without shame.