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  • trades description???
    by susieangela at 17:56 on 15 November 2013
    A friend and I were talking about the issue of ghostwriting. She's been following Dean Wesley Smith's blog, in which he says he ghostwrites for a famous author and it's tied into his contract that he must never name them.
    Something seems all wrong here. Apparently this happens a lot and the ghostwriter's name is not on the cover. Doesn't this constitute fraud? Readers are buying books by what they think is their favourite author, and actually they are being written by someone else. I don't understand the ethics or the legality of this - yet it seems to be a fairly common practice.
    Any thoughts?
  • Re: trades description???
    by EmmaD at 19:06 on 15 November 2013
    I think the thing is that the named author is responsible for getting the words onto the page however seems best - that's what you're buying, not necessarily the under-oath certainty that his or her fair hand wrote every word.

    There really isn't a clear distinction being very heavily edited, and ghosting, and your spouse doing really quite a lot of the work, and so on. I asked a very established agent years ago how much work he did on some of his clients' manuscripts, and he just said, "I'll have to take the fifth amendment on that one."
  • Re: trades description???
    by susieangela at 20:01 on 15 November 2013
    Hmm, fair point, Emma - but I do think there's a difference between an agent-and-author team working together to perfect a novel, and a book purportedly written by an author which may have had little or no input from that author. I think it's the not-mentioning that bothers me. Most authors will put 'and thanks to x,x and x for their wonderful editing' in their acknowledgements (OK, not on the cover, but at least it's there) whereas this is actually a book which people are paying for which is not by the author named on the cover and where there's no mention of any 'assistance' from any quarter.
    I get mad at artists whose hand never touches their work (manufactured and painted in China, for instance) - but at least they don't make a secret of that fact.
  • Re: trades description???
    by EmmaD at 21:25 on 15 November 2013
    Some authors do thank their ghosts quietly, in the acknowledgements, I think - "Joe Bloggs and Joanna Bloggis for all their help", they say, and one of them's probably the ghost...

    But, yes, I see what you mean. Much of James Patterson's output is written by others - mainly writers paying their own bills while they do their real writing - to his outlines. It's fairly recent that the Others have had enough, and insisted that they're jointly credited as "with".

    I agree, it's unattractive in one sense, but books are a commercial product: the need for the writer's unique, individual consciousness to touch the reader's unique, individual consciousness is always going to come second to the matter of staying out of the bankruptcy course. Apparently the energetic, making-a-living self-publishers use ghosts, because that model depends on turning out at least a couple of full-length books a year, with novellas in between, and it's difficult to do that all yourself and run the business.

    I think the thing is that there's a full spectrum in any form of aesthetic product, from - as it were - the artist who weaves their own canvas out of their hair and burns their own umber and grinds their own paint, all in secret until it's hung on the gallery wall ... to the artist who orders it all from China and doesn't care if it turns up painted in acrylics or oils. Most of both readers and writers are somewhere in between. There are lots of lines you can draw along that spectrum, but where your personal line is, is going to depend on you.

    In our post-Romantic world, we do have a huge amount invested in the idea of the creative artist working alone, their work the product of genius and inspiration. But it wasn't ever thus: medieval artists weren't like that, and we're discovering just how many other hands were involved in many of the plays which we think of as being by Shakespeare. Pound re-wrote swathes of Eliot, Carver pre-Lish is almost unrecogniseable... Should we return The Wasteland to the shop, because it's not really "pure" Eliot? I don't know.

    Edited by EmmaD at 21:26:00 on 15 November 2013
  • Re: trades description???
    by susieangela at 23:06 on 15 November 2013
    Seems that publishing is one of the few areas where it's OK to, basically, lie to the consumer. What astounds me is the casual attitude adopted by those in the industry. Because it's prevalant, it's therefore acceptable. Forgers of artwork get sent to prison. I suppose the difference lies in whether the original 'author' objects to the forgery. If the author is part of the conspiracy, it would appear that this is OK. Never mind the poor consumers who have paid money in good faith to buy a book by their favourite writer. But I suppose that ultimately it comes back to bite: if the books aren't up to the original standard, the buyers and readers will naturally fall away. Still makes me mad, though...
  • Re: trades description???
    by susieangela at 23:09 on 15 November 2013
    PS - re. Pound and Eliot - since Pound acted in an editing capacity for Eliot and with Eliot's approval, and since most readers know that Pound did this, I don't have a problem with it. It's the Not Telling that I find unacceptable.
  • Re: trades description???
    by Terry Edge at 19:11 on 17 November 2013
    It's not just publishing. Look at pop music. It's fashionable these days for singers to get song-writing credits but usually there are several other names there, too, and it's not difficult to guess who's had the most input. And not just pop music. I know musicians that have worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber and find it rather amusing what he claims as his own.

    Not that I disagree with your main point. A children's writer friend of mine (all her own work!) told me about a school visit she did where one of the kids' parents said to her afterwards, "I suppose you're hoping that you'll write books as good as Katy Price's one day."

    But I agree with Emma's point too. My first editor said there were many novels out there that ought to have two names on the cover. She edited one very famous author, and heavily. But he just didn't see it. Eventually, he decided to go with a different publisher. After he sent in his first novel for them, his editor phoned up mine and said, "This guy can't write!"

    Another writer friend of mine once wrote a script for NYPD Blue. He said it was almost completely re-written by David Milch but my friend got the credit (and still gets cheques to this day). Which perhaps shows that for Milch at least, it's not so important whose name is on the script as long as it's good.

    It's just that publishing has created a much more author-centred mystique for itself and readers invest in that. Rightly or wrongly.

  • Re: trades description???
    by susieangela at 19:26 on 17 November 2013
    LOL, Terry at the Katie Price aspirational parent!

    Re: music - do all the names appear on the copyright of the songs?

    It all brings to mind the whole Ian Fleming thing - how people were so thrilled when James Bond was taken up by whoever-it-was. But the difference is that the cover didn't say 'by Ian Fleming' (which of course would've been a bit of a giveaway under the circumstances).

    I don't understand why certain product producers (publishers) can get away with this sort of stuff when others definitely can't.

    And then there's the aspect of plagiarism. I once read a novel by an extremely famous author in which whole paragraphs had been copied, word for word, from an H.E. Bates novel. Presumably no-one had noticed. But anyone who has deliberately plagiarised another writer's work is seen as criminal/fraudulent. Isn't this another side to the same coin?

  • Re: trades description???
    by Catkin at 21:28 on 17 November 2013
    But anyone who has deliberately plagiarised another writer's work is seen as criminal/fraudulent. Isn't this another side to the same coin?

    I don't think it is, because plagiarism happens without the consent of the plagiarised author. In plagiarism, someone is trying to make money or gain status by copying someone else's work. Plagiarism is theft: something already exists, and someone else makes off with it.

    In the commercial fiction world, it's acceptable to have a novel with two names on the cover. In the literary world, it isn't: there is, as Terry so rightly says, much more of an author-centred mystique. Can you imagine a co-authored novel winning a major literary prize? I can't.** I'm absolutely sure that many literary novels are co-authored, either by editors or by life partners, but for some illogical reason it's not the done thing to admit to this.

    **now waiting for someone to find an example of exactly this ...

  • Re: trades description???
    by susieangela at 23:20 on 17 November 2013
    I don't think it is, because plagiarism happens without the consent of the plagiarised author. In plagiarism, someone is trying to make money or gain status by copying someone else's work. Plagiarism is theft: something already exists, and someone else makes off with it.

    I see what you're saying, Catkin, but in this case the only difference is the consent of the author. Apart from that, someone is trying to make money by copying someone else's work. Rather than theft, this is fraud, isn't it? If I buy a (I wish) Van Gogh, I'm going to be very upset if it turns out to be by someone else copying his style. It's the non-transparency that is so annoying. And the general sense that it's 'just the way it is'. Grr.

  • Re: trades description???
    by Catkin at 02:04 on 18 November 2013
    I see that kind of art fraud as being completely different. The whole point about a fake painting by a famous artist is that it is worth far, far less money. The fact that the fake is not by the famous artist means that it is a fundamentally different object from the object it was first presented as being - different in the sense that its financial value is different, and, if it is an historical fake, that its history is different (it was painted in 2013, say, instead of the 1813 claimed for it) .

    In the case of a contemporary novel that is written by a ghost (or co-authored by an unacknowledged partner) the fact that the name on the cover is the "wrong" name doesn't change anything whatsoever about the book; it remains exactly the same thing.

    It's a very interesting question, Susie, and well worth discussing, I think!
  • Re: trades description???
    by Terry Edge at 09:56 on 18 November 2013
    Since Dean's name was mentioned at the start of this thread, it might be worth throwing in some of my impressions of having worked with him. First off, and I know this isn't really relevant, he's a great guy. This probably doesn't always come across on his blog (or his wife's - Kris Rusch - either) since he's often fighting various causes there. But I've always found him to be disarmingly honest, very knowledgeable about the business (and always willing to share that knowledge) and incredibly encouraging with other writers.

    The main reason I went on his and Kris's masterclass was to learn how to be more business-like. (I also got a lot more than I expected from Kris's utterly brilliant craft classes.) And that may be the key here. Dean approaches writing like a business. Sorry, re-phrase: once the writing's done, he puts on his business hat. And often before the writing's commissioned, too. Anyway, it means that in this particular case, you can bet the arrangement is totally legal and consensual.

    I do feel that in Britain in particular we suffer from the idea that writing is an almost sacred activity that takes place in creative silence where one converses only with one's muse (who certainly won't get a name-check either). I say 'suffer' when I look at the kinds of sitcoms we produce here. They're usually written on the basis of the above and the results are pretty dire. US sitcoms, on the other hand, are very collaborative: there may be only one writer name on the credits but every script (on the good shows) goes through the writers' room, then through the actors and is often re-written while it's being recorded.

    So, you could argue that any novel that hasn't been through some kind of collaboration is likely to be, well, not as good as it could be.
  • Re: trades description???
    by EmmaD at 10:42 on 18 November 2013
    most readers know that Pound did this,

    I don't think they did at the time - and the fuss when Carver turned out to be 50% Lish was enormous in the lit'ry world.

    What was interesting was watching people at first piling onto the un-Lished texts that had become available, because they were the "real" Carver, and slowly coming away, slightly shame-faced, mumuring that, actually, yanno, sounds silly but ... they felt the Lished versions were better. That's partly because Carver has been such an incredibly strong influence on short fic, in particular: everyone has been shaped in their tastes and writing by Lish, as much as Carver.

    I don't think it's just publishing that wants to put authors forwards as solitary geniuses, though obviously it's cheaper to put one author on a platform than that author's spouse, writing buddies, agent, editor, other editor, the sales director of Tesco whose demand for a different cover prompted a tweak to the first chapter ... - it's been happening ever since Wordsworth, and the shift from a genius being a power outside the artist, to being something inside the artist: we want to believe there's something special about it.

    I also think the analogy with painting doesn't quite work, because painting's a physical act, and it is important to many people that the actual hand of the artist worked the materials (though not necessarily the pre-19th artists with their ateliers and promising students - Van Dyck painted the main faces on quite a few Rubenses).

    Tho' in these days of conceptual art that concept fades out too: if the artist's eye and mind, not her or his hands, is what conditions what the assistants physically do, isn't that rather like an author having a concept for their next novel, and getting someone else to wrangle the materials?
  • Re: trades description???
    by susieangela at 12:02 on 18 November 2013
    Re. artists - Michael Landy RA put a piece into the Summer Exhibition this year which was a litter bin, cast in bronze in a factory in China and painted (by them) to look like a real one. It will sell as his piece, but he's made no secret of the fact that he didn't make it, just conceived it. I don't particularly like that situation, but don't find it misleading since he's perfectly open about it.

    Terry, I have no problem with Dean Wesley Smith doing his job as contracted. He's a writer and that's what he's paid to do. I do have a problem with his publishers who are selling his work under another name.

    I don't object to anyone ghostwriting for anyone else, so long as it's mentioned that this is the case. What I do find morally questionable is when an established and popular author's next novel is written by someone else and clearly stated on the cover to be by that author.

  • Re: trades description???
    by Terry Edge at 12:23 on 18 November 2013
    Again, I'm not disagreeing with you but I think maybe there's the consideration of brand/genre/type over author to be made somewhere in this.

    For example, in TV in particular, most viewers are probably more interested in the series and its characters than the writers. For instance, me and my partner like a lot of US shows but while I nearly always note who wrote which episodes, it's not important to her. In the same way, I've noticed that a writer like Jane Espenson writes across several series, e.g. Buffy, Angel, Smallville, Once Upon a Time, but my partner hasn't even heard of her.

    James Patterson might similarly argue that his name is more a denoter of a brand/genre/type of book, and that's all that most of his fans care about. I wouldn't want the same to happen to me (chance would be a fine thing) but then I don't think I write a recognisable kind of brand/genre book.

    So, I guess there is the overall question of, Does it matter? If you like the book, who cares who actually wrote it? I'm interested in what Joss Whedon writes but mainly because I might be able to learn from him as a writer.

    On the other hand, would I care if it transpired that a team wrote 'The Once and Future King' and not T.H. White? Yes I would because the power of the book for me lies in its mixture of big themes and White's own passions, especially about war. He took a personal stance on this, becoming a conscientious objector, writing the book in Ireland. But here's where perhaps the discussion gets complicated, because I can't conceive how a team could write a book that's so personal on some levels anyway. But I can conceive how a team/another writer could produce a James Patterson book.

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