Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ghostbusting the Ghostwriters

A new blogger has a short and to the point essay on ghostwriting. I respond in a comment as well. This has been a long-time concern of mine. It is rampant in "Christian" publishing, sadly.

8 comments:

David said...

I am curious, if a book is written by a ghostwriter, are the royalties usually shared in some way or does the ghostwriter simply receive a wage for her work or what? That might be a difficult question to answer for anyone outside of the publishing industry.

At any rate, the sin of ghost writing seems particularly egregious if the celebrity profits substantially from the book, either via royalties or some special monetary advance, and the ghost writer profits only moderately.

Roger N. Overton said...

I've heard of a handful of ghostwriting incidents, but not many. Is there a ghostbusting list available somewhere?

Ed Darrell said...

Ghost writing is very old. George Washington used several writers to compose his words for him in his political career, including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Dr. Groothuis, if you think ghostwriting deceitful, are you willing to condemn George Washington for his employment of ghost writers? Will you call the Father of Our Country a liar?

Or might we agree that as with any form of writing, ethical use may be had of it?

Ed Darrell said...

David,

Some ghost writers get a share of the profits, some get a flat fee. Some get royalties. Some are acknowledged in the work, some are acknowledged informally.

The sin of ghostwriting is in some other sin, not in the ghostwriting.

Have you ever read Cyrano de Bergerac?

Douglas Groothuis said...

1. If Washtington did it; it is wrong. I don't deify Washington. (He was a Freemason, after all.) If someone writes part of what you write, it should be mentioned in a preface or a footnote. Of course, editors may contribute a sentence or even a paragraph here and there, but that is different.

2. A (true) list of ghostwritten materials would put some "authors" out of business!

3. Years ago, there was to appear a book called "Haunted Houses" about ghostwriting in Christian circles. It never appeared. Humm...

Ed Darrell said...

What about when the Discovery Institute hires a public relations firm to put into the New York Times an article under the name of a Catholic Cardinal in order to lend some credence, luster and shine to the concept of intelligent design? Is that deceitful, too?

At what point does one simply stop listening to a president because all of his words are ghosted?

Who was it Cal Thomas started out ghosting for? Jerry Falwell?

A blanket condemnation is an interesting idea. Impractical, unjust, unworkable, probably not greatly supportive of any useful goal -- but interesting.

Douglas Groothuis said...

"What about when the Discovery Institute hires a public relations firm to put into the New York Times an article under the name of a Catholic Cardinal in order to lend some credence, luster and shine to the concept of intelligent design? Is that deceitful, too?"

That is the fallacy of the complex question. Or, if it isn't, you need to give evidence for your charge.

If Cal Thomas ghost wrote for Falwell, then it is wrong. You cannot get me to apply the standard in biased way when Christians are the ones sinning.

Ed Darrell said...

One can read about Cardinal Schoenborn's ghost-written essay in the July 9, 2005, New York Times, and here: http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/08/the_discovery_i.html,
and here: http://www.gettysburgsem.org/studies/id/designsoftimes.htm

Ghosting is a time-honored and noble profession. When done well it works much good. Attempted slights at George Washington aside, Washington, one of the most noble men in history, saw nothing wrong with it -- and he used ghosts to the nation's great advantage. Many of our better leaders through the years used ghosts, and more than a few -- Lamar Alexander, Pat Moynihan, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Ben Franklin -- were ghosts themselves.

There is often no deceit involved. It is not inherently deceitful.

It seems to me that you've not given full, due consideration to the issue in its broader context. You appear to be concerned about plagiarism, which is not ghost writing. You appear to be concerned about contract breaches. Those are subsidiary to ghosting at best, and often completely irrelevant.

Of course, you avoided the issue of a president whose every word is ghosted. I suppose you understand at some level that George W. Bush rarely uses an unscripted line, or that Ronald Reagan scripted even his "ad libs."

Where is the harm? Generally, not in the ghosting itself can harm be attributed.