Monday, July 12, 2021

What You Need to Know About the Ethics of Ghostwriting


If you're a writer and not getting any credit for the work you've done, how is that ethical?

A question ghostwriters get asked again and again.  The truth of the matter is this kind of writing is legitimate and perfectly legal and above board.  When done properly ghostwriting should be a worthwhile experience, and not a painful one.

When this question pops up in conversation most ghostwriters will tell you that they're there to simply help the author put their voice on paper, in a simple and appealing way.  All ideas and knowledge have been handed over to the ghostwriter, but it's the author who gets the credit in the end.

As seen in a previous blog post, the job of a ghostwriter is to write in the voice of someone else, and not get any credit for that writing.  

Let's take a look at some of the ethics you might find when you're working closely with someone as a ghostwriter:

The Business Transaction

What essentially is taking place is nothing more than a business transaction between two people.  An agreement that is made with an author, where the rights of the publication are signed over to that person when that item has been published.  It's no different to selling a violin,  the person who buys the violin can play whatever they want once they pay for the violin.  Ghostwriting is no different, once the work has been published it's up to the author what they decide to do with it.

The Author's Side

From the point of view of the author hiring a ghostwriter, admittedly, might look a bit awkward and complicated, but they need to use the ghostwriter's writing abilities to their greatest advantage. All knowledge and ideas given by the author are then put directly into the book and should genuinely reflect the author's thoughts and feelings

Not Everyone's a Writer

Writing you either love it or loathe it, it's a skill some possess and others want to have nothing to do with.

This has nothing to do with intelligence, it's a simple case of wanting to write, and not  stopping until the job is done.  Not everyone can do that.  Just because someone is academically minded doesn't mean they want to sit down and write a book about their favourite subject.  The same goes for anyone with a passion for cooking or playing football. It's not everyone's forte.

Blurred Lines

Things may become ambiguous when the author and the ghostwriter clash and butt heads.  Leaving the ghostwriter feeling less engaged with the whole process and not able to collaborate fully with the author.  A ghostwriter needs a handle on the whole process to make sure they've written a true account that's both accurate and credible.  Otherwise the lines of collaboration become broken and harder to mend.

Deceiving the Reader

There are particular genres that are known for using ghostwriters.  These include, biographies, business and political books, books written by celebrities and movie stars.  You'll usually find a ghostwriter's hand in most of those areas.  There is nothing unethical about that, only that a transaction has been made between an author and a ghostwriter to write a book.

Here are some ethics to consider about ghostwriting:

1. What reasons does the author have to write a book?  Is it to build their reputation or build-up their self-image?  Both questions are harder to answer.

Some people will be perfectly upfront with it, and others will say they wrote the book.

2. Is the author using the ghostwriter to make themselves sound more appealing, clever or perceptive?  Just because a witty sentence is written in a book, doesn't mean it's come straight from the mouth of the author.  The skill of ghostwriting requires exceptional prose to make the author sound like more than they actually are.

People in high places often sound very different to what is written on paper.  A good test is to listen to the language they use and compare it to their most recent biography.  Often the two don't marry up.  

That's why people are better off  being upfront and telling the truth that they used a ghost.

3. What if the ghostwriter is being fed nothing but lies?  Verification in this case, is the best policy.  If the stories you're writing about can't be confirmed then you can't be excused for anything put into print.

When these mistakes are left, it can lead the ghostwriter to embarrassment for not correcting the author on their own stories.

4. Ghostwriting makes the author more lazy.  It takes a lot to pull a book together and leaving that in the hands of someone else puts the intellectual effort to another writer.

What ethical guidelines can we follow from the above points? 

1. The ghostwriter must make sure that the core of the client's experience is in the story they write.

Months and often years can be spent bringing together the essence of someone's thoughts, and it's not an easy process to achieve.  The challenge for the ghostwriter is being able to capture the authenticity of the author's voice, and this means the author has to be there to fill in the blanks for the ghostwriter.  Signing a document and asking for a book to be written requires huge input from the client, along with the ghostwriter's ability to impart wit and insight that the client may not have.

2. The audience shouldn't feel any kind of deception about the work they're reading.

Depending upon the author, there can often be a degree of secrecy surrounding the arrangement.  Credit for the ghostwriter is often surrendered in exchange for a cheque, which may be a problem if the author is looking for a ghostwriter to write a book for them and not necessarily with them.

In some areas of writing, like journalism, ghostwriting is forbidden.  However speech writing is not, many prime ministers and presidents rely on the words of a great ghostwriter to write compelling speeches for them.  Academic writing should always be written by the original author and no one else, that goes without saying.

Over to you

We all have our own thoughts about ghostwriting, but when you have a passion for writing and finding new stories, ghostwriting is like every other form of writing.  It takes time, patience and years to master.

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