Not long ago I came across a press interview with one of ‘my’ authors. The man in question was a well-known film director from years gone by and his biography was a fantastic (and indiscreet) romp through the Sixties and Seventies movie world. I’d spent six months with this chap and loved every moment of ghosting his biography.
The icing on the cake was the role he assigned me in his story. When the magazine asked what prompted him to write his book, he said: ‘the young lady who typed-up my memoirs told me I should get them published’.
For a moment I had a wonderful vision of myself, seated at an old-fashioned typewriter, Moneypenny-style, tapping out his story as he dictated his memories.
The reality was, of course, quite different. This was a ghosting writing job, pure and simple, where I interviewed the author and crafted his memories into an engaging, anecdote-filled journey through some of the best-known films of the era.
The reason for relating this is to highlight one of the thorniest issues of ghostwriting: what to call your ghost. It is not, I should add, thorny for me. As a ghostwriter, I really don’t mind what credit I get. In the past my credits have varied from nothing at all, to a rather coy thank you in the acknowledgments for ‘helping me order my thoughts’. Other authors have come right out and said it: ‘a huge thank you to my ghostwriter Teena Lyons’.
The issue of whether a ghost is acknowledged for their input is something that is of far more of concern to the wider world it seems. Indeed, one of the first questions ghostwriters usually get asked is how they feel about not getting the credit for their work.
‘Doesn’t it upset you that you don’t get your name on the cover?’ people ask, shaking their heads with concern.
My usual answer is; as long as my name is on the cheque, it really doesn’t matter. Ghostwriting is, after all, a job.
However, perhaps I shouldn’t be so flippant. Experience has shown that the question of credit is of big concern to authors when they first begin to weigh up the idea of working with a ghost. Some people even wonder if it is ethical to put their name to a book that has been penned by another. Is it right to accept plaudits for someone else’s work?
In my view, this is coming at it from the wrong angle. A ghostwriting arrangement is a professional collaboration. It is highly effective in getting a great story into the hands of a reader in a memorable and compelling way. The author brings the story, while the ghost crafts the structure and words. The only time an arrangement might ever be considered unethical is when an author expects the ghost to make up the story and contribute the words, all without any credit whatsoever.
In any collaboration it is entirely up to both author and ghost on what credit, if any, they agree upon. Generally this should be confirmed in the initial discussions, when the contract is drawn up, so there are no surprises later on. Most ghostwriters are pretty flexible in this respect, so the onus is on the author to decide upon what credit they feel most comfortable with giving.
I, for one, am always happy to return to my typewriter to accept dictation of an interesting memoir.
Teena Lyons is a former business, financial and consumer journalist who, as a ghostwriter, has written or collaborated upon more than 40 books, including Common Sense Rules for Deborah Meaden of TV’s Dragons Den and On Leadership by Allan Leighton. She has also penned her own book: Complete Guide to Ghostwriting.