So you are thinking of working with a ghost? If you are trawling through the blogs on this site, it is quite possible that you are weighing up which of the highly capable ghosts featured here will be able to do justice to your story. It’s likely that this is something you have been thinking about for a while and, now you’ve almost made up your mind, you’ll be keen to get some words down on the page.
One question that could be uppermost in your mind is: whose book will it be? In other words, if you work with a ghost, won’t they have equal rights to the book?
The short answer to this question is: yes. At this point I can imagine many would-be authors panicking and thinking: That’s not what I wanted. It’s my book. Well, don’t worry, it will be. You just need to understand a little bit about the way copyright works.
Copyright is exactly as it sounds: your right to copy. It’s the law which stops others from copying out chunks of your book, or lifting characters and themes. All authors have the right to reproduce or make copies of their own work, to distribute copies of their work and to display or perform it publicly. Authors automatically get this right from the moment they pen the first sentence of their novel and it lasts for 70 years after their death.
So far, so straightforward. Yet, if you collaborate with a ghost, how do the copyright rules work? If two people work together on a book, the law says they are joint owners of the copyright of that story. Since it is almost impossible to separate who contributed what, the legal position is that both sides have the same rights, as if they were a single author. In theory, that would make it entirely possible for both authors, ie the ghost and the named author, to monetise the end product in any way they wished.
Clearly this is not an ideal situation for an author when weighing up a collaboration. After all, a major part of the ghost’s job description is that he or she gracefully fades into the background and disappears once the story is complete. That is the nature of the ghost/author transaction. This is exactly why it is the norm for ghosts to assign their rights to copyright to the named author. This assignment has to be done in writing, since copyright cannot be transferred via a verbal agreement.
Professional ghostwriters have assignment of copyright written into their standard contracts, which they will happily show to prospective clients. This assignment of copyright will also include provision for a situation where the book contract is terminated for any reason (other than non-payment) where the author will still maintain his or her rights.
Authors should also be reassured that the assignment of copyright applies to 100% of rights to the book, including film, TV, international translation and adaptions. Obviously, if the book became an international bestseller and Netflix came knocking for rights to turn it into a mini series, the named author would be keen to reap the benefits. Again, ghostwriters are generally fine with this (as well as being delighted about a book’s success), but it is worth checking up front that this is written into the Ts & Cs.
I should add that copyright is not the same as recognition. It is an entirely separate negotiation as to whether or not the named author credits a ghost for the collaboration, either on the front cover, ‘as told to Named Ghost’, or somewhere in the acknowledgements. This is something that both parties need to agree beforehand. Speaking from my own point of view, it is nice to be acknowledged, but it is never a dealbreaker for this ghost.
Ultimately, your work is an asset that needs to be protected, like any other asset. If you have concerns about copyright, talk it over with your chosen ghost. We are not legal experts, but we’ve signed a good few ghosting contracts, so we should be able to advise you. Then, once you’ve got all the paperwork out of the way, you can get on with the task of creating that fantastic book you’ve been thinking about for years.
Teena Lyons is the author of The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting and writes a weekly blog at www.professionalghost.com