by Kim Niemi
On a recent episode of the Real Housewives of New York City, a simple conversation between one published author housewife and one soon-to-be turned into a near slug-fest. #BookGate offered an inside look at the volatile emotions surrounding the common practice of ghostwriting.
“What’s the big deal?” Many viewers might have wondered. Well, they call it “ghostwriting” for a reason.
Here’s the back story, in short: New York Times best-selling author Carole Radziwill was having a hard time swallowing the idea of newbie Aviva Drescher publishing a book of her own. Carole has been a writer for over 20 years, so hearing Aviva speak of writing as if it were this easy, breezy process got under her skin. She asked if Aviva was using a ghostwriter. Aviva answered “no” and then asked Carole the same question. Carole took major offense, and it all snowballed from there, with each woman obsessing over the other’s remarks with the rest of the housewives for another two episodes.
But what IS the big deal? Ghostwriters are hired all the time for just this type of work, as well as every other type of writing you can imagine, from political briefs to rap songs. It’s interesting, then, that there is such a stigma about it.
Using a ghostwriter doesn’t immediately indicate one is a talentless hack, incapable of writing anything on one’s own. Ghostwriters are employed to edit, to enhance, to save time; the named author is usually involved – at least in the cases of autobiographies and memoirs – and has final approval of the ghostwritten work. It’s not about just slapping your name on something that isn’t yours and reaping all the benefits.
Still, as commonplace as it may be, the idea is to keep the illusion of authorship pure in the public eye. Much as a magician doesn’t want to reveal how the trick is done, most authors don’t publicly credit their ghostwriters.
And, of course, authors who DO write their own stuff don’t like to be accused of “cheating.” Which is why Carole got so bent out of shape.
As far as #BookGate goes, only the publishers will ever know the truth – unless there’s a statute of limitations on whatever nondisclosure agreements may be in place. For me, the biggest offense was that both these women claiming to be writers thought the word was “unexcusable.”
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