September 24th, 2010 / 12:55 pm
Craft Notes & Random

Ghost Writing

I’ve known a few writers who ghost write young adult novels for money which has always seemed both enticing and repulsive. On the one hand it seems like it could be really freeing and fun to work inside the constraints they give you (Nerd/vampire superhero lesbian coming of age story in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles– GO!) and under a pseudonym, but on the other hand I wonder if it would be too draining for how little money you might earn. Has anyone had any experience with it? Would you take a ghost writing job if someone offered it today? How much would you want to earn for it to be worth it?


  1. Robert Alan Wendeborn

      It’s like RL Stine. He doesn’t write fifty books a year. He pays five people to write ten books and he gets all the real money and cred; horrible horrible cred.

  2. Amber

      I ghostwrote a few horrible, horrible horror novels for a niche publisher. It was good money at the time, especially since I was a poor college student, but it was also the most draining, sad, pathetic, waste-of-time-and-talent experience I’ve ever had. I thought it would be fun, but it wasn’t. It was just sadsadsad. I eventually quit and took a job as a used car salesman instead, and that’s not a joke.

  3. Catherine Lacey

      Oh, wow. Do you think you would do it differently now? Do you think there is room within a genre like this to have fun writing?

  4. reynard seifert

      i would do it for $1200 a month if i only had to work 20 hours a week which would be $20 an hour, but that will never happen so i will remain a substitute teacher.

      even then though, it would definitely be creatively draining and i would probably quit.

  5. deadgod

      I don’t understand why the books are ghost-written. Is the real writer being hidden by a pseudonym – because the writing is shameful or grossly misleading about the author’s literary ambitions – , or is the credited ‘author’ a real person taking credit for the ghost-writer’s work?

  6. deadgod

      On-topic, well worth reading: Author from a Savage People, by Bette Pesetsky.

  7. Richard

      Yes, do tell us more, and would you do it now? I know that some authors, like Brian Evenson, have written pulp and comics, and had fun with it. I imagine that you would ghost write NOW under a pseudonym so as not to taint your current reputation.

      I always thought of ghost writes and people who wrote memoirs for famous people that couldn’t write, or something like that, they are a ghost, behind the scenes, unknown. Whereas a pseudonym was used so that an author could write in a genre or niche that was something really different than what they are known for (lit author doing romance or SF or horror, for example) OR to avoid flooding the market. Stephen King famously wrote as Richard Bachman so that he could put out more than one book a year.

      Sounds intriguing, either way.

  8. jereme

      i’m with deadgod. are we saying the person is ghost writing out of shame or opportunity?

      there is nothing wrong with YA fiction. fuck you if you think you are better than it. fuck you a thousand times.

      my boy Ned Vizzini writes YA. he is successful at it too. he’s also one of the few writers i actually enjoy being around.

      if it is out of opportunity, eh i guess. still think ghost writing is some weak ass shit in general.

  9. Amber

      I don’t know. I think there is room to have fun in ghostwriting, but the stuff I was given to work from was so misogynistic, and so horrifyingly bloody, that it just drained my soul to write it. And then I’m also a perfectionist about writing (as I’m sure everyone here is) so I couldn’t just write some half-assed crap. It had to be crafted, beautiful prose, which took time and really didn’t fit the stories at all. I think if you were in the right genre or working for the right publisher it might be fun, but if you’re the kind of writer that has to get each sentence exactly right, you’d probably want to kill yourself after a while if you’re working with a shitty storyline. I think it would be fun to ghostwrite non-fiction, though–like how awesome would it have been to ghostwrite Sarah Palin’s book and insert little tiny things in there that she would never catch but that someone might?

  10. David Erlewhinge

      Curious to hear what Mighty Joe Young thinks about this. Under his own name he just wrote and got published a vampire novel, of which I’ve heard good things (but haven’t read yet).

      I write everything under my own name…but sometimes I think about my kids reading my stuff and I think no one’s paying me so why I am so insistent on writing under my own name, especially some of the lurid stuff? Also, it’s probably not the best for me in terms of my paying job. More than a few of my colleagues think I’m a complete whack job b/c they’ve read my work. Do I care? Not really, but it’s still kind of bizarre to work with people who think EVERYTHING in a short story is “basically” true/autobiographical. Cue violin.

  11. rawbbie

      It’s like RL Stine. He doesn’t write fifty books a year. He pays five people to write ten books and he gets all the real money and cred; horrible horrible cred.

  12. or here

      I once ghost wrote travel guides. Of the three I wrote, 2 of them were to places I had never been. As far as money goes, it did keep food travelling to my mouth.

  13. Richard

      Funny stuff…I totally understand where you’re coming from too.

  14. JupiterPluvius

      Presumably Ms. Lacey is talking of series done by work-for-hire writers working from a “series bible” and/or book outlines and published under the name of one author (whether that person is real or fictional). Like the Nancy Drew books were.

      It’s hard work, and the pay is surprisingly low.

  15. Nate

      There are a lot of people commenting here who clearly don’t understand the meaning of the term “ghost writing.”

  16. jereme

      thanks for clearing that up.

      oh wait, you were just shit talking for affect.

      okay, thank you for that too.

  17. deadgod

      Nate, I’m one of them – I meant my questions literally.

      If it’s a case of another person taking credit for your writing (by having it published under their name), why wouldn’t the ghost-writer, with their next finished title under their arm, simply go to the publisher and say, “Here, I wrote this.”? Is the real-but-fake writer’s name that important to future sales?

      And if there is no real person to attach to the name – if it’s just a pseudonym for whoever’s writing the installment at some particular time – , is the same commercial consideration in effect?

      I don’t quite see what’s so ‘soul-killing’ about playing with a voice, characters, and plot-line that one is handed and might not value as highly as the products of one’s own fabrication (of which originality I’m pretty skeptical). To turn to the most obvious example, Shakespeare seems not to have been insulted by the marketplace pressure for already-known stories, nor to have been stifled by ‘unoriginal’ source material.

      jereme’s right, Nate – your comment is so much grandstanding – and why not? But do you know why publishers bother with ghost-writers? Is it really as simple as mercantile calculation?

  18. JupiterPluvius

      Is the real-but-fake writer’s name that important to future sales?

      Yes. If there’s even a real writer in the first place, which there often isn’t in YA and MG series. The conventional wisdom, which my experience as a bookstore worker suggests is accurate, is that kids reading those series just want “the latest $Character or $Author.” This is a noble precedent in US publishing, as set by Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

      I don’t quite see what’s so ‘soul-killing’ about playing with a voice, characters, and plot-line that one is handed

      In my experience, all of the above are generally crappy and played-out, and then you get a ton of micromanaging from the series editor/packager.

      Again, to use Nancy Drew as an example, having to put a reference to Nancy’s sporty roadster in every book probably got annoying, but not as annoying as fielding phone calls from the Stratemeyer Syndicate about “Where’s the roadster?” or “You can’t have the roadster be in an accident.”

      Today’s YA serieses are even more micromanaged than Nancy and the Hardy Boys. Product placement, for instance, is something you’ll see in many book franchises.

      The Shakespeare comparison is miles off, because Holinshed’s Chronicles wasn’t a confusing, internally incoherent document with all the charm of your last root canal put together by a committee of book packagers based on focus group findings.

      I still wouldn’t use highfalutin and self-dramatizing language like “soul-killing”, but YA series work-for-hire is generally annoying, relatively low-paying work. Like most annoying, low-paying work (waiting tables, for instance), many people like to hyperbolize about it when they’re fortunate enough to have found better paying, less annoying work.

  19. Marcos

      Suppose I wanted to sign up for the ‘soul-killing’ job of churning out ‘repulsive’ YA fiction? Sounds better than the shit I do for a living now. Anyone got advice on how to get hired by one of those ‘micro-managing’ editors?

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