Sunday 25 October 2009

Ghosts and celebrities

I read today that ghostwritten books by 'celebrities' are on the increase. Apparently, all of last Christmas's top ten bestsellers were ghostwritten celebrity autobiographies, and it is likely that the top ten fiction list this Christmas will be ghostwritten novels, again by celebrity 'authors'. This is depressing for people like us: serious writers, published on our own merits, and seeking to find a wider readership. And yet perhaps we should be grateful, for these books bring in hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue for the publishers, and therefore presumably there is more money available for those publishers to take a risk with previously unknown writers.

If this is the case, why does the whole things make me so cross? After all, I would hate someone else to write my books for me, and I have no desire to be a celebrity. Surely it can't be the money? Or the whirlwind book-signing tours? Or the interviews in that posh suite at the top of the Dorchester with the lovely views? Perish the thought.


  1. Frances, you're right that the revenues these 'books' generate allow sub-divisions like MNW to operate on a break-even basis, rather than contribute real money to the parent company.

    Part of the irritation is that these celeb tomes are pandering to a lowest common denominator (and a very low one indeed). The environment created is not a fertile one for people who are trying to write 'real fiction'. By colluding in contracting readers' tastes and aspirations, publishers are damaging writers' (and their own) futures. Did anyone really go into publishing to sell ghost-written C-List celeb biographies?

  2. Tim - yes, there's a huge dumming-down involved in all this, and it's very depressing, especially as, I suspect, very few of these books are actually read once the Christmas wrapping paper has been ripped off.

    I also have a problem - though to a much lesser degree - with the novels written by the already well-known (politicians etc), which are guaranteed a review because of their provenance, leaving less review space for unknown writers. A Times reviewer told me recently that they have less and less space for reviews, and it has to go (mainly) to 'names'. I heard Joan Bakewell on the radio the other day being asked about her (recent) first novel. Did it bother her that it received publicity because of who she is? she was asked. She said that that was just the way it was -there was nothing she could do about it - and of course, she's absolutely right. But the whole situation perpetuates the uphill struggle for the new writer looking for a break.

  3. Hmmm, I think the thing that irritates me most about these books is that the 'ghosts' are never mentioned on the cover - if at all. Being a ghostwriter is still writing and I think they deserve more recognition than they get - especially when the book handles its material really well.

  4. Good point, Alis. I also hope that the 'ghost' gets a decent share of the spoils!