Having a ghost of a chance in the world of book writing

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THE thought occurred to me that although we spend much of our lives with ghosts we are not aware of them. I do not mean the kind that go woo-hoo in the night and scare the daylights out of us. No, the other kind. 

The other kind? Yes, the friendly cashier on checkout was curious about what I did for a living. “I’m a ghost,” I told her. This made her more curious. I explained to her that I ghost books, which admittedly did not enlighten her by very much. Pointing in the direction of the book displays, I revealed a little secret. 

Memoirs naturally have the name of the celebrity on the cover but only 20 per cent actually write them. The rest have been written for them; it is not unknown for famous people to not read their own biographies.

When asked about his biography former President Ronald Reagan quipped: “Yes, I believe it is good. I must read it sometime.” It gets a tad better in the fiction department. Even so, it is estimated that as many as half the novels we read are ghost-written.

This includes famous name authors. One famous author, whose books still appear, has been dead for years. I suppose one could say his books are ghost-written.

Is it honest to put the name on a cover of the person who wrote only the plot? I take the view that Messrs. Cadbury, Kellogg and Gillette are kicking up the daisies too but their names still grace their products.

Does it matter? In my experience, few books would be read if the ghost’s name was on the book’s cover. The truth is, re-writing an author’s book, to bring it up to retail standard, is a skill in itself. Ghosts are a rare breed and can earn as much as the person named on the cover. 

It is the famous name on the cover that sells a book. Those of us who work in the shadows may paint as well as Turner or compose poetry as good as the best, but our names are unknown and worthless. 

The name on a book’s cover does provide the story’s sketch, perhaps as much as 40 per cent of it. The ghost then takes over and then hopefully buyers read an engaging book. 

There are extremes; I once received four sheets of handwritten paper, which the optimistic purveyor thought I would turn into an 80,000-word paperback. As his name was not Jeffrey Archer, I declined

When the ghost has weaved his magic everyone crosses their fingers and hopes the buyers will judge the book by the cover. There is another rather quaint reason why we never see the ghost (writer). 

Good ones are as rare as hen’s teeth. It is not unknown for literary agents, from whom book publishers buy their titles, to poach rival agents ghosts.

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