Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Shape- Shifters (about ghost-writing)

This is on my www.badcb.blogspot.ca:

Nov. 5 The Shape- Shifters: I cut out this National Post article called “The Shape- Shifters” by Mark Medley on Mar. 12, 2011.  It’s about ghost-writing and the picture was really captivating.  It’s a man typing on a laptop, and this ghostly woman figure is floating behind him.  You can click on the link below and see the picture.  Here’s the whole article:

This is the 12th instalment in our series The Ecology of Books, examining the complex interrelationships that comprise Canada’s publishing industry — from small-press proprietors to the country’s biggest houses, from booksellers to book bloggers to book reviewers. Today, Mark Medley communes with ghostwriters.

Keith Hollihan wrote 15 books over the course of a dozen years before finally publishing one with only his name on the cover. He wrote about history, finance and the environment. He explored subjects ranging from sports network ESPN to real estate giant RE/MAX. One of his books was even featured on The Daily Show, though Hollihan watched the segment on TV like everyone else while the author traded jokes with Jon Stewart. Search his name on Amazon and you’ll get a few hits in return, including his recently released debut novel The Four Stages of Cruelty. Yet these books represent a fraction of his total output.
“When I say I ghostwrite, and I explain what that means,” Hollihan says, “people just seem to be really surprised that the name on the book is not always the name of the person who wrote it.”

Ghostwriters are the imposters of the publishing industry; they’ll adopt a different identity depending on the situation — an actress one instant, an athlete the next. They make their living by transforming into different people, and are rewarded very handsomely for their work. “I’ve been described in various ways,” says John Lawrence Reynolds. “Most commonly as a mercenary writer.”

Reynolds might just be Canada’s most successful ghostwriter. He’s worked with Brian Tobin, former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador (All In Good Time); Buzz Hargrove, former head of the Canadian Autoworkers (Laying It On The Line); Robert Milton, president and CEO of Air Canada (Straight From The Top); Frank Odea, co-founder of Second Cup (When All You Have Is Hope); and Robert Herjavec, of CBC’s Dragon’s Den (Driven).

“My name may not be on the cover,” he says, “but it’s always on the cheque.”

Indeed, ghostwriting can be much more lucrative than publishing under one’s own name. Reynolds, who lives in Burlington, Ont., has published six books of his own but doesn’t hide the fact that ghostwriting pays the bills. “I think it’s safe to say that 20% of the writers make 80% of the money,” he says. “And I wanted to be in that 20%. You can take a longshot and hope that you break with fiction — à la Margaret Atwood, I suppose — or you look for a more commercial way to do it.”

Another “ghost” said “if you’re not making at least $50,000 on a book, it’s not worth it.”

This can partly be attributed to the fact that many of those who hire ghostwriters come from the business community. “At some level, it’s a calling card, and it’s a loss leader, so they’re a little more amenable to the financial side of the whole thing,” says Hollihan, a Canadian writer who now lives in St. Paul, Minn. As well, those successful enough to warrant a book likely don’t have the time to spend a year writing it. “Writing is a full-time job unto itself — it’s more than a full-time job. How do you then do that and run a company [or] speak at 100 different places a year? I just don’t think it’s possible. So I kind of assume that anybody who’s got a public career is pretty much using the services of somebody out there.”

There’s no textbook way to become a “ghost.” Some are constantly on the hunt for new clients, researching and then approaching potential subjects and selling them on the idea of a book — the legacy argument. Others, like Reynolds and Hollihan, have established themselves to the point where subjects approach them. Sometimes, the publisher will sign a subject to a book deal before finding a suitable ghostwriter. “It’s not an easy place to get a start, because we tend to go back to the same people over and over again,” says Jim Gifford, HarperCollins Canada’s editorial director for non-
who’s worked on books such as the late hockey enforcer Bob Probert’s Tough Guy and Rick Hillier’s A Solider First, which was ghostwritten by former National Post reporter Chris Wattie. According to literary agent Hilary McMahon, “Once you get a good reputation as a ghostwriter, then publishers come to you.”

For Toronto writer Christopher Shulgan, who has published two well-received books under his own name, it was an out-of-the-blue call from a man looking for a ghostwriter that kickstarted his new career; Shulgan had been recommended by literary agent Beverley Slopen (who isn’t even his agent). A National Magazine Award-winning journalist, Shulgan approached the job no differently than if he was writing a (long) magazine profile; he met with the subject of the book — who wishes to remain anonymous — at least once a week for five months, and interviewed people from every phase of the subject’s life. “There are stories in there he didn’t even remember,” Shulgan says. It’s not simply a matter of transcribing interviews; the ghostwriter, in some respects, becomes their doppelgänger.
“For me, a ghostwriter is someone who gets along extremely well with the person they’re writing about,” Gifford says. “Who gains their trust, who knows what to put in the book — along with what not to include in the book.”

Working so closely with a subject for an extended period of time means a ghostwriter must be sure before agreeing to write the book. “I’ve turned down at least as many ghostwriting projects as I’ve accepted,” Reynolds says. If the chemistry isn’t there, or if he can’t envision spending a year of his life with the subject, he won’t do it. And though he’s never left a project once he’s signed on — “Once you’ve volunteered for the army you don’t leave when the guns start going” — he includes a clause in every contract that allows him to remove his name from the project, just in case.

Shulgan has no such qualms about the subject of the book, and enjoyed the experience so much that he’s signed up to ghost another; it doesn’t hurt that the money will allow him to escape Toronto for a couple of months this summer to finish work on a long-simmering novel. And while Shulgan was more than willing to discuss his experience, not everyone is so keen to associate themselves with the trade. “There is a perception that you’re supposed to be embarrassed that you’re doing it,” he says.

“I can’t give you any specific names, but I’ve worked with major novelists,” Gifford says. “Some people are known as very literary writers, and they just want to maintain that image.”

Yet it isn’t as secretive as one might expect. None of the writers interviewed for this story say they’ve had to sign confidentiality agreements, though there is an implicit understanding that a ghostwriter will keep quiet. It is, after all, not their book. “You’re still a storyteller, but it’s not your voice and it’s not your story,” Reynolds says. “And if you can’t accept that, you’re the wrong person for this racket.”

It’s not the ghostwriter’s voice, and it’s not the ghostwriter’s story, but they are the ghostwriter’s words. Thus, when Hollihan tells people his line of work, the reaction is decidedly negative. There’s something “sacred” about a book, he says, and the existence of a ghostwriter is an affront to the idea of authenticity — this notion that the name on the cover should be that of the person who wrote the words inside.

“I think everyone knows that Sarah Palin probably couldn’t write her way out of a baggie — of course everyone knows she uses a ghost,” says Allan Gould, a Toronto ghostwriter and author of close to 40 books. “Certainly if J.K. Rowling had someone write her stuff for her, we’d say ‘Hold on.’ But in the case of non-fiction — I mean, I can see it as an ethical question, but it doesn’t have to be. Anyone’s who literate enough to shell out $29.95 or $36.95 for a hardcover knows damn well that the person who runs this billion-dollar company is probably too bloody busy to write it himself.”

Books are held to a higher standard, it seems. Damien Hirst doesn’t paint all his paintings — the concept might be his, but he has a team to pull them off. Singers routinely record songs they did not write — “What’s an Elvis song?” wonders Hollihan — and several ghostwriters trotted out the example of politicians delivering speeches they didn’t write.

“Aren’t we all savvy enough to realize Andre Agassi didn’t write his book?” Shulgan asks. And perhaps we aren’t giving enough credit to readers, who surely know Snooki didn’t type every word of A Shore Thing — though in Canada most ghostwriting is confined to non-fiction. In any case, “I actually think a lot of what I did was not writing, but was almost editing.” His subject was a great storyteller; Shulgan just shaped the stories. “What’s inauthentic about that? These are stories that happened to this guy. He has and had ultimate control over what appears on the page. On some level, I’m the cameraman and he’s the director.”

In any case, the subject always has final approval. That doesn’t necessarily mean they read the book. The “authors” of one of the first books Reynolds ever ghostwrote once appeared on CBC for an in-depth interview not long after their book was published. When the host asked them a question about a specific chapter, they froze. “The two supposed authors looked at each other,” Reynolds laughs, “and I said to my wife ‘They haven’t read the book. They haven’t read their own book!’ ”

Still, despite a seemingly inexhaustible supply of people — and organizations — who want to tell their story, and require a professional writer to do so, literary agent Linda McKnight cautions her authors against ghostwriting. “People write because they want to write, and usually they have something else that’s intriguing to them, that’s exciting to them, that just gets them going. And it’s not ghostwriting.”

“There comes a point in every ghostwriting project, and I would surmise, in every ghostwriter’s life, when he or she says ‘OK, I’m getting tired of writing this person’s story, I’ve got to start writing my own,’ ” says Reynolds, who will publish a novel in 2012 called Beach Strip.
His name will be on the cover.


My opinion: It was an interesting article about something that not a lot of people talk about.  I’m sure we were all skeptical with celebrities writing books.  Amy Poehler from Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation released her memoir Yes, Please.  I read an excerpt in the Globe and Mail.

It was an average story about her taking her 2 sons to look at the moon.  Now, she I believe wrote her book.

I would like to see my name on the cover of a book, or in an article.  I do have my name on my blogs.

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