Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Experience as a Ghostwriter

I became a ghostwriter in 1981 when I wrote the autobiography of a famous country-and-western singer. That was long before our names began to appear with a by-line.

After the editor explained how the system worked, I thought about the project. It was an important question in my growth as a person and as a writer. I finally asked myself, "Can I write a book and not care who gets credit?"

After serious reflection, I decided I could. In retrospect, I believe it was a wise decision. For a decade I wrote a number of books for celebrities without recognition, and I was fine with that.

In 1990, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story was the first book to carry my by-line as the writer. The font for my name was tiny but it was there. The original publisher, Review & Herald, insisted that it was the honorable and honest thing to do and I didn't object.

Even though my name was there—and it's still on editions published by Zondervan and by HarperCollins—readers often don't notice.

My shift in thinking took place in 1996. I had written a book for a celebrity, who wasn't easy to please. We finally finished the book and in the acknowledgments he credited me with writing a "first draft" of the book. (I also wrote four other full drafts before I satisfied him.)

That book won a number of awards. The author claimed credit and received the awards for my words. That's when I reflected a second time. I had written books for others and didn't mind readers not knowing. But this time, the author received credit he didn't deserve and didn't acknowledge me.

Was I participating in deceit by not having my name on his book? I decided I was. I didn't need the recognition, but I did want honesty. For me, the issue became one of integrity.

That was in 1996, and I changed agents shortly after that. Deidre Knight, my new agent, told me at our first meeting, "You will not write another book for anyone without a by-line." We've held to that.

My integrity is more important than money or name recognition.


  1. Praise the Lord for your agent,Deidre.

  2. I'm finding so much of myself in the interpretation of the other person's desires for her book. Especially in adding spiritual application to principles taught. I can't imagine not having my name there too.

  3. Sally adds her insight--and that can increase the value of a book. However, it's y not ghostwriting; it's collaboration. A ghostwriter attempts to remain undetected and only the "author's" viewpoint appears.
    If you write for someone and add anything of your own, I urge you to ask for the use of "and" instead of "with."
    Readers may not grasp the difference, but professionals realize "and" means the writer contributed to the content.
    For example, the fourth book I did with Don Piper is called Getting to Heaven. The byline is Don Piper AND Cecil Murphey. Many conclusions and insights were mine and not Don's. Both of us were happy with the arrangement.

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