Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Different Kind of Ghost Story

Last week, among other topics, I talked about those ads on Craigslist where writers advertise for other writers to write their books for them in a work-for-hire arrangement. It got me to wondering why someone would do that. If you consider yourself a writer, shouldn’t you be writing your own books?

I indirectly got an answer to that question while following a different story. In short, it’s good, old-fashioned ghost writing, and it’s been around for decades. You didn’t really think all those celebrity “authors” like Vanna White or William Shatner wrote their own books, did you?

Ebook publishing has opened up a whole new market for this, especially in the romance genre. That explains why so many of these ads are looking for romance writers. That also explains how some romance writers appear to be so prolific.

If you want to make a living in ebook publishing, it helps if you write fast. Some writers have a new release every freakin’ month. I kid you not. Granted, the definition of “book” among romance e-publishers includes word counts as low at 15,000, which makes it a lot easier. I once did the math and determined it really is possible to write a book a month. If you write a minimum of 1000 words a day—doable even if you’ve got a day job—by the end of a month you’ve got 30,000 words. That’s enough for a romance ebook. Or two, if you’re writing short stories.

A romance writer working full-time can easily hit this target, and in theory have a minimum of twelve releases a year. Those of us who aren’t that fast and can only manage half that output (or less, for us true slowpokes) can still build up an impressive backlist and its attendant sales. All it takes is an ad on Craigslist, and a willing ghost.

I never thought about that before, but it does make sense. Romance epublishing favors speed. It keeps your name in front of fickle readers. Can’t keep up with reader demand for your work? Hire somebody online. For $500-$1000 or so you can get a subcontractor to write your novel for you. That way a book with your byline on it will appear on the market every month. If you’ve got a big enough following, you’ll make your outlay back in the first week. There’s certainly no shortage of hungry writers out there. Like I mentioned last week, $500 is more than I made with my last release. It’s just that I know I’d be pissed if a book I wrote made a ton of money for somebody else. That’s the only reason I haven’t skewed off in this direction.

I’m not saying everybody with a huge body of work is doing this, but it does make me wonder. I’ve heard rumors James Patterson works this way, so it isn’t only romance or epublishing.

There’s another way a writer can hit the book-a-month deadline, which is how I heard about this in the first place. Since we’re coming up on Halloween, here’s a horror story for you.

I’ve been following a breaking story over on the Absolute Write site regarding a “prolific” writer of M/M romances. She’s had something like 75 books come out in the last five years, or roughly 15 books a year. How can somebody write that many in so short a time? Well, maybe she has a husband with a good-paying job and kids who do all the housework.

Or she was plagiarizing other writers. Which turned out to be the case. It’s easy to write quickly if somebody else has already written most if not all of the book for you.

Even worse, she was taking M/F books and changing pronouns as well as character names to turn them into M/M stories. Since M/F readers don’t normally wander into M/M territory and vice versa, she probably figured she wouldn’t be found out.

Except one omnivorous reader did figure it out and contacted the plagiarized M/F author. Now the M/M writer’s entire backlist is under scrutiny, and more examples of blatant theft are appearing almost daily.

What does this have to do with my discussion of ghosting up there? Well, someone in the comments tried to defend the plagiarist by suggesting maybe she’d hired a ghost to write some of her novels for her. That it was the ghost, not the author herself, who rewrote somebody else’s book and sold it to the author, who in turn sold it to a publisher, or self-published, which I think was the case. Either way, the books got sold to unsuspecting readers at the original author’s expense. Man, this sure gets complicated, doesn’t it?

If you’re one of those genuinely-fast full-time writers who actually produces all that wordage every month, I salute you. If you’re not quite that fast and are bolstering your backlist with ghost-written works, hey, okay. Everybody has to make a living. If you’re stealing someone else’s work and passing it off as your own, shame on you. It will come back to bite you. I recommend you find another line of work, like politics or something.

Me, I’m gonna keep slogging along, writing my own works at my own glacial pace. It doesn’t count as ghosting or plagiarism if I put a pen name on something I wrote myself. The inspirations for some of my stories—well, that gets a little spotty. It’s all original by the time I’m done with it, I swear. And that’s all I’ll admit to. Happy Halloween!


Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, what a racket... whether the ghost writer plagiarized or she plagiarized... you had to figure this would happen... it's just terrifically sad for those us who do actually write our own books... I wish I could do the 1,000 words a day... I tried, and keep trying... but life, as in throwing up constant roadblocks, doesn't cooperate worth a bloody darn. Plus, dealing with all the computer and internet issues recently, has really devoured my time. ~sighs~

Savanna Kougar said...