Who You Gonna Call?

Americans love celebrities and often obsess about their lives, work, and screw-ups. We buy magazines proclaiming to divulge how "Katie and Tom Keep the Romance Alive," visit TMZ to see how skanky Lindsey Lohan dressed for her recent court hearing, and buy perfume endorsed by Sarah Jessica Parker (um, in my defense, I like how it smells). The fact that there's such a market for books attached to celebrities should be of no surprise.

Today I read an article on the Huffington Post website that discussed the rise in celebrity cookbooks, including one due out soon by Gwyneth Paltrow. Whil
e Gwynnie and I aren't exactly BFFs that tell each other everything, I'm in agreement with the columnist, Denise Vivaldo, that she probably didn't exactly plop herself down at the MacBook and write the entire book herself. Vivaldo points out that many celebrities "work with" more established, reliable ghost writers to create their cookbooks, who may be given credit with the phrase "by celebrity x with writer y" on the cover or on the title page. Sometimes, according to Joanne Kaufman's article in the Wall Street Journal, ghost writers are paid extra to not have their name mentioned, or may actually request this themselves if they don't support the celebrity or the actual project.

And it's not just cookbooks. Walk into your local bookstore and you're bombarded with memoirs, advice books, or guides that are written, supposedly, by celebrities. On the current New York Times bestseller's list for nonfiction there are several, including books by George Bush (obviously ghost written), Keith Richards, Meredith Baxter, and Mike Huckabee. Over the years we've seen autism guides from Jennie McCarthy, marriage advice by Julia Rancic, and math assistance from Danica McKellar. Pick a celebrity, and chances are if they're slightly washed-up and have been an alcoholic, experimented with drugs, were cheated on, cheated on somebody else, or enjoy the company of prostitutes, they've written a book. Or, if they've ever had any diversity or trauma in their lives they're suddenly an expert and can tell us normal folks how to get through the ordeal. Currently, Charlie Sheen, sitcom star turned crazy raving lunatic, is trying to find someone to pay him $10 million for his story (I think I'd rather read his book than be forced to watch his stupid show, though). Sometimes, they even try to write novels, like "stars" Nichole Ritchie and Lauren Conrad (exception: Steve Martin). Ghost writers can also find work in social media, maintaining Facebook pages, blogs, and Twitter feeds for celebrities.

I imagine some of them play more of a role than others in turning their ideas and lives into an actual text. Hillary Clinton wrote her entire biography and then had her editor condense and polish it. Often, though, the ghost writer will conduct many interviews with the celebrity in order to collect raw data and will then create the book, giving the celebrity authorship credit (the movie The Ghost Writer, which was really interesting, is about this). In an article CNN ran last year, a ghost writer points out that when celebrities attempt to write their own stories they tend to end up writing hundreds of pages on their childhood before they even start discussing their careers, or struggle to have the skills necessary to write coherently.

Personally, I think celebrity ghost writing is misleading, but not surprising. The rich and famous have help with every aspect of their lives (nannies, assistants, bodyguards, chefs, trainers, drivers, etc...), so it's really not surprising they wouldn't write their own books. I see these books as more expensive, heavier People Magazines, so from a literary standpoint there's no point in chastising them because it just isn't relevant. I do wonder about the ghost writers, though, as those who are hoping to actually have literary careers would be seen as selling out. I suppose it's acceptable for those that want to make a career out of just ghost writing, though, and understand the lack of credit they'll receive. I would find it frustrating, but I can also see how it may be attractive to some- you don't have to come up with any major ideas yourself, get to travel, meet new people, and are a part of the publishing world. The most important thing, though, is that people realize what they're reading and who is actually writing it. Buyer beware- that "autobiography" you're reading "by" Snookie, is probably written be a tall 40-year-old white guy who lives in Omaha with his parakeet and thinks The Situation is what happens when his toilet backs up.

Note: There is another type of ghost writing, as well, and that is when an author, such as Tom Clancy or James Patterson, hires on writers to help publish more frequently. That calls for a post of its own!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog. And great post. I have heard that Tyra Banks has a book deal now..a fictional series about modeling...not sure if that is correct though.\

    I read "Open" by Andre Agassi and really enjoyed it...and then later learned that he never even really wrote it himself...oh well..