Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Do Some Ghosts Choose to Be Invisible?

Yesterday, I wrote about the attention that Andre Agassi's ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, is getting for his work on Agassi's book. In her review in the NYT, Janet Maslin writes that Moehringer was offered cover credit but turned it down. Some might wonder why anyone would do that.

It's a complex question and, while I certainly can't speak for Moehringer, I've turned down credit in the past, as well. If a writer moves from writing her own books to helping others write books as a ghost, it can be confusing for publishers to look at the body of work, especially if the writing is about disparate subjects and in varied forms. A collection of memoirs, how-to, and pop culture books written with various authors may distract publishers from the writer's own work in narrative nonfiction. A children's book ghostwritten with another author may not "make sense" coming from an author whose primary work is in business and finance.

Sometimes, though, ghosts collaborate within their areas of specialization. In those cases, being a named collaborator can be a boon to one's own publishing efforts, especially if the collaborator has a significant platform and the book sells well.

The issue of credit is one that should be decided early in the ghostwriting process with as much specificity as possible. Will the name be on the cover? Will the ghost be mentioned in the acknowledgements? What will be said about his or her particpation? Include the details in the collaboration agreement to avoid any misnunderstanding about giving credit where credit is (or isn't) due.


  1. I almost never get cover credit and I get the "don't you want credit for your work?" question all the time. Truth is, what I want is a good price for my services. And often I am able to trade cover credit for additional cash.

  2. It's interesting to me that JR (as if we are on first name basis here...) didn't take it, though. I wonder if it's because his name would help to sell the book, much as David Egger's name helped to sell What is the What. I generally will take a "with line" whenever it's offered. Sometimes there are good reasons not to--usually when the book is branded in such a way that it would look really odd to have my name on the cover. Or when there are already two authors.