Do Some Bestselling Authors Use Ghostwriters?

Roman Polanski's new movie, The Ghost Writer, started me thinking about ghostwriting in general, and then more specifically about bestselling authors who might hire others to write books for them.  So far I don't think there has been a literary equivalent of the Milli Vanilli scandal.  You remember Milli Vanilli, the Grammy Award winning duo that turned out to be lipsynching frauds, who never recorded a single note of their own on their blockbuster album.  Some celebrity authors have become brands -- their names alone sell millions of copies of their new books thanks to fan loyalty based on earlier successes.  Some writers are so prolific, coming out with a book (or more) every year, it is understandable that cynical folks might suspect that they have a secret factory system of anonymous ghostwriters churning out the words to keep the big bucks coming.

Some of my favorite writers have been fodder for the ghostwriting rumor mill.  If the unsubstantiated gossip were proven to be true, would it make a difference if the audience still enjoyed those books anyway, and if the celebrity was still the originator of the plots, characters, and ideas in the novels, even if they did not actually write the tomes themselves word for word?  Obviously, the answer is, yes, it would make a difference.  Such a revelation would shatter our faith in our literary heroes. 

How devastating would it be for fans of William Shakespeare's plays, for example, if the theories were verified that others may have created some or all of his classics?  When one writer gives birth to an abundance of great material, it is not hard to imagine that some people might find it difficult to believe that a single human being could be the font of so much.  Especially when most writers struggle to have a single hit, often jealousy and bitterness are the true causes for suspicion when they see some authors hit a grand slam time after time after time after time.

Some bestselling authors give there fellow writers credit, putting both their names and the "ghostwriters" names on the book as "co-authors" even if the "ghostwriter" did all or most of the work.  I have spoken to a few writers who have told me that is a common practice.  And, some author's names have become such a brand, that books are sometimes ghostwritten and published after their deaths but still under their names because, no surprise, that will sell more copies and feed the appettite of the author's fans.  In those cases, I have no problem with it.  And as long as the ghostwriter is properly compensated, I would imagine that the ghostwriter has no problem with it either.  I do hope, however, that there are no "Literary Milli Vanillis" out there, building their fame and fortune on the backs of nameless others.

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