Thoughtful Thursday: Ghost Writers

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI stumbled across an article on the web the other day that discussed the controversy of L.J. Smith being booted from her own series, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. The series will continue to be written under the name L.J. Smith, but by another author. I found this tidbit to be shocking, and it got me thinking: What other SFF works have been ghost-written? What famous SFF authors were also ghost writers? Here are three examples:

1. The Madman Theory by Ellery Queen
Ghosted by Jack Vance

2. The Curse of Yig by Zealia Bishop
Ghosted by H.P. Lovecraft *Lovecraft also ghosted for Harry Houdini on a few occasions

3. TekWar by William Shatner
Ghosted by Ron Goulart

Do you know of other ghost-written SFF works? I would also like to hear your thoughts on the L.J Smith controversy. We will choose one commenter to receive a free book from the many choices in our stacks.

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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff since September 2009) is a Cyber-Security Analyst/Network Engineer located in Northern Kentucky. Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on authors like Tolkien, Anthony, and Lewis. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. When he is not reading books he is likely playing board games or Tabletop RPGs. Justin lives in a quiet neighborhood with his wife, their daughter, and Norman the dog.

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  1. SandyG265 /

    I’ve read that a number of the Goosebumps books were ghost written.

    And even though some of the later Pern books had both Anne and Todd McCaffrey’s names on them I’ve read an interview by her where she said that in doing Pern with him she was mainly making suggestions or being a sounding board.

  2. Wow I did not know that H. P. Lovecraft ghosted anyone. Interesting.

  3. I read of the L.J. Smith situation before and was shocked. I guess I never really considered what books might be ghost written. As an author, I wouldn’t be too happy about having a book with my name on it that wasn’t written by me out in the world. As a reader, I would be upset to find out I picked up a book by one of my favorite authors that was ghost written. There are quite a few authors I auto-buy. I’d hate to be misled that way.

  4. I’m a little biased since I disliked the character of Elena intensely when I tried to read the first Vampire Diaries book, but frankly, Smith lost my sympathy when I read the words, “Work for Hire.” That’s what work for hire means; that you don’t own the work.

  5. You know, I’m not a huge fan of ghost-writing in general. I really feel like their name should at least be included somewhere – let’s be honest with the people reading your stuff. But this, to keep the name of an author who’s no longer writing the series on the series. That’s just wrong and a complete swindle.

  6. Who ghost writes is a closely guarded secret in the publishing industry. The more I dug into the history of ghost writing the more I realized how prevalent it is. I believe the practive to be dishonest and akin to false advertising. The ghost writer should at least get a co-authored credit.

    You also won’t find too many ghost writers complaining about it. They are often compensated fairly well, and they are happy to just get work as a writer. If you are a talented writer and keep a low profile, you can have a lucrative career as a ghost writer.

    The case of LJ Smith is a little different in that she did agree to as Marion stated “work for hire”. Although I think it is rather ballsy of the publisher to keep using her name.

  7. Ghost writers are widely used in Westerns and imagine Romance, I’m sure.

    If I had the talent, I’d do it, but I bet it would soon get under the ghost writers skin, even though it was know someone else would get the credit. I can only imagine, the frustration if you ghost write a best seller.

  8. There are some series that are written by “house names,” like Rogue Angel and Death Lands. You have to look at the copyright page to see which author wrote the one you’re about to read, and I know their followers have preferences of which writers they like and don’t.

    I’ve also heard that a lot of times when a book is attributed to “BigName Author and Someone You’ve Never Heard Of,” it’s really by the obscure new author, but the big-name author is giving them a boost by putting their own name on too.

  9. Technically the series will have “created by L.J. Smith” or “based on the novels by L.J. Smith” on the cover, which is a subtle way of indicating that she isn’t necessarily writing the books. Most people aren’t going to notice that subtle little clue, and booksellers aren’t going to differentiate when shelving the books (or entering them into the database for their online sales). Is it sneaky and just a little dishonest? Yeah, probably.

    Mostly I look at the whole situation (which is over a year old at this point) as a reminder and warning to authors that they really need to pay attention to what their contracts say. If your contract says “work for hire” then however much you may love the world you create and the characters you populate it with…it isn’t actually your world. It belongs to whoever you signed the contract with, even if you get royalties off the books you write and even if the series becomes very popular. If you don’t know what something in a contract means, get clarification before you sign it.

    As for the subject of ghost writing more generally, I guess I have mixed feelings about it. I can understand from a marketing perspective why ghost writers are valuable: they provide a way to maintain (or create) brand recognition. The brand in question just happens to be an author’s name rather than a franchise like Star Wars or Forgotten Realms. At the same time, I think that authors should get recognition for the things they write somewhere, even if it does end up diluting the “brand” to an extent. There just isn’t a one-size fits all solution for this.

  10. Missy Jane, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks. Please contact me (Tim) with your choice and a US address.

  11. YAY! Thanks. You’ll be getting 2 messages as I just realized I forgot to send my address. Oops! No coffee yet ;-)

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