Thursday, July 20, 2006

Who Gets the Credit

For almost five years, I’ve been a panelist and participant in an online writer’s group. It’s a closed moderated forum with about 650 professional writers and we’ve had some lively discussions on various topics (check the link if you’re interested in joining). Over the last few days, the discussion has been about ghostwriting.  Some topics receive only a few comments but people have opinions and views when it comes to this topic.

An important aspect of any forum (online or a writing workshop or a book) is to check out the credentials of who is speaking. Are they knowledgeable about the topic? Some people are and some people aren’t. Often I read these opinions with a huge grain of salt because of the experience of the speaker.  To some people it’s critical that the writer or craftsperson receive a byline on the cover of the book. To others it is less important. Other people react as readers and feel cheated to learn that some celebrity didn’t actually write their story.

The longer I’m involved in publishing, the credit issue has faded. I understand that someone has to be the “author” for a book. Yet some times as an editor, I have crafted a large portion of the prose inside the pages—and my name isn’t in the book (or it’s a one line thank you on the acknowledgment page that almost no one reads). And that’s OK with me. I’m much more concerned about the content of the book and whether it is excellent than the credit. I’m much more concerned about getting the word out to others about excellent books (the marketing and promotion) than seeing my name on one more magazine article or one more book. Possibly, it’s became my name is already on a bunch of books but I don’t think that is the key element.  As my days have increased in publishing, I’ve learned that it’s not a single person’s effort that creates an excellent book—fiction or nonfiction. Yes, the writer came with the basic idea but others also believed in the idea to make the decision to publish it—I’m talking about in a traditional publishing situation—not self-publishing. If the process is working properly, a number of people have impact on the actual contents along the route to a book’s release into the marketplace. Some times this impact can be very significant—yet is completely uncredited.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let me tell a specific story. Several years ago, I contracted a book with a couple. A bestselling author had told me this couple had been teaching on this topic for over 20 years—yet never created a book on it. I met this couple, championed their cause within the publishing house and eventually contracted this book.  In the developmental process of working with them on it, I could see they were not going to complete the manuscript—and especially on the required deadline.  With the backing of my publisher, I flew to the author’s location and spent five days interviewing them and pounding my keyboard. I came home with the completed manuscript which passed to another couple of editors before it was published. When I flip through the pages of this printed book, I can easily point out huge portions which I created. Yet my name doesn’t appear on the book except a single line of appreciation in the acknowledgment page—and I’m perfectly fine with that level of credit. It’s the content of the book which is important to me and I celebrate this couple finally has a book which captures their life message.  I hope you see that my focus is on the work—and not the credit. Ultimately I understand it’s the publisher who makes these decisions during the publication process.

I was intrigued with a recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly which featured a one of a kind literary agency. They specialize in ghost writing. It’s an interesting article if you haven’t read it.  Some people are horrified to learn about such a part of this business. It’s a focus on getting the work out—not getting credit. The debate about this aspect of publishing will not be resolved in this entry but hopefully it gives a bit of insight into my world and the journey.

4 Comment:

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Daniel Darling Left a note...


Great stuff. I wholeheartedly agree.

Dan Darling

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Cindy Thomson Left a note...

One of the most interesting comments on this online forum came from a well published, well known to all of us, writer. He said he's had more trouble receiving credit for his writing in the CBA than in the ABA. I wonder why that is.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Donna J. Shepherd Left a note...

Models don't really look like their pictures, singers don't sound nearly as good in person, and now books aren't really written by the authors. Or are they? I'd at least like to see an 'as told to' or 'written with' or even co-author credit given to the ghostwriters.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Lisa Biggs Crum Left a note...

Ah, thanks Terry. Perfect timing for a perfect reminder. I just submitted my first manuscript (30 pages) for pay. It is a chapter in a book and I sold all rights and won't get much credit other than the "contributors" list but I sure have a sense of accomplishment.

I'm going to keep this blog in my inspiration file.

Lisa Biggs Crum


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