What if you were told that many of the books that you have read of late have actually not been written by the authors who find mention on their covers?
Difficult to believe — but true. An anonymous world of ghostwriters lies hidden behind the glitz and glamour of the books business and literature festivals that most readers are unaware of.
Sample this: “Don’t have time to write a book, but still want to be a published author? Go for our world-famous book ghostwriting option.”
Absurd as it may sound, it is the tagline of Power Publishers, who, in their own words, are the world leaders when it comes to ghostwriting. And they are not alone, the internet is full of platforms that provide ghostwriters to those who cannot write but still want to be writers.
A ghostwriter is an anonymous figure, who, by contract, agrees to write a given book for somebody else. The ghostwriter is paid a fairly good sum of money but has no claim over the copyright of the book or its royalties. When the book hits the stands, it carries someone else’s name — the perceived author for its readers.
And, as a breed, ghostwriters are gaining prominence in the publishing industry. Forget self-publishing platforms or smaller publishers, many of the leading publishing houses too have, at some point or the other, sought the help of ghostwriters.
Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee, former Director of the National Book Trust (NBT) and former Editor of Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi’s bi-monthly journal, explains why.
“Successful people are gradually becoming more and more ambitious and want to talk about themselves — and that they do through autobiographies and memoirs. But they do not have wherewithal to write books. So they employ ghostwriters.
“Most autobiographies and memoirs of popular figures in the past 20-25 years have been written, partially or wholly, by ghostwriters,” Bhattacharjee, who is currently spearheading the editorial works of Niyogi Books, said.
Poulomi Chatterjee, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Hachette India, which has many bestsellers to its credit, said that there are “certain segments” for which ghostwriters are used.
“You wouldn’t find ghostwriters, I hope, for fiction because you are actually looking for the author’s art and craft and voice and story.
“But for non-fiction, there might be experts in various subjects that you want information from. They could be entrepreneurs, business professors or academic historians and you would want them to collaborate with a ghostwriter when they have a lack of time or… don’t necessarily have the skill to (write),” said Chatterjee, who had a long stint at Penguin India before Hachette.
For Udayan Mitra, Publisher-Literary of HarperCollins India, ghostwriting has become much more prevalent and organised than it was before and this, he felt, benefits the publishing industry in the long run.
“It has become a lot more professional… it used to be that the author or an editor knew a particular person who was capable of the task. But now there are many more people who are doing it, who have the experience of doing it, and they know how to turn an idea into a book,” Mitra said.
Sharing an interesting anecdote about working with a ghostwriter (before he joined HarperCollins), Mitra said that some five years ago, a big industry leader wished to do a memoir on himself and his corporation — and so they had this hunt for a ghostwriter, which ended with a foreign journalist.
“The person landed up in India for ghostwriting the proposed book, but the first day in Delhi he was struck by Delhi Belly and every time he recovered, it would strike again. The corporate leader was getting worried because he had flown him to India and was paying a lot of money for the project. He had also put aside a lot of time from his hectic schedule. Eventually, the book happened — but it was a funny as well as tragic experience,” recalled Mitra.
Ghostwriters as well as several online platforms suggest that they are paid decently. Ghostwriters are available at about Rs 700 per page (containing 250 words) for fiction books on several online platforms.
Of course, the amount of money that many well-to-do are willing to pay ghostwriters for writing a book on their lives or their business is astonishing — sometimes running into several lakhs of rupees.
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