Ghostwriting - a sin or not?


It’s commonly accepted that many papal documents are ghostwritten, at least in part, and finalized / approved by the Pope. Why would it be a sin?

Now if you made it big and millions started pouring in, I would say, in Justice and charity, you should give a decent cut to the ghostwriter above and beyond the original fee (if it was fixed).


Pope Leo XIII was Pope for 25 years. In that time, he promulgated about 80 encyclicals. On the one hand, this was before encyclicals were quite the lengthy tomes they’ve become in recent decades. On the other hand, his brother was an eminent theologian in his own right, and contributed a great deal to the Pope’s work where he didn’t outright ghostwrite it.

So no, ghostwriting isn’t a sin. It’s how most major papal documents of the past couple centuries have been written. They staff out the writing to their advisors and sign the finished product, at least some of the time.

One of the biggest pieces of evidence of this is the difference between John Paul II’s first encyclicals and his latter ones. The first few are a little philosophical and ponderous. The reading level comes down as time goes on and staff took over more of the writing.



If you think about it, even God employed “ghostwriters” for the Bible. :wink:


In the case of regular fiction, ghostwriting can be a problem. I’m not going to buy a book from a name writer if the writing is bad. The last book in a series by a “name” science fiction writer got fans writing things like, “It doesn’t read like he wrote it, compared to previous books.”


I see your point, but pointing out the ghostwriting aspect would make the publishing a lot more difficult (most agents would reject the work, you’d need a lawyer to create an elaborate contract etc.) and would have a negative impact on the sales because ghostwriting is frowned upon.


I didn’t know that! I’m in the UK, perhaps it’s different here?


It mostly comes up with celebrity ghostwriting.

Like when Madonna came out with a pretty tepid picture book (“The English Roses” was the first and last one I bothered to read), but everyone was all excited---- people who know children’s picture books usually think, “Hrm. There’s no way that would have been published if it hadn’t been for Madonna’s name!” and at the same time, they think, “Hrm. I wonder who actually wrote that.” And it turns out, at least three of her books were written by Eitan Yardani. So people who know picture books are, “Big surprise!” and people who just like the celebrity are like “No way!!!” I don’t like you taking all the credit for something you didn’t do! I never thought you were that kind of person!"

So, Hillary Clinton wrote “It Takes a Village”, but big parts of it (“tens of thousands of words”, plus the title) were written by Barbara Feinman Todd. So when the media said, “No way she can write her own book,” her staffers said, “Hey, look at these hundreds of pages of longhand!” to give the impression that of-course-she-can, rather than saying, “Duh, this is a normal procedure.”


To be honest, I don’t think it’s a sin.
Of course, it all comes down to one’s own perspective but then again, I believe that it’s not a sin. Copying stuff or stealing stuff is a crime.
The original author gives the outline and the way the story goes, after all.


That’s a pretty obvious sin to me, in the academic world it is straight up plagiarism and can cost you credibility and your degree. In the real world it certainly should cost a person of all credibility and trust. Not to mention it makes all those who endorse the book look very bad.


Yes, if Dr. X presents Dr. Y’s or Grad Student Z’s thoughts, ideas, and research as his own, then it’s definitely a no-no.

But there’s other kinds of writing in the world.

So, for example, I just got finished reading “KIng Peggy”. It’s about a secretary who worked at the Ghanian Embassy and was notified that her village had declared her King upon the death of her uncle. The book covers the first two years of her rule, while she deals with internal corruption and theft from people she ought to be able to trust, bringing running water and higher education to her fishing village, and trying to rule from 5,000 miles away, because she works in DC for most of the year (to keep her salary, which she uses for the benefit of her people) and comes into Ghana on her vacations.

The ghostwriter, Eleanor Herman, was actually with her for many of these ceremonies during the first year. Herman had been attending a function at the Ghanian Embassy, and her habit was to talk to the most interesting-looking person in the room. She sees a woman who’s standing alone, not eating or drinking, and so she goes over to talk to her. The woman explains that she is a King, and is not allowed to be seen eating or drinking in public. Herman found that fascinating— and the two collaborated to put out a book about Peggielene Bartel’s interesting path.

King Peggy was a secretary. She probably could have written her own book. But Herman was an author, who had connections in the publishing industry, and what’s more, she had the time to sit down and organize thoughts and put them together into a cohesive narrative. This is an example of a credited ghostwriter-- Bartels doesn’t pretend that she put the book together without Herman. And although Herman was present for many of the events, she does not intrude herself upon the narrative.


Here’s an example of a book with an uncredited ghostwriter. HRC firmly maintained the narrative that she had written “It Takes a Village” all by herself, even though it was written during the time she was First Lady. She even produced a manuscript in longhand to maintain the illusion-- even though the vast majority of it was written by ghostwriter Barbara Feinman.

The publisher had said straight-out in 1995 that the book would be written by Barbara Feinman, a journalism professor, who would conduct a series of interviews with Mrs. Clinton, write a book based on those interviews, and then ask for Clinton’s assistance in editing the final draft. Feinman took seven months on the project, and earned about $120k for it (which has the buying power of $200k today). So it wasn’t a secret— except HRC didn’t acknowledge Feinman once in the book. ( “It takes a village to bring a book into the world, as everyone who has written one knows. Many people have helped me to complete this one, sometimes without even knowing it. They are so numerous that I will not even attempt to acknowledge them individually, for fear that I might leave one out.”) When HRC was on the book promotion tour, she insisted that every word was hers. Feinman was extremely disgruntled at the lack of any acknowledgement, and it caused a whole lot of hubbub, and by the time “Hard Choices” came out, there was a whole lot of snark ahead of time, and a whole lot of curiosity as to whether the issue of working with a “book team” would be handled more gracefully this time around. :wink:


I dont see how its not bearing false witness against ones neighbor.


Why do you think it would be a sin?


Having ghostwritten for people a few times, I saw it as helping people express themselves as they would if they were better writers or had more time. Done well, ghostwriting should convey the experiences, beliefs and personality of the person for whom one is writing. The brief projects I have done involved not only sitting with the client and interviewing them about what they hoped to communicate, but also having them read over everything I had written for them to ensure that it truly reflected what they were trying to say in the manner they hoped to say it.

Where it could be sinful is if the person to whom the work is attributed allows others to believe that the work represents his or her own writing skill.


I am a magazine editor. The border between editing somebody else’s copy and writing your own is a grey area. I have published articles that were 95% my work but that went into print under somebody else’s name. This includes some of the best pieces of writing I ever produced. I have also published articles and op-eds under my own name, and also under pseudonyms.

So if in the future someboedy wanted to research what my overall contribution was, it would be very difficult, and they would probably only find a small part of the total.


As someone who works for a book publishing company and has a good understanding of the legal side of things, I would agree. My company operates in a world of facts. Opinions don’t matter. However, perceptions do. We would require some information from any new writer working for us. The author would be liable for plagiarism, not us. It seems some people like to borrow things, so when I see a unique term or something that sounds familiar, we check it out. Sure enough, we have found instances where terms and trademarked names were lifted from other sources. In one case, we reprinted a book because a trademarked character name had been used and the name was replaced with another.


I love writing, but I don’t like the idea of ghostwriting, whether or not it’s a sin, I think it depends. If a bunch of different authors use a single pseudonym, that’s a little different than an author using a single name letting other people use their name. There’s nothing saying you can’t write a book with the help of someone else, but if I were going to do that, I would either come up with a pseudonym that applied to both writers, or I would put both names on it. Personally, I love to write, in fact I’m writing a book right now. I probably will use my real name on it, but, the editors will probably use their names on it too, if I get it published. I don’t know, since I prefer a mix of British and American spelling, I would rather publish it myself, I don’t want that changed. I don’t think ghostwriting is necessarily a sin, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea.


Writers often use pseudonyms because they don’t want to be recognized in real life. If people, be they your fans or people you upset find out where you live or recognize the name on your credit card in a store, that can cause all sorts of situations that some people may chose to avoid. There is also the expectation that because you wrote a book, that you must be rich and all sorts of people will approach you to ask for help supporting good causes. Writing does not automatically make you rich. In fact many writers still work in their regular jobs and wouldn’t survive if they didn’t have them. It’s only the top percentile or so of succesful writers who rake in big money.

If you want to be a writer, it does help to have a good copyeditor. Even if your spelling and grammar are perfect, everybody is blind to their own mistakes. It also helps if you have somebody advise you on style and form. If your book has characters speaking in slang, accents or dialects, you may want an expert to check those to see if they are credible for the location and historic period. If you publish with a major publisher the publisher will handle that. If you self publish, you need to organize that yousrelf, or otherwise risk putting off readers becauise of your poor form. So very few books are genuinely the work of a singe person from cover to cover.


There is nothing wrong with Ghostwriting. You’re paying for a service. You’re in control of the final edits. So long as you have paid the man for his work on your project and he has agreed to be credited/not credited then it is a fair compensation.

Is not the farmer’s field his own? And if he pays a laborer to tend to his field is it still not his harvest?


I’ve been in the book business a long time. Yes, a person can make a living writing and publishing books. Too many people prefer a regular job and a regular paycheck, and there’s nothing wrong with that. People who have worked for us have gone on to make careers at other companies. I know a great number of freelancers, both writers and artists. The mistake too many make is ignoring research when writing, and drawing. We don’t accept a submission if the author has not done his homework. Even with the internet, the learning curve will not go away. When writing historical/period fiction, 90% of the book is research. Spelling and grammar actually come below research.

I have had very little success advising writers. Style develops on its own. The same is true for art. As an assistant art director, if I’m shown six drawings by six different artists, I can pick out styles right away. That took years to learn. With writing, it’s much harder. In all cases, it’s just words on paper. What I have difficulty getting across to young/beginning writers: mood, pacing, plot development, character development and producing a story that flows. I doubt Tom Clancy relied on wikipedia for his books.

Anyway, I suppose I’m a celebrity but it’s no big deal. I do know a few rich people and they are very reluctant to put any money into anything. That’s one reason they are still rich.

As far as paying for a book to be written by somebody else. You can but the ghost author gets the credit. Respectfully, final edits is more than “I like this but I don’t like that.” Writing is a craft that can be learned by anyone who is motivated. The same for art.

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