Monday, May 22

About ghostwriting...and respect... @Liz Flaherty

Last week, I posted an old article about being a romance writer on Gems in the Attic, a blog penned by a group of authors from Kensington's Precious Gems line back in the 1990s. It made me think of the things people say to and about us, starting with "When are you going to write a real book?", the question I addressed there.

I was going to write about more of those things we're asked, but when Google and I took a walk to look for them, I found this article instead: "5 Things I've Learned as a Romance Novel Ghostwriter" by Catherine Kovach. I don't want to quote extensively from the article and I couldn't reach Ms. Kovach to ask her about it, so I'll wait here if you want to go over and read it. If you don't, I'll just say I found it disturbing.

There are a gazillion romance authors out there, many of them good ones, who don't want to go the route of indie-publishing. Even knowing they might make less money, they prefer the traditional route. And yet we have small publishers who are actively seeking and hiring ghostwriters. Obviously, the article is written from the viewpoint of one of those writers.

What I didn't find on my walk with Google was why the publishers are taking that route. Why so many talented and knowledgeable romance authors who love and respect the genre are ignored by these publishers and ghostwriters sought out instead? Although Ms. Kovach didn't exactly belittle the kind of book she's ghostwriting, neither did she talk about the quality, emotion, accuracy, and research most of us put into our work.

I have to admit, I was immediately mad. As I write this, I'm still not fond of that article, but in the name of that research I mentioned, I read more of Ms. Kovach's work on the Internet. She supports romance. Supports YA. Supports writing.

And yet...

Am I the only one who feels both the publishers who hire ghostwriters to write romance and the ghostwriters themselves are giving it to the rest of us in the back? Is this just more of the same thing Harlequin used to do when their writers used pseudonyms that stayed with the company even if the writers let? Is it more of the "work-for-hire" contracts the Precious Gems authors I mentioned above were so disparaged for signing?

I'm not telling anyone else what to think or do, nor am I throwing stones. At least I hope I'm not. If anyone knows Catherine Kovach, I hope they tell her about this post so she knows it's here. Mostly, I'd like to know what you think.

Have a great week.
***
Later Monday morning. I heard from Catherine just a little while ago, so I'm adding her response here, with thanks. 

I needed to take whatever jobs I could get that would pay (not very well) very quickly, or else I would end up completely broke. Unfortunately, with tight turnaround times, the quality of my work suffered, so I ended up ultimately leaving the romance ghostwriting world in the hopes that I could one day turn something out that I would be proud of publishing. When I wrote that article for bustle, I needed to make it seem less dire, and I couldn't put the nuance I would have liked to.

It's never been my intention to spit in the face or offend "real" romance novelists. I want to become one of you. I've been chasing any opportunity I can get in the meantime, and maybe one day I will actually be successful. However, I do not consider myself a ghostwriter, I consider myself a writer who needed to do what she had to do in order to pay rent and keep food on the table. 

I would also like to add that the romance novel ghostwriting I did was not through "real" publishing houses, most of what I worked on was Amazon self-publishing mills. - Catherine Kovach, 5/22/2017.

Here's a link to Catherine's book, Evangeline.

Liz


31 comments:

  1. I've started and stopped my comment here about ten times already because it quickly heads into long-winded rant territory. *sigh* I'll just say I agree with you...and put that article out of my mind...or try to.

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    1. Yeah, I'm sorry--kind of drug you into that, didn't I? As always, though, I'm glad to know I'm not alone in it.

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  2. Are you kidding me with this?

    Have you read any of Kovach's work, besides a year-and-a-half old article? I have. It's brilliant. It's innovative, and gripping, and frankly some of the most thoughtful writing I've ever seen, inside or outside the genre. And, yeah, she's written some pub-mill silliness and some freelance blogging too, because, well, folks gotta eat.

    It takes a lot of nerve to suggest, even obliquely, that she's anything but a talented and knowledgeable romance author who loves and respects the genre. Pick up a copy of Evangeline, and then try and say it again with a straight face.

    (For your convenience: https://www.amazon.com/Evangeline-Novel-Catherine-Kovach/dp/1481196294)

    I'm sorry, but this is not a good look for you. You're established, you've been established for years. But for every one of you, there are thousands of folks out there busting it to get traction, to get their work seen, while trying to eke out enough of a living to eat and keep the lights on. Being an established author published by a major house isn't a requisite to loving the genre -- it's the end goal.

    You can take issue with the practice of ghost writing if you like, as a trend for the industry. But lumping in hard-working authors in your genre with that reads as petty and cruel. I used to ghost write myself (not in this genre, but in a very different one), and it's impossible for me, as someone who got paid a pittance to write about something I truly loved, to see this as anything but a back-handed slap to the face.

    You could have taken the opportunity to go out and learn about the kinds of young writers who are ghost writing these days, and why. You could have picked up a copy of Evangeline, and linked to that instead of an article that's ancient in clickbait years, and said "These are the kinds of authors who are being forced into ghost writing: support them instead of pub mills." But instead, you used your opportunity and your platform to kick someone for trying to find their way onto the path that you're on.

    I don't know you, and I don't know what kind of person you are. But, as someone who loves writing and writers, that's a really mean thing to do.

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    1. I'm sorry you feel this way. I'm sure you understand that when I read that article, I felt exactly the same way. If you'd read the entire post, you'd know I have read more of Ms. Kovach's work. And please, please, before you mention me being "established," learn a little about how I got that way. This blog is opinion. If you have a differing one and will present it respectfully, we'll be happy to have you as a guest blogger. You're right about linking to Ms. Kovach's book. I'll do that if she'd like. But it's her article I was writing about--not to have linked to it would have been completely out of line.

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    2. No disrespect intended, but I think you're missing my point entirely. I understand that you were writing a response to her (very old) article. My question is ... why? And why did you write it in this way? There are myriad ways this topic could have been approached that wouldn't have been hurtful.

      Regardless of how you got established, the point is how you treat other people who love the same thing you do. Yeah, it's opinion, I get that. But it's not opinion about what vegetables taste good or what colors go best together on your walls. It's opinion about people who pour their heart and soul into creating something awesome, and you swept that away with basically one sentence, where you listed talented and knowledgeable people who love and respect the genre (in bold no less), and, on the other hand, people like the person you're writing about here.

      I'm really struggling here, because, while I am doing my best to speak respectfully, your post is stunningly disrespectful to ghost writers.

      I don't think you meant it that way. I have no reason to think you meant it that way. But try and put yourself, for one moment, in the shoes of someone looking up to what you've accomplished, where you've gotten, huffing it on their own and working jobs in the meantime. I'm guessing, by your comment above, that you have a similar experience yourself, so it should be an easy exercise. Try and imagine that you, a person who loves and respects your genre, gets told by someone who's accomplished what you want to accomplish that publishers ignore people who love and respect your genre ... in favor of you. Ouch, right?

      Believe me: As someone who got paid to ghost write, I hated the system that forced me into that. I was really angry, really disturbed at the trends in publishing that pushed me away from not only recognition but also a respectable paycheck. But I didn't create it. I just struggled through it.

      I guess the tl;dr version is that you can criticize the ghost writing trend in the publishing world while simultaneously supporting the young, aspiring authors who get trapped in it. It's genuinely hurtful that you didn't.

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    3. JD, my take on this is that I can't understand why publishers would choose to use ghostwriters in a genre where there are so many writers who are ready and willing to produce good products for them. What is the point of asking writers to ghostwrite romantic fiction? Simply go to your huge pile of unsolicited manuscripts and find ones that will serve your purpose. I'm thinking it's about not having to pay ghostwriters the kind of royalties you'd have to pay a contracted author and that's stinky to both submitting authors and ghostwriters, all of whom are simply trying to make a living. Liz isn't dissing anyone here, she's just asking the question, why?

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    4. That's all certainly true. But you can ask that question without saying that "talented and knowledgeable romance authors who love and respect the genre are ignored by these publishers and ghostwriters sought out instead." There is no English language parsing of that sentence that doesn't imply that ghost writers aren't talented and knowledgeable authors who love and respect their genre. That is an insult.

      I'm certain that Liz didn't mean to insult anyone. That doesn't mean she didn't.

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    5. Imagine, instead, that she had said: "Talented and knowledgeable romance authors who love and respect the genre are exploited by these publishers when they don't receive credit for their work or a fair paycheck." Imagine what a different column this would be.

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  3. The part of ghostwriting that I don't get is why an established author would want someone to write under their name?? I don't know that I could give up my "babies" and watch someone else take the through childhood. Lol

    Reading Ms Kovach's article reminded me of Surrogacy. While I admire women who can carry a child for someone else, I know that I am not one of them.

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    1. I understand ghostwriting in nonfiction, when there's no pretense that the movie star or whoever is doing his or her own writing. It's lucrative and makes all those memoirs very readable. What I wonder is, do the people who read the ghostwritten genre books KNOW they're ghostwritten? Maybe someone can answer this.

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  4. As someone who's been 'stuck' on a story for nearly two years now....maybe I need to seek out Ms Kovach to ghostwrite it for me!!!

    Seriously, I've never read her work, but have read other ghostwritten books (the VC Andrews books) and enjoyed them. I'm fortunate that I've never had anyone ask me THAT QUESTION, only the fact that I'm not making a living at it (yet). So I guess my only comment is really this: If it pays the bills and you don't mind someone else getting the credit, then why not? And yes, I can see why the article would immediately spark anger. At the rate publishers are dropping like flies, the idea that romance authors trying to break into the business are being passed over for established ghostwriters would also make me mad.

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    1. That's the part that bothers me. I'm much more perturbed at the publishers who hire them than I am at the people who are doing the writing. (Can you tell I was a card-carrying union member for most of my work life?)

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  6. The article was discouraging to authors like me who are trying hard to make it in the world of romance publishing and whose work continues to be turned away because of the age of my characters. I'm indie pubbed, but personally, I'd like to find a trad pub who will consider my older characters. I appreciate Ms. Kovach's response to you--and yeah, I get the publisher would hire ghostwriters over simply accepting manuscripts from romance writers who are trying to make a living too.

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    1. That's what I don't get. Of course, the Pollyanna in me thinks publishers want what's best for authors and I know that's not always true.

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  7. I often wondered why authors would work under someone else's name. You couldn't get the volume of past work built up, so that would seem to make it harder for you to get anything sold. Thought provoking post!

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    1. Yes. I understand writing for the money, needing the money--Lord, do I understand that!--but other than it being practice, I don't see how it would help a career and I feel as if the practice is harmful to writers as a whole. Before anyone else can get mad, I reiterate that that is my opinion only.

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  8. Having written brochures and newsletters and other creative materials for my employer without getting credit (although I guess I did get paid ;-), I understand using my talents to benefit someone else. But when that crosses the line to "my art," it somehow becomes far more personal. Great post Liz! Lots to think about!

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    1. Thanks, Ava. I've done that, too. If I were younger, I'd get good at newsletters and write them for others for money just because I think they're fun, but that ship has sailed. :-)

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  9. Wow, Liz, what an interesting blog post. I'm with you on why hire a romance ghostwriter when there are so many good writers out there? I know it could be an issue of money for the publishers because they are making a great deal off the popularity of an author who may not want to write anymore.

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    1. Yes, I imagine so. I know Emilie Loring and V. C. Andrews books went on long after their deaths. I do think it's an interesting thing to discuss and I don't expect everyone to agree.

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  10. "Why so many talented and knowledgeable romance authors who love and respect the genre are ignored by these publishers and ghostwriters sought out instead?"

    Oh, so ghostwriters can't be talented and knowledgeable, or love and respect the genre they're writing in? That's funny, because I'm a ghostwriter who actively seeks out projects that suit my talents and knowledge. I pour love and respect into every project I work on, so much so, in fact, that I don't even care that my name doesn't end up on the finished product. But according to you I don't exist because I'm not a fame-whore who needs my name on every piece of work I put out into the world.

    Kudos to you for marginalizing and insulting me and thousands of other writers like me.

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    1. As you are aware, if you read the original post, I was referring only to what was in the article by Ms. Kovach and my "take" on it. I linked to the article rather than chance misquoting her or quoting with the wrong context.

      It is your choice if you don't care if your name is on your work. The fact that I do care doesn't make me a "fame-whore" (what an original epithet--glad I didn't think of it).

      I regret that you feel marginalized. That was not my intent. It's not something any of us needs, ever. As a romance author, it's something I know a great deal about.

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    2. Once again, in your own words:

      "Why so many talented and knowledgeable romance authors who love and respect the genre are ignored by these publishers and ghostwriters sought out instead?"

      You are clearly distinguishing between two groups. Group 1 is "talented and knowledgeable romance authors who love and respect the genre." Group 2 is "ghostwriters." You are juxtaposing the two, and clearly implying that you believe the "ghostwriters" group does not contain "talented and knowledgeable romance authors who love and respect the genre."

      If you can't see how pretentious and ignorant a claim that is then I don't really see any point in trying to talk to you.

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  11. I think something we can agree on is that we're all trying to make it in this business, and that we all feel passionately about our writing. We just have different ways of getting there.

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    1. Very true, Jana. I remember when it was "vanity" publishing on the bubble of disapproval.

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  13. Liz, I was out of town yesterday with a sick sister and didn't see this post until now. Your post posed a lot of food for thought.
    I see you attracted the attention of some very angry people. It's my guess they're more unhappy with themselves than with you. Sorry you were their target today. Don't let it get you down. You are loved.

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    2. It's a bit bizarre to me that, several people having pointed to specific insulting things that were said, you assume that people are upset with themselves, rather than those specific insulting things we said we were upset about.

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    3. Thank you, Sandy. It's kind of rough here in the round corral!

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