By Dan Gerstein
Last week we had some pun fun with the contest the Kardashian sisters were running on Twitter to name their soon-to-be published novel (we'll post some of our favorite submissions soon, FYI). But as the New York Times points out today, celebrity chick lit is fast becoming serious business. To wit (and we're using that phrase loosely): Nicole Richie, Hilary Duff, Lauren Conrad have all joined the Kardashians in scoring big bucks book deals relatively recently, while Snooki had her fiction debut (A Shore Thing) land on the Times best-seller list at the beginning of the year.
This trend raises a seemingly juicy question that the Times dutifully uses as a hook for its story: did these starlets actually write these books themselves? The authors and their publicists adhere to their reality TV training and try to maintain the fiction that their fiction is their own -- when the question was put to Snooki on the Today Show, she replied, “I did. . . . Because if you read it, you’ll know the first page that I wrote it. Cause, like, it’s all my language.” But the Times reporter rather effortlessly confirms that they've all used ghostwriters; Richie's publisher contradicted her claims of authorship in the bat of an eyelash extension.
Reading this, I could not help but have a Claude Rains in "Casablanca" moment. We're supposed to be shocked, shocked that there is ghostwriting in Hollywood. That women who are paid to look good reading other people's writing on camera might get paid for using other people's writing in print. That a self-appelled "Guidette" who admits to having read two books in her life might have had some help writing a 304-page novel. Seriously, the news here would have been if any of these actresses and/or professional publicity chasers had written the book without the aid of a ghost.
What the article did expose, though, was an implicit prejudice/disdain for ghostwriting that remains all too common among journalistic and writing elites. Most average Americans understand and accept that politicians work with speechwriters, late night talk show hosts use jokewriters, CEOs hire professional business writers to help craft their leadership tomes. And yet when it comes to the Kardashian sorority producing a novel for a major publisher, perhaps the most obvious case of literary assistance imaginable, the Times felt compelled to search for a non-existent ethical issue. What's next: an investigation into the veracity of professional wrestling?
Now we suspect that Times' overreaction is due in some part to the apparent novelty of ghostwritten novels, that such a personal form of individual imaginate could be subbed out mostly or wholely to another writer. But the fact is even top fiction writers like James Patterson and James Frey have been employing small armies of ghosts to support their prolific output. And we can attest from our recent experience, with dozens of non-writers calling us for help in turning their inspiration into a novel, that this practice is only going to become more and more common-place as the barriers to entry for publishing a book disintegrate.
That's a subject for a longer dedicated meditation. For now, we would suggest that if the Times is looking for a scandal here, it should seek out and talk to all the promising young writers who are being Snooki-ed out of publishing deals.
Gerstein is president of Gotham Ghostwriters
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