I apologize for Sarah Palin. For any and all Kardashians, present or future. And for Bill O'Reilly. And for every famous-but-talentless, ego-driven douchewad who's ever Roofied and date-raped the New York Times bestseller list with a ghostwritten memoir or self-help book. I apologize because it's 99 percent certain that said talent-free famous person had the help of a ghostwriter in producing the tome that launched a thousand snarky Amazon.com reviews. And my fellow ghosts, we have got to be accountable.
Yes, I understand as well as any ghostwriter that it's—at least in part—about making a living, and celebrity books pay very well. I've written a few. Some did well, some bombed, and with all, I gave my very best. But the fact remains that some people's thoughts just should not ever...ever go into book form.
I mean, did the world need multiple books about the Amanda Knox case? Or a book by Michelle Bachmann, who's so mentally unstable that bats are suing to prevent the term "batshit crazy" from ever being associated with her again? Really? What kind of monster would unleash Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started on an unsuspecting world?
Few of these atrocities would be possible without the willing services of ghostwriters. Millions of trees would be spared the ignominy of giving their lives to 50 Cent's "The 50th Law." So why do these books happen and why will they continue to happen as long as there are famous people, egotistical people and people who aren't famous but are willing to be well paid to make inarticulate people sound semi-literate? Three big reasons:
- Famous people sell books. Publishers love when a famous person gets a hard-on for writing and promoting a book. They know that a tell-all by Selena Gomez will blow out 250,000 downloads on the Apple iBook store. What does it matter if she has no time to write or can barely manage a sentence longer than tweet? If she's willing to go on Ellen to flog her "confessional," by God, HarperCollins will write her a big check.
- Important people really, really want to have books. CEOs, political leaders, entrepreneurs (I've done books for the lot)—they all tend to have sizable resumes and egos to match, and they often have stories they want to share with the world. Think former GE CEO and legend Jack Welch. These folks may not be famous in the mainstream, but they have big bucks, massive personal networks and raving fans in the business world. So they hook up with ghosts to turn out books on leadership, business success and innovation.
- Did I mention that ghosting for famous people pays well? It does, and no ghostwriter worth his or her laptop will turn down a nice percentage of an advance because the "author" is a brainless reality show star who will sigh and bitch through one half-day session of recorded interviews and then coo, "Oh, you just write the rest, m'kay?"
But still, there must be some mea and some culpa on behalf of the entire profession. It's we ghostwriters who have enabled an entire sub genre of "bubblegum nonfiction." It's we who have driven stacks of worthy memoirs, biographies and health books off the bestseller lists in favor of Real Housewife Melissa Gorga's Love, Italian Style, one of the worst-reviewed books on Amazon in years.
And that brings up a point. Ghostwriting isn't going anywhere, not as long as there are famous, infamous, successful and insanely socially networked people. But if we're going to publish books by such individuals, the least we ghosts can do is make the books interesting. After all, we have the power to put words in people's mouths. Let's try to make them interesting.