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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » Dual Authorship

   
Author Topic: Dual Authorship
Antinomy
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The current trend in new novels is dual authorship; one famous and the other not. I can understand the need for getting published by any means possible, but where do we draw the ethical line?

Is it okay for an unknown novelist to ride the coattails of a well-known author? And is it ethical for an acclaimed novelist to tag his name onto someone else’s work?

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rich
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quote:
The current trend in new novels is dual authorship; one famous and the other not. I can understand the need for getting published by any means possible, but where do we draw the ethical line?

At the lowest monetary price you'll go.

quote:
Is it okay for an unknown novelist to ride the coattails of a well-known author?

Sure. As long as the well-known novelist is okay with it.

quote:
And is it ethical for an acclaimed novelist to tag his name onto someone else’s work?

Sure. As long as the "someone else" is okay with it.

I don't really see this as an "ethical" argument. Tom Clancy has used his name on books that he didn't write, but I don't think that's unethical. It's more of a "brand name", and I don't think anyone is under any illusions as to proper authorship.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Ghost writing is even further across this particular line, because the actual writer does not receive credit of any kind (except perhaps through rumors that, for example, Ron Goulart was the actual author of William Shatner's novels).

It's considered acceptable because both parties agree to the terms by contract.


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Robert Nowall
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When one of the co-writers is famous, I'll always wonder who's doing the work and what the famous one is actually contributing.

That being said, I also heard that sometimes the famous one, when it's a writer of some stature, has some story that just hasn't "jelled" and is happy to pass it over to a lesser-known (or not so lesser-known) writer and market the result as a collaboration...

(I also thought that Ron Goulart just did the TekWar books and somebody else was doing the Star Trek ones...)


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rich
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quote:
Ghost writing is even further across this particular line...

But is that unethical? It's mostly done by celebrities and politicians, but is it really unethical? I mean, the book is still just a product, and I doubt readers really care one way or the other so is this a question to the author who didn't write the book?

So is it unethical for Shatner to claim authorship? Or is it just a marketing ploy by the publisher since even a casual reader knows who Shatner is? As KDW said, contracts are signed so that both parties know what they're getting into so I'm not sure who this hurts. Or does it actually have to "hurt" anyone for the process to be considered unethical?

And are there degrees of unethical behavior? Would there be a public outrage if Stephen King was found to NOT have written his own novels? Or a George RR Martin? My guess is that there would be, but does it actually hurt anyone, or make anyone change their minds about the product?

I honestly don't know. I don't know that these questions could even be answered unless it actually happened, and one was faced with one's own attitude at hearing the news that the book you just loved and read over and over again was actually written not by the guy/gal you thought, but someone else you never heard of.


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genevive42
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Ever hear of Milli Vanilli?

It's considered wrong for a singer not to be singing on their songs. So why wouldn't it be wrong for a writer not to be writing their books?

I have no issue with collaborations but I do think ghost writing is a lie. The famous person's name is put on the book to sell it, but it is not their work. They are lying to the public and taking credit for something that isn't theirs.

Sounds unethical to me.


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rich
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That's a good example. Except I didn't have any sense of outrage over Milli Vanilli 'cause I didn't really like the music. I think they even won a Grammy, but I still didn't care 'cause I've kinda soured on Grammies since Jethro Tull won for best Metal Group. (Though I can't remember which came first, Tull or Milli Vanilli...)

Lying is unethical, but are people outraged that William Shatner didn't actually write those novels? Or was everyone secretly aware anyway?

Here's the thing: I wouldn't put my name on someone else's work, but I'm not outraged if I know that Shatner didn't really write those books.


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InarticulateBabbler
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Lying is unethical?

Ya'll better give up on writing fiction. William Shatner is an actor, also a profession where one pretends to be what/who they're not. In fact, most novels that are ghost-written are done so on a preexisting concept (TekWar was probably Shatner's idea).

How about Dean Koontz's Frankenstein? He's now the sole author listed on the new copies. I have the original copied which give credit to his co-authors: Kevin J. Anderson and Ed Gorman. That's a lie. Does anyone care?

As far as Milli Vanilli goes (and I'm no fan), they were hired as performers, and they did well enough for everyone to think they were the singers. They did the jobs they were hired for. They should be actors now. As far as singers not singing their own songs...it happens all of the time. Some people only get into the business to write stuff, others only to perform. It's the way it has always been. The best known are those who do both.


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Robert Nowall
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I would think it immoral for a writer to claim he wrote something he didn't, even as a marketing concept. Not that I'd go pestering the publisher for a refund...I'd let it go and avoid his future work (or at least work under his name).

Of course you gotta beware of some things. I can tell you the rumors that the two guys who were Milli Vanilli did not do their own singing started from Day One of their appearance. Besides that, singers and groups have always used side men and session musicians and backup singers, usually unbilled, usually unheralded.

And I'm also reminded of the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s, where everybody was supposedly scandalized by how Charles Van Doren and others were cheating on these shows...my mother tells me she and her friends always thought they were faking it on these shows all along. So how scandalized could everybody have been?

So when you see someone's got a book out, say, someone whom you didn't think could read, much less write...enjoy the book until you've got definite evidence of what they're doing.


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KayTi
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Yikes, if you guys are this down on the famous person whose getting top billing, what are your thoughts about the poor joe writer who was the ghost writer (billed or unbilled)?

In most cases like that, it's considered "work for hire." Where the end product is owned by the publishing company or some other entity, not the writer. This is different from a typical writer's arrangement, where we're giving someone license to our creative product.

In work for hire arrangements, we're agreeing to produce work (usually to a detailed specification) and hand over the intellectual property of that work.

Authors do this quite a lot. I've read Dean Wesley Smith's blog for a while now and it's clear that some of what he does is work-for-hire. He often "rescues" another writer's work, where he's sent the in-progress manuscript and he rewrites it to completion, then sends it back to the publisher. The original writer gets the credit, he gets paid for his work. It seems that often he is prohibited by contract to mention which titles these are.

Note: Authors get PAID to do this work. It might not pay as well as royalties on a NYTimes bestseller, but I believe that some work-for-hire pays quite well, perhaps better than what we could make selling our own original fiction under our own names.

This is very common in business titles and, to some degree, categories like self-help or places where an expert or PhD as the author of the book is needed, but that person doesn't have the writing expertise to put all his/her ideas into a book form. There's a woman who comes occasionally to my in-person writer's group who is like this - she has a counseling process she uses with her clients in her clinic. She wants to write a book, but has failed in her attempts to do it. She wants to find a ghost writer but can't pay them, so she's kind of stuck.

We got talking about ghost writing and co-authorship in our writer's group recently and about how some writers are more like Brands these days. James Patterson (I think this is one example, I honestly don't read his work so I have no idea), Tom Clancy - they're just the brand name on the book, it tells you that you can expect a certain kind of fiction within the cover. The actual words are written by a variety of (competent, normal) writers. This seems to be the case with writers who are aging and who already have a big following. Perhaps they are mentoring the other writers.

I saw a co-author of...again I think it was James Patterson, at a writer's conference one time, and he said that exact thing - he was hired to work with Patterson, but he did most of the work, however he had enough interactions with Patterson to feel mentored and guided on the process. But this author was brought in to address a specific thing (his MS was in an editor or agent's slush pile, and the editor/agent held onto it for a year or two because, even though they didn't have a place for that particular book, they felt the author did a really good job portraying female characters. When this problem arose with a work-in-progress, they called this unknown, unpublished author, and had him work with Patterson on the novel.)

Like so many things in the world, it's just up to us, the consumers, to be aware of what it is we're buying.

In the end, does it really matter? So long as you enjoyed the book, does it matter who wrote it? Does it matter who gets the income from it? Maybe Shatner only gets pennies per book and the ghost writer gets more. More likely the ghost writer got a very fair sum during/at the completion of his/her writing time and feels fairly compensated. I wouldn't kick a paying writing assignment out the door, even if I didn't get top billing!


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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As I said, writers agree to contracts, and while there is a difference, sometimes, between what's considered legal and what's considered ethical, I don't think anyone can really pass judgment on someone else's ethics as applied to bylines.

You decide what you're going to do or not do, and don't worry about what someone else has done, unless what they're doing qualifies as fraud or plagarism or libel.

Most writers who make a living at it are not big names, nor are they best sellers. Most write without ever seeing their own name as a byline. (Ever read a newspaper? Most newspaper content has no bylines at all.)

The case mentioned above of someone who knows it but who can't write it and therefore needs a ghost or at best a collaborator is much more common than readers, and apparently some writers, realize.

Yes, writing is an art, but it's also a craft, and those who can do the work without worrying about getting credit probably make a better living at it on average than those who do worry about the art and/or the credit.


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genevive42
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Okay, I get that a lot of people contribute to things and don't get credit for their work. So you're right, maybe it's not that bad. But I'd have more respect for Shatner, and anyone else, if they gave co-credit for the writing. One person's idea, the other person does the work - both get credit. It just seems more right to me.

And I don't blame any writer for trying to make a living in a difficult field, credit or no.

Just to keep my name clear, I was not a Milli Vanilli fan. But I did work in a music store and sold plenty of their cassettes at the height of their popularity. I was really glad that I wasn't working there when news of the scam broke.


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Robert Nowall
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I didn't say it was illegal for a celebrity to claim he wrote something when he didn't, I just said it was immoral to do so.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Or unethical, right?

But someone who knows the material, whose story the book is about, without whom there would be no book because it is the celebrity status that creates the interest, could be argued to have more claim to the words themselves. And the ghost writer could be argued to be more like an editor (albeit a heavy-duty editor) than a writer who creates the story, the characters, the dialogue, the world, etc.

If that weren't so, then why are there so many people out there who think they can ethically and legitimately approach writers and offer to give them "My Phenomenal Best-Selling Idea" if the writer will split the money 50-50 with them when the book sells off the charts?

Could it be egotistical as much as unethical? Of course, an honorable man might be more likely to insist that a ghost writer get some credit, and apparently something like that happens sometimes, too. Hence all the books by Ms. Someone Famous with Mr. Someone-Who Really-Can-Write.

Until you've actually started selling books, and had to negotiate with publishers who want you to change your byline because the last book didn't sell well enough and the bookstores aren't going to order as many of your next book if it's under the same byline (thereby meaning you would lie to the booksellers' computers), or with publishers who won't let you give credit to your ghost writer because it may make your fans less likely to buy your books if they know for certain that you didn't really write them, or with a publisher who turns your carefully-agonized-over manuscript over to an editor who totally rewrites it because even though you are a celebrity you can't write for beans and there's no other way they'll publish it, you really haven't experienced some of the "hoops" involved in getting published.


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KayTi
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I wouldn't be too quick to be down on the famous/top billed person. It's my guess that they are being managed by others. It's not like they're sitting on a throne somewhere saying, "Bring me a writer peon to put my glorious words into prose for the public to worship and throw money at me."

More likely, some kind of manager took a pitch from a publisher "Hey, we've done some market research and we've seen that there is tremendous interest if Mr. Shatner were to publish science fiction. Would Mr. Shatner be interested in lending his name toward this effort? We'd bring in a writer to do the legwork, meet with Mr. Shatner a few times to develop the conceptual flow, but otherwise he'd just be loaning his name to the effort. Here's a sample of the contract we'd like to use..." (actually, this is likely to have been 3-4 meetings where the publisher is trying to woo the manager/agent dude, and negotiating terms like how many meetings, where the meetings would take place, payment terms, etc.)


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Robert Nowall
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There are different degrees of "celebrity involvement" in writing "their" books. Some take an active interest and write down things that the "other writer" puts into an interesting narrative shape...some just sit for interviews.

Still others aren't involved and are just handed a bunch of press clippings and old interviews and are told to write the book from them. (Brian Wilson got into pretty serious legal trouble with his fellow Beach Boy Mike Love with a volume like this, mostly over claims of who wrote what song lyric.)


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rich
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Does George R.R. Martin use a co-author for the Song of Ice and Fire series? Just curious.
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InarticulateBabbler
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The short answer is no. You can read more here and after you note the date, here.
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rich
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Thanks.
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Meredith
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I'm currently reading THE DRAGON BOOK, an anthology of short stories about dragons. So far, the only two stories I really don't like are co-written by one famous author and one either unknown or relative newcomer. (One of the co-writers is literally just out of school and this was his first sale.) In the case of both stories, I have to wonder if the only reason they made it into the anthology was to be able to use the name of the more famous co-writer (and both are quite famous).

For one thing, neither story is really about dragons. They're also the two longest stories in the book. One is really a novelette and the other is close.

The first is really a story about the Russian revolution and the assasination of Rasputin. Not a bad story, overall. But the dragons just feel tacked on. They don't really have anything to do with the story at all. It isn't even really a fantasy. Take away the dragons (which you could do without changing the core story much at all) and the only speculative element left is that Rasputin has a magical charm that keeps him from being killed, which is mentioned perhaps twice. This story also has three POV characters. One is written in first person an the other two in third person.

The other, and much worse, is the one with the first-time co-writer. It's got a very interesting set of characters. But, ultimately, that's all it has. There isn't really a story other than these four odd ball characters coming together for various reasons to slay a dragon. When it comes to what should actually be the climax--the confrontation with the dragon--the story actually skips over it. So the story doesn't really have a climax or a satisfying ending. Just four characters going off into the sunset. After sticking through it for about 14000 words, that's what I get?


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billawaboy
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I think it depends on the work - if the work started out by one guy, keep it that same one guy. If it started out as a collaboration keep it as that same one till the end.

I think that's all a reader can ask - don't change the author(s) mid series.

Personally I never buy famousguy/newguy collabs. Not sure why - I'm sure I avoided some seriously good collabs. It just freaks me out not knowing who I'm really reading...

Now if two famous guys collabs, and I know each's style then it becomes a challenge to see what they could do together and also figure out who wrote what...


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