15. THE GHOST BETWEEN THE LINES
What do Mozart, H.P. Lovecraft and Jay-Z have in common? In addition to (and perhaps in spite of) the popularity and influence of their main works, all three have engaged in ghostwriting: the act of producing a work which is officially credited to another individual.
For Mozart, this meant composing on behalf of wealthy patrons so they could impress their friends with their apparent musical talent. For H.P. Lovecraft, ghostwriting was the translation of an original idea from a non-writer (such as Harry Houdini) into a coherent story. On top of his anonymous lyrical contributions to dozens of artists, Jay-Z remains unique in having ghostwritten for Bugs Bunny on the Space Jam soundtrack.
The decision to hire a ghostwriter is usually the result of one of two factors: lack of time or limited capabilities. Tom Clancy, for instance, used ghostwriters on many of his later novels to keep up with immense demand; they built stories from his ideas and were judged on their ability to replicate his style. This has done nothing to damage his brand, which continues to release books in his name seven years after his death. To stretch the definition of ghostwriting to its limit, Andy Warhol's studio wasn't called the Factory for nothing: multiple assistants worked on his art in an assembly line approach with no final credit. The fact that these examples are so uncontroversial suggests that many consider the creative ideas more important than the process of laying them down.
As for factor two, ghostwriting is practically a given in some domains. It comes as no surprise to learn that the 'auto' biographies of footballers Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch were ghostwritten - the public readily accepts that their talents lie elsewhere. The footballers themselves may have been put off somewhat by Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce's sincere attempts at crime fiction. In the words of one Amazon reviewer, his tale of terrorist-thwarting football manager Steve Barnes "does to the English language what the Luftwaffe did to Coventry."
At CPLS, we take part in two forms of ghostwriting. For some assignments, such as articles in the TU Eindhoven High Tech Systems Center newsletter, no credit is assigned to any individual or organisation. For others, like the most recent ARTEMIS-IA Magazine, articles based on our interviews with various researchers and innovators are published in their name while CPLS as a whole is credited elsewhere. We also engage in what might best be described as 'ghostediting', in which we correct articles by second-language English speakers but take care to retain their specific style. This might mean leaving in turns of phrase which would never be used by a native speaker but are all the more memorable for it.
Although I appreciate the disappointment one might feel to find out that their favourite author or lyricist employs ghostwriters, I consider the science and technology domain a different beast to the previous examples from fiction, music and biographies. The reasoning behind ghostwriting is different here too: these articles are not only based upon interviews but also utilise quotes as a large part of the final product. In other words, interviewees provide the bulk of the content and our role is to shape this. This is still writing, of course, as quotes alone are (1) rarely enough to give a clear overview of a topic and (2) usually not engaging for the reader. But without the interviewee, who will usually be discussing their work or experiences, there's no basis for the article at all. Seeing their name below the title clearly indicates this fact to the reader.
As for articles without any named author, 100% of the focus is on the substance - no biases or suppositions based on names or organisations. Naturally, this doesn't negate responsibility. As any issues or complaints will initially be lain at the feet of the client, we're inspired to do our job as well as possible or run the risk of losing them. Rather than a means of escaping scrutiny, ghostwriting can be a liberation from ego and an opportunity to completely lose oneself in an alien topic - although I'll admit that I'm glad we haven't (yet) been asked to step into Bugs Bunny's shoes.