The first science fiction book I read as a young teen was Lester Del Ray’s novel, The Runaway Robot. A fun and enjoyable read, even as an adult. A few years ago, I discovered Lester didn’t really write that book. It was ghostwritten.
That revelation changed how I viewed the book. I still love it, but some of the luster dulled in the feeling of having believed a lie.
Of late, accusations of plagiarism by Evangelical leader Mark Driscoll have turned toward accusations of using ghostwriters. This has spread to other leaders who are suspected of the same. At first, I wondered what the big deal was. Ghostwriters are an accepted part of the publishing world.
People are responding as if this is new.
Christianity Today back in March of 2002 ran a reprint of an article that originally ran in September of 1982. The subtitle tells the story, “The evangelical world is being plagued by ghostwriters in the sky.” The big difference is that article doesn’t name any leaders, using fictional characters to illustrate the story instead.
What is a ghostwriter? “A ghostwriter is a writer who writes books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.” Usually ghostwriters write knowing this will be the case, and are paid well for it since they are giving up all rights to their work. Such isn’t always the case.
The problem is for non-fiction, especially Christian, it often has the person’s name on the cover because they are perceived to have some expertise on the subject. People buy his book because they want to hear what the expert has to say on the subject, not an unknown person he hired.
But what about fiction?
If a ghostwriter can match the author’s voice and style, what does it matter? As long as it is well written and a good story, does it matter?
We’ll, there’s that pesky “Thou shalt not bear false witness” commandment (Exodus 20:16). Then again, that’s not the full commandment, which adds, “. . . against thy neighbor.” Ghostwriting would be bearing false witness against yourself.
However, we could all find Scripture verses to support not lying about such things. I’m sure some of you will quote a few in the comments. There are plenty to pick from.
What I’m more curious about isn’t just whether it is a sin or not on the part of an author to attach their name to a book they didn’t write (a solid case could be made for that point), but what you, the reader, feel when you suspect or discover a particular book you like or love was ghostwritten? Especially a speculative fiction book.
Does it sully the author and book to learn that?