I really need to blog more. I used to do it weekly, then stopped when I realized it was interfering with the books I wanted to write. But lately, I’ve been finding that I want to say stuff, and rather than pick fights on social media with people I otherwise like very much, I thought blogging would be a good idea. Because what is a blog if not an unanswerable, inarguable assertion by someone who wants to talk smack, and not subject their arguments to analysis or criticism?
I’m only sort of kidding. These are the times we’re in. Battle lines are easily drawn and not so easily erased. There’s no, ‘let’s just agree to disagree’ these days. It’s more like ‘let’s fight to the death, preferably yours.’ So now you know why I’m blogging. Here’s what I want to say: this ghostwriter, plagiarism debate that’s been throwing the writing world into a tailspin lately is cray-cray. I mean, writers are out there using their keyboards as swords and are on a search-and-destroy mission to ferret out those who are not true to “the craft” either because they’re thieves or because they crank out hackneyed, formulaic stories and stuff e-books for profit, or they don’t write their own stuff but use ghosts who help them gain notoriety and a few more bucks.
It’s worth a moment to uncouple some of those things. The thieves are plagiarists. That’s a whole separate, unambiguously dishonest breed who deliberately steal the words or ideas of others and repackage them as their own. I think anyone who writes honestly is united with other writers in their condemnation of those folks.
And as for the scammers and book-stuffers; once a cottage industry, it’s now become big business for writers, and some non-writers to create very little new content and then pad their e-books with samples, teasers or previously released material, just to game Amazon’s system. Most writers decry this as well, and no one seriously argues that this practice should be allowed to continue though we may disagree about how much energy honest writers should give to that crusade.
What’s not as clear is where the writing world stands on the increased use of ghosts, people who do the writing for someone else who has maybe no will, acumen, or time to write their own stories. Ghosts are not a new phenomenon. And in point of fact, never used to be quite so ghostly. The most reputable folks who use ghosts say so, and put their ghost’s name right there on the cover, or in the credits or acknowledgments. Lately though, a new breed seems to be proliferating – let’s for the sake of distinguishing them, call them ‘ghouls.’ Ghouls are one-hundred percent invisible. We don’t know who they are because the named “author” does not even acknowledge their existence. This is where things have begun to get a little murky, ethically speaking.
Increasingly, writers who use neither ghosts nor ghouls are wondering whether it’s “fair” to the rest of us, and to the reader for them to be sold a bale of goods of dubious origin. Today, in the digital age, you don’t just sell books (electronic or otherwise). For good or ill, you sell yourself. The accessibility of the writer to today’s readership is unprecedented. We send and receive direct messages from readers, answer questions in real-time, and even form actual friendships with them in the real world. They are attracted to the written word, but often to the writer of it. Some writers are trendy, funny, hipsters, cool professionals, elusive introverts, boisterous extroverts, nervous strivers … and readers sometimes attach to them accordingly.
So, the question is, what if that persona to which a reader attaches is itself fiction? Is that ethical? Sounds like many writers are beginning to say not. It sounds like many in the writing community are growing increasingly uncomfortable with writers who may gain what they see as an unfair advantage by creating fake personas and selling that along with their books. Honestly, I don’t know what’s “fair” or not, and if writers are out there selling fake or amplified personas to move units, more power to you. I guess. I think it’s a broader cultural phenomenon. People do that every day on Instagram, even when they’re not selling a doggone thing except the illusion that they have a perfect life.
So, I’ll just talk about me and my deal. I write under a pseudonym. When I first started self-publishing, I was in a higher-profile job than I am now, and didn’t want my 9—5 profession to be affected by my writing life, or vice versa. I also like the anonymity. But I’m not completely anonymous. I don’t share personal pictures or details, but I do share almost everything else – embarrassing moments, stories about my day-job, my family, my neighbors and even, occasionally, the person I’m in a relationship with. I share it and it’s all true.
For me, the truth of it is important because here’s how I see it: when a writer’s words speak deeply to a reader, the reader feels kinship with them, and they feel understood. They feel it so much they write notes, emails, and send DMs, not as “fans” but as one human to another human saying ‘God, I didn’t think anyone felt this, saw this, understood this.’ And when you get one of those notes, it is hella-cool. It is, I kid you not, way cooler than when someone writes just to say, ‘You’re a very good writer.’ And for angsty, in-your-head types like writers often are, those notes also mean that not only did you understand them, they may understand something of you. I may not tell you where I live, but I do want what you know and understand of me to be real and true, just like I want the characters I write to be real and true.
Now, I know there’s going to be the “it’s just a business” crew and a “you-take-this-too-seriously” crew. Yeah. Both those things may be true. But I’m just here repping for the writers for whom it isn’t just a business, but a gift that allows us to see other people, and be seen by other people, and yet still hide behind the safety of our pen.
Love & Light,