So with "ghostwriters" are they supposedly to stay anonymous forever or what?

Re this article at the end the author’s bio says -

She has apparently written two NYT bestsellers but can’t talk about them?

Is a ghostwriter normally contractually bound to keep quiet forever about their work?

It depends on the contract. Some are indeed not allowed to talk about their work. When William Shatner was “writing” his “Tek-War” series,* the names of the ghostwriters were kept secret (though Shatner always thanked them in his introduction).

In some cases, like autobiographies, the ghostwriter gets a credit in addition to the “author.”

For many novels, though, the ghostwriter is contractually required to keep quiet about the work. These are usually books by people who did not make their reputation as writers. If an author was unknown when his or her first book came out, it’s extremely rare for them to use a ghostwriter.

*I would guess that Shatner wrote the outline or general plot and had his ghostwriter do the rest. Shatner did want to credit his collaborators from the beginning, but was told by his publisher he could not or else people would think he didn’t write the book.

More likely if TekWars hadn’t been “written” by Bill Shatner the publisher wouldn’t make anywhere near as much money off of it.

Yes and yes, assuming that the person being credited is a big name whose reputation would be hurt. That would include politicians, movie stars, comedians, and celebrities of all kinds.

At most, there would be clues left in acknowledgements or lines like “this book would not be possible without”. But the majority are deep dark secrets. For example, I know that Ralph Schoenstein wrote Bill Cosby’s first four or five books but I haven’t been able to find out who replaced him.

Just assume that no celebrity-authored book is written by the celebrity until proven otherwise. Here’s an articlethat talks a bit about the process.

A rare exception, Lauren Bacall titled her autobiography By Myself, to indicate she had actually written it by herself without the use of a ghostwriter.

Well, Shatner was definitely involved in the book (at least the first one). I can only speculate as to how much, but he did want to credit the book as by himself and his collaborator/ghostwriter. The publisher refused, feeling a shared credit would hurt sales. Shatner showed a lot of class in making the name of his ghostwriter clear in his acknowledgements.

Richard Dreyfus collaborated with Harry Turtledove for The Two Georges and both were credited, but Turtledove was established enough at the time so that he would draw readers even without Dreyfus, and Dreyfus’s name would bring in more. Shatner’s collaborators, though, were not well known enough (but were established genre writers).

Groucho Marx bragged that his autobiography was all his own words, and I believe that Harpo did the same thing in Harpo Speaks!

I was going to mention The Two Georges. Among science fiction readers, Turtledove’s name was probably a bigger draw than Dreyfus’ was.

There are countless sports books out there credited to famous athletes who, everyone knows, had little or nothing to do with writing the book. And nowadays, there are loads of sport-themed video games with a famous athlete or coach’s name in the title, but who had little or nothing to do with conceiving of the game, let alone putting it together.

Years back, I saw a lengthy piece in the New York Daily News in which the writer asked a number of such athletes to discuss the books and/or video games with their names attached. Tom Seaver was one of the only guys who forthrightly stated, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t have much to do with that- most of the work was done by So-and-So.”

A lot of other guys either doubled down and insisted they were the creators/authors or gave a sort-of “You got me” laugh, but maintained pretenses.

You’re taunting me, aren’t you? :slight_smile:

Rowland Barber gets his name on the cover of Harpo Speaks!

Groucho always wanted to be a writer and regularly wrote short humor pieces before his autobiographical period. Harpo gave Barber stories to write out.

As for sports bios, there are famous stories I’m too lazy to look up with the athlete disputing something attributed to him and then having a reporter point out it’s from his autobiography. I’m somewhat over 99% certain there are entire autobiographies the athlete never got around to reading.

Actor George Sanders for some reason wanted to be known as a writer. Several mystery novels were put out over his name. It’s known that mystery writer Craig Rice wrote the first and Leigh Brackett the second. Lots of celebrities have written mysteries or other novels this way, including the Kardashian sisters. You can buy anything with money. Must be nice.

I was a ghostwriter for a while: children’s series novels. The bulk of them had a listed author who really existed and had started the series, only to turn it over to drones like me when it caught fire and became too much for any one person. A few of them, in other series, were credited to pseudonyms.

It was not a secret within my extended family and circle of friends that I was ghostwriting these books, nor did anyone at the publisher’s expect it to be. Neither was it a deep dark secret that the credited (real) author didn’t actually write all those books. And the books appear on my resume/list of publications, with permission from the editor, packager, and publisher.

Also, the pseudonymous works used publishing code to credit me [“Grateful acknowledgement to Ulf the Unwashed” IN THE COPYRIGHT INFO (not in a dedication) generally means “Ulf the Unwashed actually wrote the words”], though the books credited to the real person did not. So at best this was an open secret.

Still, I was told I could not mention writing them in a newspaper/radio/TV interview or any similar “public” forum. Though I don’t suppose I would’ve gotten sued if I had. And all the series I worked on are no more, so it’s hard to see what the issue would be if I did reveal THE TRUTH…

A good ghostwriter will gain more and more fame within the business. He or she can demand more and more money to ghost a book or even series of books. It is, however, despite being able to pull down some very good money a frustrating profession. Often a writer will forgo a bit of the money for a little recognition. There is the step in the gaining of recognition known as the “as told to” writers. It is nice to be on a cover.

I found out that an old friend of mine has been ghostwriting fairly successfully for some time. Apparently in one case, she was denied even the usual hidden credit, and in fact, had to ghostwrite an acknowledgements section thanking someone else (who was seen as a better “fit” for working with the cover author despite their not actually doing so)!

What about the opposite case? Suppose an author writes something for money that he’s not particularly proud of. Or maybe it’s just something different from his usual work. But he figures that it’s okay because the book is published without his name on the cover. Can a publisher later turn around and put the author’s name on the cover if he feels it will sell books? Or just make a public announcement of who the author is?

Examples would be “authors” like Richard Bachman, Cleo Birdwell, Paul French, Robert Galbraith, Anne Rampling, and Mary Westmacott - all established authors who decided to use a pseudonym for works they didn’t want to have judged by their famous identity. But all of these books would have sold much better if they had been sold under their author’s real name so at least some publishers must have been tempted to reveal the secret. Do what extent is a publisher legally prevented from revealing a writer’s real identity?

I’ve done a fair amount of ghostwriting and the answer to your question is “sort of”. In general, I only share what I’ve ghostwritten with potential clients and, even then, I do so with the previous clients’ full permission.

As a reader/book buyer, I’d much rather buy a book under the actual author’s name. There are several well-known ‘authors’ whose books no longer have any connection to the brilliance of the ‘named’ author—but that doesn’t mean the actual authors aren’t good craftsmen. I do understand why this is sometimes done—but it makes me think less of the ‘original’ author.

Once I figure out a named author isn’t actually writing his or her stuff—I stop buying.

It would be controlled by the contract in place. My guess is that in every case only the author can make the decision, and that would be a contract provision.

My autobiography was mostly about Ross Perot and the last two chapters were transcripts from the Oliver North trial.

But does that generally just restrict them from putting the author’s real name on the cover?

Could Sphere Books, for example, have held a press conference and announced that the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling was really J.K. Rowling?

The only way to answer that is to read the contract.