Or is the rise of the ghostwriter a good thing? Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen, in The Guardian, thinks so, “If you sit down and write something and it’s taken you years, and then someone comes along who’s a model or a dancer and seems to have all this money behind them and didn’t even do the work, then people feel resentful and they feel it devalues what they’re doing. What I feel like saying to fellow authors is, if you feel anxious, you just have to try harder.”
There’s no denying that Katie Price’s publicity and the brand she has created around her public persona has shifted the books and earnt money for her ghostwriter. But why do I feel uneasy that all the people who buy and/or read her books would not have the slightest interest in meeting the writer; the person who developed the characters, developed the plots, wrote, edited and re-wrote the stories?
At a time when writers are finding it hard to earn money from their work (The Society Authors report that the typical British author earns 33% less than the national average wage) and when poets get shot down in flames for daring to complain of breach of copyright when one of their poems is posted on-line without permission (or payment), should they join the rising band of ghostwriters?
Michael Rosen suggests “try harder”. I already know it doesn’t matter how hard I try, Katie Price won’t take me on as a ghostpoet. Her business acumen is acute enough to realise there’s no money in poetry. But her business acumen knows that books are a good thing to add to her brand, and, for that to happen, she needs a good ghostwriter.
But where do ghostwriters come from? Writers don’t emerge fully-formed. Writing is part talent, part craft and has to be practised and learnt. You can’t hire a magic kitten to cast a spell on the celebrity to make them a good writer. Poorly-written books will eventually stop selling, no matter how strong the brand. Perhaps when celebrities have exhausted the existing pool of adult and children’s ghostwriters, they might turn their brand to poetry. But I’d need more powerful magic from a great big cat (a white lion?) to bring that one about.
Ideally, publishers would use celebrity-branded books to fund new writers. Then the “Magic Kitten” series could sit alongside “Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies” and writers wouldn’t feel so patronised by a former children’s laureate.