Thursday, February 21, 2019

Ghostwriting of Romance: An Issue for Romance Scholarship?

Courtney Milan gives details on her blog of why she was obliged to conclude "that Christiane Serruya has copied, word-for-word, multiple passages from my book The Duchess War" and it then emerged that more authors had had their works plagiarised too. This latest plagiarism scandal has, however, also led to revelations concerning ghostwriting in the genre.

Shiloh Walker has explained that:
there are any number of reasons why some works are written by ghosts.

#1 Well-known names like V.C. Andrews, who…well, kind of died just a few books into the successful series. The works & rights reverted to her family. The choice to use a GW here is pretty obvious. The Sweet Valley books about the Wakefield twins were largely written by ghosts.

But the worlds, characters, etc for both of these huge series wouldn’t have existed without the original author & creator. Ghosts made the worlds bigger and kept them going after death in Andrews’ case, and expanded them even more for the SV world, taking the girls down to junior high, onto college, etc in Pascal’s situation. The world is huge and has been widely enjoyed by so many and it wouldn’t have been possible without ghosts.

So…simply keeping a world going or expanding on an existing world or series is one reason to use a GW.

#2 One project I took early on was from an author who had the bare bones of a project already done, and I don’t just mean the outline. It was a solid piece and well done, but this client couldn’t quite finish it and wanted help fleshing it out so it could be published. The basic work, characters, world-building, story arc, character growth, resolution was done, but the client knew it needed more. I was hired to provide that and did so. My words helped fill in the story, but the story itself wasn’t mine. It belongs to that author.

#3 Other projects I’ve taken from a semi-regular client were series-based from a popular series that did well for a particular author but this author wanted to move on from that series and focus on a new one that was taking up a great deal of time.  Readers wanted the initial series to continue. Author wanted to write newer one which was also gaining traction. Author didn’t write fast enough to do both, plus some authors don’t shift gears well, going from one genre to the next, as easily as others and these were two vastly different genres. I was hired to GW the primary series. The series, the characters, the ideas were never mine. I wrote from rough outlines, using plot lines and already defined character profiles, providing stories that wouldn’t have existed without the author’s previously established work. Those worlds belong to that author.

#4 Majority of my projects come from one primary client, an already established author who had a presence long before I was hired. I’m given very thorough, chapter by chapter outlines, very thorough character backgrounds & profiles. I’ve written short stories that aren’t as long as the initial material provided to me by my main client.

I’ve also had several other projects from clients similar to this, people who have the ideas, even the character and storyline they want, but they want a GW to finish the book itself.  I’m paid by the hour, I research, and provide original content. When done, I return the project, knowing it’s not mine. It never was, because the ideas, the characters, the plotline, weren’t mine to begin with.
Like Kaetrin, I can't help wonder who the authors are who use ghostwriters:

It seems to me that this has implications for the study of popular romance, at very least when the focus is on an individual author and trying to understand the trajectory of their life's work. It could potentially affect other types of scholarship. For example, computer analysis of some romance novels suggested that "vocabulary decay is a result of progressive amounts of linguistic chunking—due to author fatigue or a desire to produce a more readable narrative" (Elliott). If one author starts a novel, writes an outline for the rest, and it is completed by a second author, that would obviously have implications for this kind of analysis.

More broadly, suspicions about ghostwriting in the genre aren't likely to help dispel widely-held beliefs that all romances are just mass-produced products rather than individual works of literature.

Edited to add: Nora Roberts has now written about her experiences of being plagiarised and she puts this case into a wider context:
So this plagiarist lifted lines, bits, chunks big and small, from a slew of authors and books, mashed them together then hired ghosts off a cheap labor site to cobble them into a book.
This was her MO.

She did this for–I think my information is–29 books, put them up on Amazon, used Kindle Unlimited for some. KU pays by the page read. The freaking page read.

This culture, this ugly underbelly of legitimate self-publishing is all about content. More, more, more, fast, fast, fast. Because that’s how it pays. Amazon’s–imo–deeply flawed system incentivizes the fast and more. It doesn’t have to be good, doesn’t have to be yours–as I’m learning hiring ghosts is not really rare. Those who live and work in this underbelly don’t care about the work, the creativity, the talent and effort and time it takes to craft a story. [...]

I’ll have a lot more to say about this, all of this. I’m not nearly done. Because the culture that fosters this ugly behavior has to be pulled out into the light and burned to cinders.
I hope things do indeed start to change. Another point which Robert makes also gives me hope: she observes that "it’s always a reader" who spots the plagiarism. That readers do spot it is an indication of readers' engagement with, and love for, individual books in the genre.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Summer Archive Exploration Opportunity

Popular Culture Summer Research Institute at Bowling Green State University

June 23-June 28, 2019 
“Topics in Popular Culture: Researching, Writing,and Workshopping Your Ideas”  

"The institute will introduce 20-25 scholars from across the country and abroad to the research and pedagogical treasures of BGSU’s very special collections." These include the Romance Writers of America's archives, an extensive collection of romance novels and more papers and objects related to popular romance.

Some participants may receive travel grants. "If a grant is awarded, the registrant is still required to pay the $125 registration fee. It is also expected that the grant recipient present their research at a regional or national PCA/ACA conference within two years of the institute." Participants would also have to pay for accommodation.

More details here: The deadline for applications is 26 April 2019.