Tag Archives: writing a novel

The Ghost and the Machine: Ghostwriting a Novel

Ghostwriting is nothing new | Faber Academy writing coursesAs someone who has worked as a ghostwriter for a number of years, I have followed the media storm about the ‘help’ Zoella received in penning her bestselling debut novel with a mixture of interest, world-weariness and just a hint of ‘There but for the Grace of God…’

When you think about, it can’t be a huge surprise that Girl Online was in fact written by a ghostwriter. Zoella, who rose to fame through a series of vlogs on YouTube, has never pretended to be a writer or gained celebrity through her writing. So for her to knock out a debut novel from a standing start at such a tender age would have been, to put it mildly, a remarkable achievement.

So why the opprobrium heaped on Zoella’s virtual doorstep? If the book had been a memoir or a book of beauty tips instead, then no-one would have batted an eyelid at the fact that a ghostwriter had been used. Indeed, it would almost have been a surprise for a non-fiction book by a celebrity not to be ghosted. Back in the day, it even used to be the case that ghostwriters got a sort of ‘best supporting actor’ billing. So for example, George Michael’s 1990 autobiography Bare had the fact that Tony Parsons wrote it clearly written on the front. Somewhere along the line, both publishers and the public decided that they preferred the charade that the celebrity had written the book themselves. So these days, unless the ghost is a well-known name (such as Roddy Doyle writing Roy Keane’s recent autobiography), then the book is commonly credited to the celeb alone.

Ghostwriting is nothing new

The criticisms about Zoella’s book differ because it’s a novel she has purported to have penned. The complaint seems to be that because she hasn’t written it herself, it therefore isn’t ‘real’ and she has hoodwinked her fans. Yet Zoella is far from the first celebrity to have ‘written’ a ghosted novel: Katie Price, Kerry Katona and Naomi Campbell are just three examples of ‘authors’ who came up with the ideas for their novels and then let someone else do the writing. The same is also true of many of those SAS-type thrillers ‘written’ by ex-military types. In these cases, the ghosted novel works because the reader reads it assuming that the plot draws on the subject’s insight and experiences. That’s what gives these books the authenticity their readership craves.

The suggestion, then, that Zoella has somehow ‘tricked’ the public into thinking she has written a book feels a bit mean-spirited to me. She’s not doing anything different to a number of other ‘writers’ out there. I suspect Zoella’s main crime is to have sold a lot of copies of her book, at which point the press start circling for a reason to do her down. In many ways, the vitriol feels little different to that aimed towards E L James when she had similarly spectacular levels of overnight success.

Publishers aren’t charities. They’re there to make money and turning a vlogger into a bestselling author is good business. There have been suggestions that the ghostwriter has been hard done by, receiving a flat fee and no share of the royalties. As a ghostwriter myself, I can only say that such a deal is not unusual. A publisher comes to you with an offer and you decide whether to accept it or not. Sometimes there are royalties involved, sometimes there aren’t: thems the breaks and it depends how good your agent is at negotiating. In this instance, the ghost had to weigh up whether it was worth her while to accept (supposedly) eight grand for (reportedly) six weeks’ work. Certainly, I’ve known publishers to offer smaller sums for projects involving much more work. In this case, given the publicity the ghost has got from the book, I don’t suppose she’ll do too badly out of it in the long run.

What I think is a shame is that, in all this media hullabaloo, the fact that 80,000 people went out and bought a novel in its debut week has been overlooked. In an age when we’re told that books are in decline and nobody is reading any more, a novel that bucks the trend so marvellously should be something to be celebrated. If Zoella is reaching out to people who don’t normally buy books, and some of them get into the habit as a result of reading Girl Online, then we should be thanking her – not hanging her out to dry.

Tom Bromley

Tom Bromley is an author, editor and ghostwriter, as well as the tutor of our Writing a Novel online course. You can find him here, or say hello on Twitter

Applying for Writing a Novel? Six things to think about…

Six things to think about when applying for a creative writing course

If you’re applying for Writing A Novel in London, you need to put together 1000 words of prose fiction and a cover letter. But it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips on what you should be thinking about.


The tutors are looking for a certain amount of confidence in the voice – that can be in any genre, but it’s the proficiency that they’re looking for.


The passage need not be a full story, nor an extract from the book you hope to write on the course – just 1000 words of prose fiction that represent you best as a writer.

What kind of writer are you?

Your cover letter should detail your relationship with writing – do you write often? Next to never? Have you done courses in the past?

What kind of writer do you want to be?

You should also tell us what you hope to get out of the course – do you want to complete a draft? Meet new writers? Just get going to start with?

Anything else?

Include anything else that you think might be of interest to give the tutors a sense of how you will fit into their group.

And finally… What’s it for?

The application process is just about finding the right group for you – group dynamic is such an important part of the course that we have to make sure that everyone fits together properly. It’s not about streaming, or picking the ‘best 15 pieces’. What would that even mean anyway?

And remember you can always call us on 0207 927 3827 or email academy@faber.co.uk if you need to.