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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ghosts, Mimicry, and Imitation in Book Publishing

Here are a couple of items book-lovers will enjoy. First, a column by my friend Peter Osnos about the peculiar challenges of being a ghost writer (or collaborator with celebrities), using illustrative stories of some of the writing partnerships he helped supervise as an editor and publisher over the years.

I like Peter's comparison of a ghost writer to a character actor who is able to adapt the voice and personality of many different people and somehow seamlessly convey a sense of their inner life through something more than mere mimicry--as contrasted with the star actor whose own personality is so intense he "plays himself" in every role, just wearing different costumes and uttering different lines. The true ghost finds self-expression through self-abnegation--paradoxical, but when it works, it works.

Second, just for fun, this archive of historical novels (and other kinds of books) in which the same work of art has been recycled once, twice, even several times to illustrate the covers of different books. If you think the jacket of some newly published book looks weirdly familiar, it's probably not your imagination . . .

1 comment:

  1. Your post had particular resonance for me, Karl: As a ghostwriter I completely agree with the "character actor" characterization. And as an editor, I've had to explain the need for mimicry vs. unique voice to writers I was considering hiring for specific ghosting jobs. Really good link, thanks.

    And sad to say, I am also an author who's cover was posted on another, similar site, alongside the two other books using the same stock art! The problem with this practice is I have passed by books in bookstores never picking them up because I'd assumed I'd already read them despite not remembering the titles, when in reality I was probably only remembering the covers!