Credit where credit’s due: Should ghostwriters receive recognition?
Today we live in an era of megachurches, major ministries, and global nonprofits. In some ways (both good and bad), these large religious and nonprofit organizations have become like international corporations, involving radio and television studios, publishing businesses, international conferences, educational outreaches, and more. And the bigger churches and ministries grow, the less time their leaders have to actually research and write books – the very products which to a great extent help fund the organizations and put them on the map. Plus, writing well isn’t easy. It’s a craft and art form just like music, painting, or filmmaking. Writing well takes years of practice and experience, and the discipline to sit for weeks or months in front of a computer screen.
That’s why many pastors and ministry leaders hire professionals to do the job for them, which is a perfectly acceptable option. And in those cases, there are many levels of working with professional writers. In my own experience, I have written for clients who gave me original material like sermon transcripts. In those cases, I was really “adapting” their own thoughts and ideas into book form. In other cases, I literally wrote it from scratch, with little more than a few interviews, a sermon tape, or a conversation or two with the pastor.
But in every case, I’ve never received credit. But that’s OK, and in some cases, it was rather funny. For one project, I actually wrote a book for a client and then he stood up on national television and described how he had “labored night after night writing without stopping, until his wife had to beg him to get some sleep.” Yeah, right. In another case, when a major newspaper reported that I wrote a television special for a particular media ministry, the ministry office told me to stay quiet, because they wanted people to believe that everything that came out of that ministry was written by the ministry founder.
I didn’t get any credit, but at least the check cleared.
Is this a problem? Yes and no.
No, because often writers are often happy for the work, plus, they offer an important service to leaders. They have certain skills, and like a professional mechanic who fixes your car, or an accountant who keeps your books, some writers are happy to do the work and get a check. They have no desire to be famous, and actually enjoy writing for someone else – after all, it can pay very well. And there’s no shame in using a “ghostwriter.” After all, you’re a business, ministry, sports, political, or other leader, not a writer. You have brilliant content, but not necessarily the skills to get that message down into an engaging book.
However – a better answer is yes, because the fact is, books are far more personal than a car or a checkbook. When someone reads a book, they believe that the writing is coming from the heart of the author, and the writing style, the content, and the message reflect the name on the cover. This is true especially in the Christian world, where the message is often a spiritual message conveying eternal truth.
That’s why at some level, when a pastor or ministry leader publishes a book with only his name on it he is making a unstated promise to the reader than the material is his, it’s coming directly from his heart and mind, and he’s personally presenting it in the form of this book. That’s why when possible, I recommend accurate credit on the book cover.
So is it wrong to hire a professional to help you write a book? Absolutely not. Many Christians would be shocked to see just how poorly some of our Christian leaders write, and real professionals can take an anointed message from a man or woman of God and translate it into an exciting and enjoyable reading experience. So it’s perfectly fine to hire a ghostwriter to help craft your message into a bestselling book.
But I would encourage you to at least consider adding the writer’s name – even in smaller letters, or with the word “with” before the name.
Possibly the best rule of thumb is the expertise of the ghostwriter. Some writers are simply “hired guns” who can write on any subject. In those cases, I’m more willing to not acknowledge them on the cover, since they’re mostly concerned with translating your ideas. Others actually bring past experience and expertise to the table, and in those cases they contribute their own ideas, so I’m more likely to recommend including their name.
Either way – make sure you agree ahead of time so your expectations are the same.
Do secular authors do it? Who cares? Because we answer to a higher calling – a calling of honesty, integrity, and respect for the people God has given us to lead. Plus, I believe it’s also contributed to the “celebrity” culture of Christian leaders today. They’ve become so well marketed, most people assume they can do anything, and do it all at the level of a superstar.
So don’t hesitate to seek the help of a professional writer if you need help because of your schedule, or your difficulty writing well. On the other hand, don’t fake it. When appropriate, give the writer a little credit, and let’s do our part to keep the perception of the church real and authentic.
Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.
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