15 Celebrities That Got Busted for Using Ghostwriters
- February 27 2015
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The idea of taking work that is not your own and assuming credit for it probably seems like a foreign idea to many people. In reality, however, this phenomenon is startlingly widespread among celebrities and takes many forms, including the composition of song lyrics, articles, cookbooks, novels, autobiographies, and even tweets.
1. Gwyneth Paltrow
Known best for her roles in movies such as Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Gwyneth Paltrow is an accomplished film and stage actress, singer, and blogger. In 2011, after spending a purported three years in production, Paltrow released her first cookbook, entitled My Father’s Daughter. The text, which landed a spot on the Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller List for 2011, was claimed to be the actress’s own work … until an article in the dining section of the New York Times was published in 2012, that is, which unceremoniously ousted Paltrow as one of the celebrities whose text was written by a ghostwriter. Paltrow denied the claims in a tweet that read, “Love @nytimes dining section but this week’s facts need checking. No ghost writer on my cookbook, I wrote every word myself”; however, a representative for the New York Times pointed out that she had already acknowledged working with a ghostwriter (Julia Turshen) in print prior to the article’s release.
2. Nicole Richie
Daughter of music superstar Lionel Richie, Nicole Richie has released two publications to date: in 2006, she released The Truth About Diamonds and in 2010, she released Priceless. While the former is a semi-autobiographical work whose authenticity has not been publically disputed, the latter, a fictional novel, landed Richie in some controversy. During the promotion period for Priceless, Richie indicated in an interview with USA Today that the work was her own, stating that she writes “all my own stories” and even detailed her writing routine. Richie’s publisher Judith Curr, however, contradicted those claims by stating that a ghostwriter completed the majority of the writing. Richie has not disputed that claim nor commented upon the situation further.
3. Hilary Duff
Best-known for her work on Disney’s television show Lizzie McGuire (2001-2004), Hilary Duff is an actress, singer, and author known for her trilogy of young adult novels Elixir (2010), Devoted (2011), and True (2013). Duff made the rounds on talk television and radio shows to promote her first novel during 2010, and repeatedly assured interviewers that the book was her own work. She made comments about the transition from Disney starlet to writer, and spoke about her inspiration for the story. It was not until an interview with George Lopez that the star admitted she had had help. When put on the spot by Lopez and asked about how she wrote the novel – on her computer, or some other way – Duff admitted that she worked with a ghostwriter (Elise Allen): “I’m a terrible speller and I can’t spell. Didn’t really go to college either, so the computer really helped. And I had an amazing co-writer that I worked with.”
4. Nicole Polizzi
Better known as “Snooki”, Nicole Polizzi’s claim to fame comes from MTV’s reality show “The Jersey Shore”. Polizzi, who insisted to the New York Times in 2010 that she had only ever completed two books in her life, published a fictional novel called “A Shore Thing” in 2011. She initially claimed to have written the work. In one televised appearance, for example, Matt Lauer asks Polizzi if she really wrote the book. She responds, “I did… Because if you read it, you will know on the first page that I wrote it. Cause, like, it’s all my language.” She eventually admitted that it was not all her language, however, as Valerie Frankel, an experienced celebrity ghostwriter, had actually penned the novel.
5. George Takei
One of everyone’s favorite celebrities, George Takei is prolifically active on Facebook and always seems to have a witticism or snarky remark about relevant issues in pop culture and politics. In 2013, comedian Rick Polito stated that he had been writing jokes for Takei’s page, which surprised Takei’s 4 million+ fans on the site. For his part, Takei responded with the following email to Wired: “What is this hoo-ha about my FB posts? I have Brad, my husband, to help me and interns to assist… What is important is the reliability of my posts being there to greet my fans with a smile or a giggle every morning.” Polito responded that while he did not mean to imply he was the one in charge of physically updating the page, he, and many other comedians, had been sending Takei jokes and memes for quite a while. Takei claimed to never have met Polito, which Polito confirmed (although he did not withdraw the claim that his jokes were published, without credit, on Takei’s page).
6. Pamela Anderson
This former Baywatch star is widely accepted to have made the celebrity ghostwriting “industry” as popular as it stands today. Her 2004 novel, Star, and 2005 sequel, Star Struck, were co-written by Eric Shaw Quinn. Unlike many of today’s celebrities, however, Anderson was very open about the creation process and named Quinn as her “partner” of sorts, even opting to have him appear at book signings and interviews. Despite her candor, however, the criticism that Anderson received for using a ghostwriter seems incomprehensible now, with so many celebrities doing the same.
7. Sarah Palin
Released in 2009, Sarah Palin’s memoir Going Rogue: An American Life drew speculation when it was released in just four months despite being comprised of over 400 pages. Her publisher maintained that Palin simply had a lot of free time after resigning as the governor of Alaska, and was able to focus on the creation process. In actuality, however, Lynn Vincent – who also serves as a writer for WORLD, a Christian news magazine – helped write the text as Palin’s ghostwriter.
8. Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall, arguably the most well-known and well-respected primatologist in the profession, has spent a lifetime building her career through hard work and innovation. Her 55-year study of chimpanzees and their social and familial interactions was groundbreaking and she serves on numerous committees that champion the causes of “nonhuman” rights – she is extremely important in her field, in other words, and has the reputation of being a very careful researcher. In 2013, her book, Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants, proved to be inaccurately researched and heavily plagiarized; it is safe to say the world noticed right away. The book was discussed endlessly on television programs, news shows, online journals, and blogs, and Goodall eventually released a very passively-voiced apology, part of which reads: “I am distressed to discover that some of the excellent and valuable sources were not properly cited, and I want to express my sincere apologies.” While her response initially served to further raise the collective ire of the internet, it all made sense when it came to light that Goodall had employed a ghostwriter – Gail Hudson – to put her book together. This served as a particularly harsh blow as Goodall was “busted” for not only using a ghostwriter, but also using a poor ghostwriter and not taking the time to review her work before allowing it to be published.
9. Naomi Campbell
Supermodel Naomi Campbell needs no introduction; however, the same cannot be said for her 1994 attempt at a novel. Entitled Swan, Campbell’s book was promoted as a novel that, while not mirroring the author’s life in any way, was meant to capture the essence of life in the fashion world. The book was not well received by the public, and during one of her first press conferences after its release, Campbell was allegedly asked for some comments about the book, but was unable to come up with anything substantial when pressed because she had not even bothered to read it before publication. It was soon revealed that Caroline Upcher was the writer behind Swan, and not only had Campbell not read the novel – she had never even had contact with the writer other than to reinforce the fact that the book was not supposed to be biographical. Upcher has been quoted as saying that the experience “was not really even ghosting, it was just another novel by me but with someone else’s name on the cover.”
10. Zoe Sugg
A YouTube sensation better known as Zoella, Zoe Sugg is a wildly popular fashion and beauty vlogger who released her first novel on November 25th, 2014. The text – Girl Online – has been an incredible success, with higher first-week sales than J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and EL James, and it was not long before people started questioning whether Zoella had actually written the story. To be fair, she does thank the ghostwriter, Siobhan Curham, in the novel, however she does not mention what the thanks is for or in what capacity Curham was employed. On December 8th, 2014, Zoella released a statement admitting that the novel was co-written by Curham, and the backlash was immense. The comments, articles, and endless discussion were so great, in fact, that both Zoella and her boyfriend took a short break from the Internet altogether.
Nas has been a staple of the hip-hop scene for well over two decades. Few artists are as well respected and enduring in such a fast-moving genre – one that demands an unusual level of authenticity, where it is generally accepted that the lyrics have personal meaning to, or are based on experiences of, the artists who perform them. That is why it was such a shock when, in 2012, it was revealed that Nas had used several ghostwriters, including Jay Electronica and stic.man, to write the majority of his album Untitled (2008). Both of the aforementioned artists took to Twitter to comment upon the situation; however, neither of them denied the allegations, instead choosing to emphasize Nas’s talent and success. While the issue was widely discussed on a number of different platforms, Nas did not address either the allegation or the subsequent comments made by his ghostwriters.
In his 2001 hit single “Bad Boy For Life”, Diddy responded to critics who had long fueled rumors that he did not write his own lyrics with the following line: “Don’t worry if I write rhymes/ I write checks.” While his delivery seems rather carefree today, at the time this admission was a very big deal. As previously discussed, hip-hop is a genre that demands authenticity from its artists, and the fact that Diddy admitted to using another writer’s lyrics was the topic of endless discussion both online and in the press. The revelation has not hurt his success; however, and he currently counts Jay-Z and Pharoahe Monch among his many ghostwriters.
13. Lil’ Kim
While it has been widely accepted that Lil’ Kim used lyrics written for her by the late Biggie Smalls, it was equally accepted that she wrote the majority of her remaining work. In early 2012, however, her artistic integrity was called into question when Charli Baltimore alleged that the artist was not responsible for any of her own lyrics. The story broke online, and less than a week after the initial allegations were made, a man – Antonio Walker – claiming to be Lil’ Kim’s ghostwriter came forward and uploaded the contract between he and the star, whom he claimed had failed to pay him for his latest services.
Beyoncé has been plagued by many allegations that, despite her name listed in the credits, her work is actually written by other people. Probably the most widely reported instance of this was for the song “If I Were a Boy”, which was originally written by singer-songwriter BC Jean. When Beyoncé released the song without any credit whatsoever, Jean released the original version of the song – the two versions were nearly identical. Yet another instance of this is Beyoncé’s single “Smash Into You”, which is actually a cover of the song “Smack Into You”. Beyoncé was originally credited with writing both songs.
Widely known for his “sensitive” lyrics, Drake was implicated in a ghostwriting scandal in 2014, when an anonymous source first claimed that he was going to be sued by a Toronto woman over the unpaid work she had completed for some of his songs. While that particular rumor turned out to be false, it brought to light one of Drake’s actual ghostwriters, a Toronto woman named Shi Wisdom. Like so many of the ghostwriters mentioned above, Wisdom’s name does appear in Drake’s pamphlet, however her collaboration on some of his popular singles was never mentioned and when discussing his writing process, Drake has never acknowledged her help.
Cameron is the Content Manager for the Vorongo Blog. He has spent three years in various content marketing roles. When he is not working with Vorongo he enjoys photography and hiking.
A quick-witted and talented novelist I know has been lately having great success ghostwriting celebrity books. Trust me: you’ve heard of the books she’s written. She’s collaborated on numerous bestsellers that do not bear her name, and I was wondering how she felt about that and the other issues specific to being a ghost. Being a high-powered secret weapon, she has chosen to remain anonymous.
How did you become a ghostwriter?
I fell into it. It started as a collaboration. A celebrity wanted to do a book about sex and needed help. Having already written an article about her in a magazine, I became the logical choice.
It turns out I liked it. I had written so much under my own name–novels, non-fiction books, hundreds of articles—and I was tapped out. I was sick of myself. Also, I realized collaborative projects took the pressure off the books under my own name doing well.
I was then asked to collaborate on other people’s books. A publisher contacted me for other jobs, and when those books became bestsellers my resume built. The path began with a reality star and led to more prestigious projects.
What’s the procedure?
It’s different every single time. I ghostwrite fiction and non-fiction so the process varies. But some things are the same, beginning with interviews to conceptualize the book. I might have this discussion with the client or their agent.
How is it going to be on brand for the celebrity client? That’s a key discussion: what’s the book’s message?
I research and then write. I might send clients chapter by chapter, or write the whole book and send it.
How do you find your client’s voice?
Advanced listening skills. My job is to really hear them: not just what they say, but what message they are trying to get across. You can’t bring any ego into this, or you’ll miss it.
Because I was a novelist, I’m good with voice and tone and character so I apply my novelistic writing skills to celebrity ghostwriting. I research the person: watching videos, TV shows, noticing verbal tics and phasing. When writing, I always stay on subject, using their cadence and vocabulary. (Do they use big words?)
It helps for me to read the text aloud in their voice.
I’ve had French and English and Czech clients, and have found myself speaking to my husband in their accents. It’s content and personality: for one of my clients who was unfailingly positive, I wouldn’t write anything snarky.
What common problems or challenges do you face?
Just gaining access to the client can be tough: whether that means getting the celebrity on the phone or to read the written pages and receive feedback. Right now, I’m waiting for a response from a client, and it’s taking them twice as long to read the book than I took to write it.
When the editor wants to know what’s up, they sometimes call me and I find myself between the client and editor. Or between the client and their agent. I get the role of peacemaker. I’m in charge of keeping everything on track and smoothing out feathers—no easy task with big egos involved.
Do you care about your name on the book?
Some ghostwriters insist on credit but I’ve never cared. Sometimes clients pay more not to have my name on the book, and I happily take that dough. The only credit I want is with editors and agents who might hire me again. Readers are not going to buy any of these books because of the ghostwriter’s name.
What’s the best part of being a celebrity ghostwriter?
Meeting fascinating people. Because I have a journalism background, I can write a novel, a diet book, a memoir, a fashion guide, a lifestyle book, and so on. With every project, I don’t just learn about the content but about people and how they operate. I’m like a shrink. I must hear what people need.
Who would you love to ghostwrite for?
I’ve always wanted to write for Joan Jett, and she’s never been interested. Also, Mark Hamill. I had a dream about working with him. I’m not even such a huge Star Wars fan. I think I especially love working with famous people from the 80’s, when I grew up.
I also like the whole category of stand-up comedians: the one I worked with was totally fun, and I would like to work with more standups in the future. It’s always great when you can laugh at work.
Readers, who would you love to be a celebrity ghostwriter for? Let us know on Facebook.