Friday, March 23, 2012

Cookbook Ghostwriter Speaks Out

If you are a foodie you are likely familiar with the current controversy surrounding an article written by self-proclaimed "Cookbook Ghostwriter" Julia Moskin.

In her New York Times article, "I Was A Cookbook Ghostwriter" Moskin details how she and others in her field regularly produced cookbooks for some of the world's most famous chefs. In her own words:

"Many real-world cooks have wondered at the output of authors like Martha Stewart, Paula Deen and Jamie Oliver, who maintain cookbook production schedules that boggle the mind. Rachael Ray alone has published thousands of recipes in her cookbooks and magazine since 2005. How, you might ask, do they do it?

The answer: they don’t."

For someone who is intimately aware of the egos in play in any kitchen I am mildly surprised at the way she banters about names; reveals the darkest, most closely held secret of any chef: they might not even write their own recipes.

I applaud her for coming out about the ghostwriting work she has done for some famous chefs, but I am saddened that she did it for so long in secret.

Am I surprised at the sheer volume of cookbooks written by ghostwriters? No. Am I dismayed that these writers have been toiling away in obscurity for decades? Of course.

If ever there was a time for writers to stand up and demand recognition and compensation for their work it is now. It is not enough to say, "well, at least I get paid for it." I for one don't want to read a book I think is written by one person when actually it was written by someone else. Just as I don't want to see a Salvador Dali knock-off, I want to see the real thing.

The sooner writers, all writers, begin demanding proper recognition and remuneration for their work the sooner we will all begin receiving the accolades which we rightly deserve. Shame on anyone that tries to pass off someone else's work as their own, and shame on readers for falling for the business as usual stance of publishers who continue to peddle this stuff.

If Chef Fabio Viviani (my FAVORITE chef) wants to write a cookbook, I'll read it. If he wants me to write his cookbook for him, then I expect he'll put my name on it when I'm done. (He can write the foreword if he likes.) Otherwise, I'm not interested.


Kymele Des A Lo'ra said...

While it's nice to say "I'm not interested", I suspect that most writers who go into these contracts know what they are choosing to do. And I don't think it's all about the money (though I imagine enough people feel that way too). About two years ago now, there was an article in Writer's Digest about ghostwriting, the whys and why-nots. And the truth is, sometimes people don't want their skills equated with a certain project. Some people want to support their families, etc...

I guess what it comes down to is: there is a place for all writing styles out here. And we should do what we can to support each other.

Maria said...

Even ghostwriters need to make a living--BUT, it is a deceptive practice. Celebrity memoirs, cookbooks and even some fiction authors use ghostwriters. It isn't for me--not the writing part OR the reading part. But the general public doesn't know. When they read a celebrity memoir they seem to think that they are having a conversation with their favorite celeb. Same with cookbooks.

The key, though, is that the public has to demand the books/recipes be done by the actual author. Because if they buy it, the publishers will continue to sell it.