Should an author mention their MS is ghostwritten?

Ms.Ghost

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Hey, AW! Forgive me if this is the wrong place for this question. I tend to be a bit of a shy lurker, but I’m really STUMPED. I’ve looked all over the net for the answer—in the usual agent blogs etc.—and I’m getting nothing.

Quick backstory: I’m a lifelong writer who just dipped my toe into freelancing. I got a few ghostwriting jobs, and I’m giving it my all. One, in particular, is a client’s passion-project novel. They’re good people, this client, and they’re very excited about the completed draft. But they’re asking for advice on how to query, and I don’t know what to tell them.

Basically, should my client mention in their query that their novel has been ghostwritten? I always tend to err on the side of honesty, but with ghostwriting, I’m just not sure what the conventions are. If it’s expected for an author not to mention their project is ghostwritten, will they look amateur bringing it up in a query? On the other hand, if they don’t mention it and their own writing outs them in communication, could they face major consequences for that?

I want to have the utmost respect for everyone involved here—the client and the agent/editors they query—but I just can’t seem to find what the right advice would be. I’ve only ever queried my own work, so I’ve never run into this issue before.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!
 

Nether

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I don't know what the rules are about this, but at some point an agent has to know that. The problem is that's a potential red flag when querying because the client-author adding a layer to the relationship where, if the draw is the ghostwriter's work, it'll be a problem if the ghostwriter isn't available.
 

Maggie Maxwell

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I'd say best to say it in the query, so they don't end up with someone who will turn around and say "I never agreed to work with a ghostwriter" after making an offer. From what I do know about the trade publishing pipeline, I suspect they may struggle to find an agent who would take a ghostwritten novel (unless it's, say, someone famous and their autobiography). An agent or publisher is going to have revisions, probably several stages of them. Will the ghostwriter be available to make the changes? Is the person paying the ghostwriter willing or able to pay the ghostwriter more to apply these changes, or will they take on the task themselves despite proving unwilling or unable to write the book themselves? Did they have a contract and will the agents need to go over that contract to make sure the proper rights are where they should be? It's likely to be a lot of extra work and concern to start an agent relationship with someone with a ghostwriter, so starting off honest is probably the better, safer option (though I would defer to those wiser and more experienced than me if they say otherwise.)
 

Ms.Ghost

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Will the ghostwriter be available to make the changes? Is the person paying the ghostwriter willing or able to pay the ghostwriter more to apply these changes, or will they take on the task themselves despite proving unwilling or unable to write the book themselves?

This was my suspicion as well. Ah, I hate to be the dream killer. I wonder whether it would help if the ghost was involved in the querying process, though that seems unlikely. Client even suggested making it a co-author situation when I expressed some doubts about whether a debut ghostwritten novel would be taken on. But when I researched that option, I found people saying even a co-author situation is tricky for a debut. It makes sense, but my soft heart wishes I could just "pinkie promise" to stick around and fix everything for my client.
 
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waylander

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In general I would say that agents take on authors for their writing skill/style and hope/expect to get multiple books from them. Unless the ghostwriter is going to continue to be involved (then why not query as co-authors) then I am sceptical whether an agent would bite.
 

Brigid Barry

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I know nothing but I'm chiming in anyway.

I second anyone who said that an agent would probably be more likely to consider a ghostwritten if it's a famous person's name to slap on the cover.

Also second anyone who said agents want a career, and they'd expect the writer to be around for changes.

On another note, I'm cynical and work around contracts and things all day. Either it colors my perspective of the world or vice versa. You wrote The Thing, it should be up to your client to deal with the rest. That way you don't put yourself out there and do potential harm to what I assume is a business for you. Querying is a nightmare, and--unless you're either vastly experienced in the trenches or have contacts--that's a can of worms you may not want to add to your services. It would be terrible if you tried to help this person out of the goodness of your heart, but all you get are form rejects and it's now somehow your fault. Not to mention what a huge time suck it is between crafting the letter and researching the agents and publishers.