The ghostwriters who wrote books with Donald Trump have made headlines of their own this week. First, Tony Schwartz, who worked with Trump on his best-selling autobiography, “The Art of the Deal,” confessed to the New Yorker that much of the book was fictionalized — and that the real-estate mogul barely read the book, let alone “wrote” it, as he’s boasted.
And then it was Meredith McIver’s turn in the spotlight. She’s the writer who helped with several Trump books, and this week she took the blame for the lines in Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention address that were lifted from a 2008 speech by Michelle Obama.
Such attention, of course, is highly unusual for ghostwriters. The very term describes their job: to remain unseen. “None of us talk — we’re priests,” says one writer, who has worked with plenty of VIPs, of her profession’s credo.
Ghostwriters seemed to have particular beef with Schwartz, who thrust himself into the public eye — as opposed to McIver, who appeared to take the fall to absolve her longtime employer, the Trumps, of wrongdoing.
“There is a code for what we do, and it’s surprising to see someone break it like that,” said another.
When a ghostwriter’s work does surface, the author whose picture is on the cover might disavow it, like actress/cookbook author Gwyneth Paltrow, who denied a caption in a New York Times story naming her ghostwriter. “I wrote every word myself,” she sniffed.
Collaborations between a writer and the better-known purported author vary widely, from transparent arrangements in which the professional writer’s name appears on the cover (as Schwartz’s did), to clandestine ones in which the writer’s name is mentioned only in the book’s acknowledgements, if at all. Whatever the terms, writers say, their job is to minimize their involvement.
And, some say, the “principal” might actually believe that they did write the book, no matter how many words they actually put to paper. “You often have people who are used to being in charge of a brand, so they believe that whatever is done on their behalf is something they legitimately can take credit for,” said one publishing industry source.
Schwartz justifies his break with the norm by saying “he’d never forgive himself” if he didn’t step forward, given Trump’s presidential ambitions. But that didn’t wash with several ghosts, who say he should have expected Trump would claim credit — and that if his character was a problem, maybe he shouldn’t have taken the job.
Another, though, said he agreed with Schwartz’s call: “I can’t say that I blame him in this instance.”