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Do You Sell Things You Don’t Believe In?

September 21st, 2006 by Bob Bly

RS, a professional ghostwriter, writes:

“I’ve run into a situation. I got a feeler for a non-fiction book about aliens living in America underground — under Salt Lake City.

I don’t for a moment believe there are extraterrestrials on Earth. I’ve set the standard for myself that I won’t write things I consider to be immoral, but what about things I don’t necessarily believe in myself but the author does?

“If he can meet my price (and I doubt he can) should I write it? If the research he shows me doesn’t convince me, can I ethically ghost it? Would you?”

Troops, what advice do you have for RS?


This entry was posted on Thursday, September 21st, 2006 at 10:47 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

42 responses about “Do You Sell Things You Don’t Believe In?”

  1. Cristina said:

    RS, don’t do it. There’s no price in the world that would make me do “things I don’t necessarily believe in myself.” It’s part of my personal and professional integrity and mission. If you say yes today, what will he ask you to do tomorrow? Plus, the whole time you’ll work on this project, you’ll be dreading it. I’m no writer, but the principle is the same for all service providers. Let us know what he decides!

  2. SpongeBob Fan said:

    If the research he shows you CAN convince you – if you believe that it’s true – then sure, write the book. It’ll be a blockbuster – Aliens Actually Living Under Salt Lake City! That’s news!

    If you feel like his research is bull-bleep – and it almost certainly is – why would you sign on to write a non-fiction book about what you believe to be lies?! Writers, of all people, need to respect words – non-fiction is true.

    Why don’t you get him to write it as a novel – might find a market among folks who believe all those “alien fiction” books are true anyway. And saves you the moral/ethical struggles. Good luck!

  3. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    I am laughing very hard right now!

    Reminds me of calls I have received from mad scientists who start out the call, “Everyone else thinks I am crazy.” Usually a red flag.

    You do not need to be passionate about everything you write. However, if you are skeptical, that usually is a good sign to pass on the job.


  4. Lisa Taylor Huff said:

    Unless you can be comfortable admitting to yourself that you’d just be doing it for the money, and can manage not to make the client feel in the wrong for his beliefs, then don’t do it. You’ll spend months being miserable working on a project and lying to the client about your enthusiasm level, when you could be using that time to prospect for a project that’s a much better fit for your interests.

  5. Howard McEwen said:

    My big concern would be getting paid. I’d insist on something upfront.

    I wouldn’t have a problem writing it. I think most of these people read this stuff for entertainment with a massive dose of salt. (Were the actors in the movie JFK unethical if didn’t buy into the whole conspiracy? I don’t think so) The ones who don’t are finding secret messages in the want ads already.

    Plus, it might be a good writing exercise – finding ways to hid your contempt.

  6. Sean Woodruff said:

    RS would be selling writing skill and not the book itself.

    The challenge is writing well without regard to the topic. And, one person’s non-fiction is another person’s fiction.

    Write well and cash the checks!

  7. Sean Woodruff said:

    If RS can’t wrap his/her mind around selling the writing, not the topic being written, then refer it and collect a finder’s fee from the other writer.

  8. Mike Duffy said:

    Can you say “Whitley Streiber?” I knew you could!

    If the author believes it, it’s somebody’s truth, no? If you don’t find it morally questionable, then you need to ask what business you’re in: ghost-wrting or truth-telling.

  9. Ted Demopoulos said:

    I see no ethical or other dilemma if you think you can do a great job. Far out beliefs are very different from unethical practices, e.g. “all bald men are aliens” vs. “how to steal for fun and profit.”

    Now, working for a nutcase might not be fun, and it might be hard to get excited/involved, and there are several other reasons you might bag the job.

    Where are the aliens from?
    Do they believe in mixed-specie marriage?
    Who are they going to vote for?
    Do you get to meet them?
    Will they try to kill you for exposing them?

    I’d ask questions like these to see what type of “more than one standard deviation from the norm” thinker you’re dealing with 🙂

  10. Rob Swanson said:

    I’m RS (he says, with a deep gravely voice). Thanks for posting the question, Bob, and all for responding.

    I actually think I’d enjoy writing such a thing. The biggest problem I’d have, since I’m not a believer in such things, would be taking liberties, and embellishing beyond the source material. A nudge here, a nudge there…

    I’ve read such books in the past and quite enjoy the few that are written well. As Sean said above, one man’s non-fiction is another’s fiction (Bill and Hillary Clinton’s books, anyone?)

    If he responds back, I’ll request the source material and look it over. If there’s enough for a book, I’d present my fee and payment schedule, and upon receipt of the first check develop the structure. I’ve been writing medical and financial books, so this would be a refreshing change. I just can’t imagine him having the money to hire me. On the other hand, I’m only three years into ghosting, so I do look to older, wiser pros to help me refine ethics. I’ve spoken with a new friend who hired a ghostwriter to help him with his book and the guy did nothing but a light edit for $70,000. My friend now thinks ghosts are a rip-off. As such, I’m leary of my practices reflecting well on the profession as a whole and other ghosts in particular. That’s one of the reasons I value this blog, because the people seem smart, thoughtful and generous with their knowledge.

    Thank you all.

  11. Joel Heffner said:

    When in doubt, don’t.


  12. Frank Catalano said:

    At the end of the day, all we’ve really got is our reputations.

    If you think writing it will hurt it, in any way, shape or fashion: Don’t.

  13. Karl Heckman said:

    Three words of suggested advice.

    Cash up front.

    AND, if you aren’t certain you want it, charge heavy and let the client say no. That way the extra $$$ can lift your spirits while you work.

    OK, 30 words.

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