Publishing industry haunted by another ghostFollowing the controversy over broadcaster Jung Ji-yeong’s alleged use of a substitute translator for her translation of Joachim de Posada’s “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow...Yet!” another ghostwriting scandal has broken out concerning Jemma Han’s books. Her most recent book titled “Looking for the Painter’s House,” and her former bestsellers “The Woman who Reads Pictures” and “I Learned about Life through Paintings” have all come under scrutiny. Samtoh Co., the publishing company for the first of these three, denied the allegations, saying that there was a contributing editor who worked with the author and edited Han’s words and that this person’s name was mentioned in the book. Han said that she will hire a lawyer and sue for libel. Han said the allegation was first made by the Hanguk Ilbo.
Samtoh has also said that it is quite natural for a contributing editor and an author to work together and that sometimes a freelance contributing editor works in place of an editor. In Han’s books published by the company, there is a part where the editor’s name is mentioned. The company revealed that the contributing editor received 2 percent of the royalties.
Han said “I worked with a contributing editor while doing my research. I wrote my first draft and handed it to this editor. I don’t think it is fair to say that I have a ghostwriter.”
This sort of “project publishing” has been established in the publishing industry for quite some time. The principle is that a publishing company picks up an idea for a book, finds a writer, and then finds a contributing editor to restructure and edit the book.
Ghostwriting is a bit different from “project publishing” although the lines that separate them are somewhat unclear. Ghostwriting is when a publishing company hires someone to research what the supposed “writer” wants to say and then writes most of the book. A publisher who wished to remain anonymous said, “There are many cases in which even a professor or an accomplished businessman puts out a book which is written by a ghostwriter. There are many cases in which a famous person hires a ghostwriter,” adding “Although a person might not be a skilled writer, he or she might be an expert in a particular field. So I don’t think criticizing ‘project publishing’ is the answer, as this can open up doors for diversity in the publishing world.”
On the other hand, many people say that putting the name of the “contributing editor” on the cover of the book as a second or co-writer is more appropriate. This is the practice employed by publishing companies in the West. Another publisher who wished to remain anonymous said, “The problem is that people do not want to acknowledge the contributing writer as a second writer for fear that this will lessen the authority of the primary writer.” In this case, some say that what Ms. Han and Samtoh did was fair, in that they stated the writer’s name and gave appropriate pay.
There have been cases in Korea where this kind of writing project has been used in a positive way. In his autobiography “The Cabbage is Back,” Bang Dong-gyu cites Cho Wu-suk, the journalist who interviewed him, as a co-writer of his book. Also, in the book, it stated that “The autobiography is based on statements made by Bang Dong-gyu that were written by Cho Wu-suk.”
The book “Ondal, an Aristocrat during the Goguryeo Kingdom who Became a Fool” also made clear on the book’s cover that Im Gi-hwan provided the contents and Lee Gi-dam wrote the words. Han Gi-ho, the head of the Korean Publishing Marketing Research said, “These ghostwriting controversies are just a short-term problem for the Korean publishing world to clear up and decide on its standards. If the publishing companies do not set clear ethical boundaries, readers will loose faith in them all together.”
by Lee Kyong-hee, Kim Seong-hui