Who’s Really Behind Your Favorite Celebrity Memoirs? That’s probably not the name on the cover

Becca Grischow’s books have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list more than a dozen times. But you won’t find his name on any of them.

As a professional ghostwriter, Grischow mainly writes non-fiction memoirs for high profile celebrity clients. It’s the norm for celebrity memoirs: asking a ghostwriter to write part – if not most – of the story. Using his years of expertise, Grischow believes that a vast majority of all celebrity memoirs are written by ghosts.

“If this celebrity is active and doing things in the world right now, she doesn’t have time to write a book,” Grischow says.

Celebrity memoirs are revered as a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a famous person’s private life. In his memoir “Will”, Will Smith reveals that after being cheated on, he developed an addiction to shopping and sex. Drew Barrymore admits to smoking marijuana for the first time at just 10 years old in ‘Little Girl Lost’.

The defining characteristic of a memoir is that the author tells their own story, revealing shocking truths unbeknownst to the public before the book is published.

How can a nigger tell somebody else’s story?

“The biggest part of really being able to embody someone’s voice is just spending enough time with that voice,” Grischow says. “Anyone, celebrity or not, should approach their ghostwriting experience with a fair amount of vulnerability…to be completely honest about their feelings and the details of their experience. Not everyone can do that. . »

Grischow says reading writing samples such as articles, blog posts, journal entries, or emails makes it easier to write someone’s voice.

“It’s also a game I played growing up,” Grischow says. “Whenever there was a band with a popular song, I would see if I could write a song that sounded like it was written by that band. I’m a really good imitator.

Becca Grischow is a professional ghostwriter who specializes in writing memoirs. (J Churchill Morris)

As strangers to the subject’s personal narrative, ghostwriters offer an objective point of view. They listen to the story, choose the threads that weave it together, and present it as a cohesive plot.

“It’s a crazy thing to watch someone alter your own life,” Grischow says. “People’s lives and stories are very sensitive, so it’s important to keep that balance between immersing yourself in it and having a more objective view.”

Claire Parker and Ashley Hamilton are the online authorities on celebrity memoirs. The pair of comedians estimate that they each read nearly 75 memoirs a year to discuss on their podcast, “Celebrity Memoir Book Club.”

By their own admission, many of these books are not “good” in the traditional literary sense. They classify celebrity books into two categories: a book that allows the celebrity to tell their own version of their very public life, or a book that essentially exists as a commodity, another way to make money from marketing of his name. The larger a celebrity’s network, the more publishers will pay for their manuscript.

“Even if it’s not done well, you can tell a lot about a person based on what they want you to think about them,” Parker says. “The stories people choose to tell about themselves – whether they tell them honestly or not – can be just as revealing as the darkest truth in their souls.”

Sometimes members of the Parker and Hamilton community use the fact that a ghostwriter worked on a project as an insult to fame, implying that the subject had no input on their own memoir, or claiming that the profession is unethical.

“I think there’s almost a sense of entitlement with the creative work,” says Haylee Justine, a ghostwriter who’s also worked on high-profile memoirs. “I think it’s almost unethical to think you owe someone behind a book.”

But Parker and Hamilton say a good — or at least entertaining — celebrity memoir exudes vulnerability and personal growth. And that’s usually the mark of a ghostwriter who has a lot of experience crafting a compelling story.

How do you enter a profession so vast and yet so secret?

Justine began her writing career by self-publishing her own books, but grew discouraged by the slow business.

When Justine discovered the elusive field of ghostwriting through her connections in independent publishing about five years ago, she realized that ghostwriters generally earned much higher salaries than writers publishing their own manuscripts. A memoir project for a high-profile client takes about six months and brings in between $75,000 and $100,000, according to the New York Post.

Haylee Justine worked in freelance publishing before pursuing a career in ghostwriting.  (Haylee Justine)
Haylee Justine worked in freelance publishing before pursuing a career in ghostwriting. (Haylee Justine)

“I have so many books to my credit,” says Justine. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to try and spend some time getting in touch with high-level literary agents and agencies and see how it goes for me.'”

That impressive salary comes with a tradeoff: nondisclosure agreements, extreme discretion even around other ghostwriters, and the inability to claim nameless work like his own.

When Grischow started out, she found these factors surprisingly isolating as someone who entered the writing profession to connect with other people. Grischow has been a writer most of his life, or at least since he was 6 years old, and earned a double major in communication and creative writing from Valparaiso University. She started ghostwriting right out of college, scoring a fiction writing gig from a fellow writer. This fiction writer became Grischow’s first regular customer.

“I’m a Leo. I love the attention,” Grischow says. But the other side of the coin is that not all the projects I’m involved in are projects I want to be associated with.

But for Justine, anonymity seduced her. When working in self-publishing, she always used pseudonyms.

“I never write under my own name. Never,” says Justine. “A lot of people don’t realize that there are so many of us in this career as a very worthwhile decision because it’s extremely lucrative and because we like privacy.”

Time and time again, sales show that the name on the cover is the one that matters to generate profits. Name recognition marketing is going nowhere, and the huge success of Jennette McCurdy’s recent memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died” proved that this genre still appeals to the masses.

In the age of social media, celebrities feel more accessible than ever – but bestseller lists prove that this extra information hasn’t quenched fans and readers’ thirst for revealing memoirs.

“[Celebrities are] are going to have to expose more things about themselves,” says Rachel Deahl, chief information officer at Publishers Weekly. “Especially now in the age of social media, when it’s someone you already know well, they’re going to have to come up with something else.”

If someone has written many published books but does not show up in a Google search of those titles, how can they be successful?

Word of mouth, mainly. And personal writing samples for interested clients to let their writing speak for itself.

The career is often thankless and taxing, time-consuming and cataloged around the wishes of a client. But writers who have taken the time to thrive on this path like Grischow and Justine wouldn’t want it any other way. They see the work as a way to connect with their subjects, bring to light powerful and untold stories in an engaging way, and adapt their analytical writing skills to piece together a personal narrative that is not their own.

“I always joke that ghostwriting is often a bit of a therapy. We talk about very personal topics, and you have to make sure you do it in a way that your clients don’t feel judged,” says Justine “I think ghostwriters, in general, are some of the most talented writers.”