Britney Spears’ new book brings conversations about ghostwriting to the forefront

By Grace Hogsten

Copy Editor

On Oct. 24, Britney Spears released her highly-anticipated memoir “The Woman in Me.” In the book, she writes about her life in and out of the public eye, from her career to her conservatorship, according to Variety.

“Over the past 15 years or even at the start of my career, I sat back while people spoke about me and told my story for me…getting out of my conservatorship, I was finally free to tell my story without consequences from the people in charge of my life,” Spears said in an interview with People.

Fans were eager to hear Britney tell the real story behind her highly publicized life. According to AP News, 1.1 million copies of the memoir — including audiobooks and ebooks — were sold in the first week of its publication.

The public is especially interested in the book’s salacious details about Spears’ relationship with Justin Timberlake; many publications emphasize the memoir’s depiction of Spears and Timberlake’s relationship, and Vulture dedicates an entire article to the book’s stories about Timberlake.

As many celebrity memoirs do, Spears’ book brings public attention to the memoir genre as a whole and the controversial use of ghostwriters by many authors of the genre. According to an article in the New York Times, two anonymous sources revealed that three authors helped Spears write her memoir. Spears never publicly named these writers, and only alluded to their existence by referencing help from “collaborators” in the acknowledgements.

The article outlines the alleged involvement of various authors, stating that nonfiction author Ada Calhoun interviewed Spears and helped write a first draft; Sam Lansky, a Time magazine editor, conducted more interviews to revise the draft in Spears’ voice; and Luke Dempsey, a ghostwriter and editor, worked on the memoir later in the process.

According to Assistant Professor of English Sufiya Abdur-Rahman, ghostwriters commonly write memoirs for people who want to have control over how they tell their stories, but do not have the ability to write an entire book on their own.

Given this context, it makes sense that Spears, a celebrity known for her singing and acting rather than writing, would want help from a more experienced and established writer.

However, the lack of transparency regarding the memoir’s authorship raises ethical questions about ghostwriting, particularly in nonfiction writing. Readers may interpret the use of a ghostwriter as a breach of trust, especially in a genre where the reader takes the author’s word as fact.

“You’re already kind of deceiving the public a little bit by not saying upfront that someone else technically wrote the book…and the readers don’t really know the name of that person or that someone else has written the book,” Professor Abdur-Rahman said.

Readers trust a memoirist to write truthfully about their life, and knowing that the writer was not open about the way that they wrote the story can undermine the readers’ trust, especially when the writer emphasizes their own authorship.

“It is finally time for me to raise my voice and speak out, and my fans deserve to hear it directly from me,” Spears said in her interview with People.

Spears’ audience may wonder how much influence her ghostwriters had on the telling of the story since Spears did not openly discuss their involvement, and because the book openly recounts events with a particular perspective or slant in mind.

“It [would be] interesting to know how much of the agenda was being set and by whom, even before they wrote,” Associate Professor of English and Director of the Gender Studies Program Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor said.

Though some may question the ethics of secretly using ghostwriters, writing a memoir with help from more experienced authors can work out well.

“I don’t think [ghostwriting] compromises the integrity of the book if they have integrity as they’re producing it,” Professor Abdur-Rahman said. “I think it can be almost like a piece of journalism in that sense that you’re telling someone else’s story as truthfully and accurately as possible.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Caption: Pop star Britney Spears rose in popularity with the release of her first single “…Baby One More Time” in 1998.

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