An agent I sometimes work with just sent around a notice to his list about a guy looking for someone to ghostwrite his memoir. “This is an incredible opportunity,” the agent assures us, “for a writer enthusiastic about the subject matter.”
I am not that writer. And I’m having a bit of trouble processing the idea that my agent is that agent. “The subject matter,” you see, is organized crime—one particular subset of it. So that “competitive compensation” the memoirist promises? We’re safe to assume he didn’t get it by selling Bibles to old ladies.
My agent writes, “We expect a huge response from this listing.” Of course they do. Gangster books beget gangster movies, TV shows, royalty checks. And let’s not forget the bragging rights. You could dine out for the rest of your life on “the time the gangster told me…” But as the writer who sets that chain in motion, how can you separate the stories you’re telling from the real people whose lives were ruined (or at least changed, not for the better) by the colorful old man paying your fee?
Yes, it’s business. “Just” business. The book will be written, the money’s going to go somewhere, so why not be the person doing the writing, or the agent taking in the commission? It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, that’s all.