Even if the name is on the cover: Often politicians do not write their books themselves – because not everyone can do it or has the necessary time to do so. That’s what ghostwriters are for. But how do they work?
Did the Green Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock plagiarize her book? This question is on the minds of many. “Little things have been exaggerated,” complained the Greens’ federal manager Michael Kellner on Friday in the ZDF “Morgenmagazin”.
Media scientist Stefan Weber had accused Baerbock of several literal takeovers in her new book “Now. How we renew our country”. Weber spoke of copyright infringement. The party then spoke of attempted character assassination and hired a lawyer. The passages described are generally accessible facts or known green positions.
Ghostwriters often do the writing
Baerbock defended himself against the allegations on Thursday evening on “Brigitte live”. “I wrote a book in which I wanted to make clear who I am, what drives me and what I want to change.” She had “had a lot of talks and ideas from others were also incorporated,” added the chancellor candidate. She made it clear that she would take the public sources that exist. But she didn’t write a non-fiction book or an academic paper. That’s why there are no footnotes.
Many celebrities, politicians or business leaders like to publish books about themselves, their thoughts, world view and experiences. Most of the time, however, they did not write their works themselves from start to finish. This is often done by ghostwriters.
How do these scribblers work? That explains the journalist and author Hajo Schmumacher. He has written his own books, but also for politicians such as Malu Dreyer, Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, and Klaus Wowereit, the former Governing Mayor of Berlin.
Close cooperation between writer and protagonist
“We sat together for hours and hours and she told me everything about her life and her politics,” reports Schumacher about working with Dreyer on her biography in the “Today Important” podcast star and RTL. That’s how it happened at Wowereit. Schumacher calls it “supervised biography writing”.
There is often a “ghostwriter agreement”. The author or ghostwriter thus undertakes to conceal their own authorship. The namesake – i.e. the person named as the author on the book cover – is thus permitted to publish the work as his own. In 2009, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court ruled that such an agreement was “not immoral”.
The founder of the publishing house and former ghostwriter Bernhard Salomon described ghostwriting to the Austrian newspaper “Die Presse” in 2012: “Ghostwriting has different levels. It starts with normal editing – the editor also intervenes in the text – and goes so far that a book written on the basis of interviews.” Sometimes people come to publishers with stories and a concept, sometimes it’s the other way around.
“Many ghostwriters are editors who have expanded their scope of action. Journalists and writers also often take on the authorship for others,” says Salomon.
“It’s a good thing” that most politicians don’t write themselves
But the important thing is the chemistry between the ghostwriter and the person who has the story, Andrea Fehringer explained to the “Presse”: “At the beginning you meet and get to know each other. Only if the chemistry is right and there is trust, you draw up a contract and starts with the preparatory work in the form of interviews.”
Most politicians would not write their books themselves – and that’s a good thing, says Schumacher. “Politicians have press people, speechwriters and ghostwriters for good reasons. If they should write books all day, they should govern.”
Using Baerbock as an example, he explains why she does not check what she has written herself: “You can only print this book when you know that she is a candidate for chancellor. You can prepare something beforehand, but then it gets hectic. Because that Craft requires that you then get the nomination, that moment on stage with Habeck – that has to be the start. (…) Then it has to happen extremely quickly: Then the manuscripts have to go to the printers, then everything has to be typeset and made and distributed and promoted. That means there’s a lot of time pressure.” Fact-checking teams would then review the writing.
Writing is a craft that must be mastered
“As Annalena Baerbock – or Roland Koch or Ole von Beust or Olaf Scholz, whoever – you have to be able to rely on people working properly,” said Schumacher.
But why don’t politicians write their books themselves? “If Angela Merkel wrote the way she speaks, or Olaf Scholz, then you would take these people aside, maybe even hug them, and say, ‘Hey, I see the beauty of your thoughts, I also see the noble intention , but stop writing that down.'” explains Schumacher. Writing is a craft that must be mastered.
Hajo Schumacher would advise many politicians against writing a book. Many would not even have the patience for it. Fehringer said of working as a ghostwriter: “We are the hands on the keyboard for the people who tell us about their lives. It is often difficult to put the tone and style of what is said on paper.”
Sources: AFP news agency, “important today”, “Die Presse”, OLG Frankfurt