I phoned my friend The Ghostwriter to ask him a few questions about Bristol Palin’s book, NOT AFRAID OF LIFE. The Ghostwriter and I go all the way back to kindergarten. He’s worked in publishing since he was 16. (While I was busy losing my virginity in a drunken stupor, The Ghostwriter was on staff of a black newspaper in our hometown. A daring act for a white boy in East Texas, late 1960’s.) A few years ago, debts from a bad divorce, as well as advice from a trustworthy literary agent, steered The Ghostwriter to try “ghosting.” He’s been successful at it and currently is ghosting a big-name-celebrity self-help book. The Ghostwriter has published books in his own name, but he tells me that ghostwriting for celebrities is fast becoming an extremely lucrative field for writers.
V-A: Is Bristol making any money off this book?
Ghost: She made hers up front. I’m guessing the advance was in the 6-figure range. Maybe $125,00-300,000.
V-A: What about Nancy French, the ghostwriter?
Ghost: She’d be paid up front, too. Often the celebrity pays a ghost directly or makes up the difference between what the publisher will pay. Think of French as a sub-contractor. What’s interesting is that French doesn’t appear to have ghostwritten prior to this. In that case, the Palins may have gotten a bargain.
V-A: What about royalties?
Ghost: Nobody counts on percentages because sales are always risky. Few books make back their advances.
V-A: Bristol’s sales don’t look that hot.
Ghost: From what I see on Amazon, her sales are ok. Not great.
V-A: What about marketing the book? Whose job is that?
Ghost: The publisher will do a few big things. Get you on TV shows, the kind of thing that takes just a phone call. But the real work is up to the celebrity and her team.
V-A: Must we call her that?
Ghost: Bristol’s team would have been the ones to hire a literary PR firm and Internet marketing company. The ones that do the real daily slog to get the book out there, talked about, and of course, bought.
V-A: Tell me about Internet marketing.
Ghost: Ideally, there’d be a website for the book.
V-A: There’s not.
Ghost: Pity. Well, a blog then.
Ghost: Twitter, Facebook? I see comments on Amazon -- 500 replies to one comment.
V-A: Yeah, but that’s just the Palin haters vs the lovers. None of the comments have anything to do with the book, really.
Ghost: A good internet marketing firm could have taken care of all that.
V-A: Would it have been someone the Palins hired who sent Bristol to book signing in a Walmart in the middle of Texas nowhere instead of a mall in Tyler or Lubbock?
Ghost: Actually, the idea of a Walmart book tour is intriguing. But you’re right. Why that Walmart and why only one?
V-A: But if Bristol and Nancy French get their advances up front, who really gives a damn how good the book is or how many copies sell? Where’s the incentive to hustle?
Ghost: Welcome to my world. Have you actually read the book?
V-A: Yep. Quasi-religious. A few toots for abstinence.
Ghost: Sounds like they went broad appeal rather than niche.
V-A: You’re right. It’s not quite an abstinence book or a “Christian” book. It pretends to be the story of a good Christian girl, but there’s way more sin than forgiven, if you get my drift. The book confuses being born again with “come to Jesus” moments. My Christian friends would NEVER use that expression.
Ghost: A good ghost follows orders.
V-A: There’s some pretty ugly stuff. Allegations of date rape and boyfriend emotional abuse. Lots of people calling Bristol a bitch and threatening to kick her butt. Random strangers want to gang rape her. Tons of mean girl stuff from her, too, the way she attacks Mercede Johnston and Meghan McCain, who, according to Bristol, is rageful, selfish, and ego-driven probably because she’s been marinating too long in politics. Shouldn’t the ghostwriter have shown the poor girl some guidance?
Ghost: Like I said, we’re just the hired help.
V-A: Predictably there are few dates and lots of confusing flashbacks and flash-forwards. My favorite character is Willow. She’s the little snoop who finds eight positive pregnancy test sticks while digging through Bristol’s purse AND who pulls Trigg’s ultrasound photo out of an envelope buried under papers piled on the table.
Ghost: I suppose this all supports the book’s title as her difficult life warranting some kind of superhuman courage.
V-A: We get the good times, too. How Craigslist is her best friend because she loves shopping for deals on trucks and houses. That DWTS workouts were nothing compared to basketball workouts in high school, which she must have seen passing by the gym door those few semesters she was enrolled. Oh, and that she wanted to take a Haitian baby home but nobody would let her.
Ghost: How old is this girl?
Ghost: There you go. Bristol gets to be on TV. Nancy French gets to ghost her first book. And the publishers write this one off as a loss.
V-A: You’re forgetting somebody.
Ghost: The kid who gets his own conception told as a rather dubious bedtime story?
V-A: No! MOM! The world’s most perfect mom, mayor, governor, VP candidate, and spokeswoman for America who is just bound to end up in the Oval Office. Sarah Palin is on almost every page of this book. We even get Bristol’s two cents on all the scandals from Troopergate to Trig-Gate.
V-A: (reading aloud) Some people actually suggested that Trig wasn’t our brother. They even insulted us by suggesting he was Willow’s baby. Or mine! (123) Willow’s baby? Where the hell did she get THAT?
Ghost: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
V-A: And Bristol never says that CBJ delivered Trig! She does say that CBJ showed up later to point out on Trig’s little hand a characteristic horizontal crease. That’s how the family learned he had Down syndrome. Wait a minute. I thought it was supposed to be Willow who figured it out?
Ghost: Who the hell is CBJ?
V-A: Don’t you see? Bristol got paid off to be her mom’s apologist! The book is non-stop Sarah Palin propoganda:
Ghost: This is a teenage memoir, and it’s all about her mom?
V-A: Exactly! What daughter would do that? Not mine. The book doesn’t need to sell or be interesting, because it’s meant to flood the public domain with more Palin disinformation-- while calling Levi Johnston a liar first, just in case, IN CASE, his ghostwritten book spills the beans on Trig-Gate.
Ghost: You’ve completely lost me.
V-A: Welcome to my world.
Epilogue: In the TV interview a few weeks ago Bristol admitted to Dr. Drew that she got pregnant as a result of missing several days of taking the pill. He was surprised that important fact wasn’t in her book. She looked uncomfortable, lied, and said yes it was. Take it from me, someone who actually read the book, that fact is not there. What IS there is Bristol blaming the pill (which she was taking for cramps) for “not working right.”
Thank you, Viola-Alex, for providing us with another insightful discussion with a friend and colleague "in the know." I so appreciate your witty dialogue and probing questions. H/T to you both!