Stephen writes in to ask, “Pastor John, how do you feel about pastors who use ghostwriters to produce sermons, blogs, books, or other written content from their ministry in their name?”
Let Bylines Be Bylines
I don’t like it. In fact, I am against it. I think it is wrong. But let me define what I mean, lest they mean something I don’t mean. I don’t want to accuse inappropriately.
Ninety-nine percent of readers believe that a byline (my name under a book title) means I wrote it. Either I spoke it and someone wrote it down, like Spurgeon, or I took a pen or computer and wrote it. That is what they assume. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether two publishers or an author and editor agree that it doesn’t mean that and say, “Well, we don’t think that is what it means.” That is what it means. You can’t play fast and loose with people’s interpretations that way. That is what a byline means. And I hope it stays that way.
“We are people who serve the truth. Our standards for truth should be higher than anybody’s.”
Therefore, I think putting your name on a book you didn’t write is a lie. And people would be shocked if someone took a one-page set of ideas that they got from your sermons and turned it into a book, and you put your name on the book. That would be a lie, and God said, “You shall not lie” (Leviticus 19:11). God said to love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10). We are pastors. We are people who serve the truth. Our standards for truth should be higher than anybody’s standards for truth, not lower than anybody’s standards.
Authors vs. Editors
Now I believe in editors, big time. David Mathis at Desiring God is called a senior editor. I sent off a book to him yesterday or the day before and said, “Go at it, David. Help me avoid error. Help me not say things stupidly. Help me get my grammar right.” He is going to send it back to me and there will be some blue highlighting in it. And if that editing process reaches a point where this is anywhere near substantially David’s work, his name is going on it. I will put, “John Piper with David Mathis.”
Let me give you another example. A lot of guys don’t do this, and I think they should. They don’t write their own letters. People write letters for them. People write letters for presidents of schools and presidents of organizations. They just sign them and send them out. I just think that is a lie.
“We should be way more than eager to give credit where credit is due.”
Suppose Josh Etter, who is one of our directors at Desiring God, wants me to write a letter to ask our listeners for support. If he sends me the substance of the letter already written and I like it and I tweak a sentence here and a sentence there, then I will say to Josh, “I am not going to put my name on this without your name, period. Your name is going on there. You wrote this and I tweaked it.” But if he sends me an email that has five bullet points and says, “Please include these things in what you say,” this statistic and that deadline and this condition of our budget and whatever, and I take those five things and write it, then I will put my name on it.
I realize that we get help in what we do. And I think, frankly, that we should be way more than eager to give credit where credit is due. So I already wrote the “Word to the Reader” for my book, and I put in it a thank-you to David Mathis for this and that because he has already done work in helping me assemble the pieces that went into that book.
My answer to all the fears of putting somebody else’s name on your book with you is that God will honor that. Publishers don’t like it. They don’t want two names on a book. Well, tell them you are going to be honest and you wrote this with so-and-so. And then God himself will honor that truth from us.
So for those who are not aware, apparently this is a pretty significant problem in the publishing world.
Evidently. I don’t know them, but I hear that that is the case. In fact, there was a scandal some years ago where a well-known person who has become a leader in the homosexual movement was found to be a ghostwriter who actually wrote the books for three or four very well-known Christians. And when I heard that, my heart just sank. It really sank my estimation of those men’s integrity several notches.
You know, while I am talking, one other thing comes to my mind. I believe that a book or an essay in a book is a craft. It is an art. When people appreciate writing, they are not appreciating just a nugget of an idea that has incidental words around it. That is not what is happening. If this book is well written, people are enjoying the craft of writing. And who is getting the credit for the craft? The guy who did not produce the craft. And that is wrong. It is wrong for people to be sitting there saying, “This is really good. This is effective. I am pleased with this. I am enjoying this.” And they are thanking God for pastor so-and-so when he didn’t have anything to do with that craft. That is just wrong.