Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Spotlight: Confessions of a Ghostwriter

Our friend across the pond and ghost extraordinaire Andrew Crofts is generating a lot of well-deserved buzz for his provocative new book, Confessions of a Ghostwriter, which was officially released this past Friday by Harper Collins.

With four decades of ghosting experience, and multiple best-sellers to his credit, Crofts had plenty of beans to spill. We caught up with him last week to get an inside look at his inside look and get his take on some of the tricky questions his professional confessional raises for our traditionally veiled field.

Before you click over to pick up your copy, check out our exclusive Q&A with Andrew Crofts below.

What prompted you to write this book?

Whenever people hear that I am a ghost they always say “you should write a memoir yourself” and I have always resisted, preferring to hide behind other people. Then I realized that I had been in the business for 40 years and had seen a lot of changes in the publishing world, and that I might actually have something of interest to say. At the same time I came up with a formula of “anecdotes as chapters” which I thought worked well. An enthusiastic publisher persuaded me that I was thinking along the right lines.

What sorts of ethical questions did writing this kind of book raise? How did you work through them?

There are of course many stories that I can’t tell due to confidentiality, but there are equally many that can be told as long as I change the names and obscure some of the details so that the subject cannot be identified. If I thought it would be okay to mention someone, (mainly people in the publishing world rather than the authors I wrote for), then I asked them if they were happy about it. The publisher had previously published “Confessions of a GP” (Doctor), where the problems were very similar, so there was a formula in place to deal with it.

I have also talked a lot about ghostwriting in general terms, including jobs that I auditioned for and didn’t get, that sort of thing, where there are no confidentiality conflicts.

Were you concerned that this book might impact your ability to get work in the future? What sort of precautions did you have to take?

Well, I took the precautions that I have mentioned above, but since I get two or three inquiries a day, (about a thousand a year) and seldom take on more than three books a year, I think this will probably not have a significant impact. The fact that more people will have heard of my name because of the book will probably compensate for anyone who might worry that I would write about them, (although if they read the book they would see that they were quite safe and I very much doubt I will write another book on the same lines). If anything, I suspect it will increase the inquiries I receive rather than decrease them, particularly as it is receiving very complimentary reviews in England.

Has there been any blowback from past clients?

None at all.

How did you get into ghostwriting?

I was working as a general freelance writer, straight out of school, when someone I was interviewing for a magazine told me he had been commissioned to write three books but didn’t have the time. He asked me to ghost them for him so that he would benefit from the publicity without the problem of doing the writing. He told me I could have the money from the publisher.

It seemed like such a good idea I advertised, “Ghostwriter for Hire” in the Bookseller Magazine and other people started to approach me. The next book I ghosted was “Sold” by Zana Muhsen, which was her story of being sold as a child bride in the Yemen. It went on to sell more than five million copies. After that more and more people approached me with stories, including publishers and literary agents.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out in ghostwriting?

Find people and subjects that interest you and approach them with the suggestion that you help them write a book. Then just read a lot and write as well as you possibly can. Practice is everything. Put your ego on hold, nobody needs to know your thoughts and opinions, at least not in your clients’ books!

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being a ghostwriter?

Just staying at the keyboard long enough to get the job done. It can be a long haul some days.

The most rewarding?

Meeting the most interesting people and getting to ask them every question I can think of, traveling to the most interesting places on Earth and being able to earn a good living as a writer.

You end your book with the line “perhaps that uncertainty is one of the reasons that make writing and publishing such interesting professions.” A lot of people seem to be in a panic these days about the future of the writing and publishing industries, you seem to have a very optimistic view of this. What would you say to someone who’s worried about where writing is going?

Don’t panic. Storytellers were around long before publishers and the craft of writing came long before the printing press. People will always need storytellers and scribes, either for education, entertainment or commercial reasons. All we have to do is work out the best way to bridge the gap between us and our audiences, and ensure that we earn a living while we do so – which basically means “business as usual”, except now there are even more options than ever before and more of the world’s population is literate than at any time in history. How can any of that be bad?

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing.

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