We shared a fascinating evening with the ghost writer Andrew Crofts at May’s LWC Live. He was inspiring, funny and informative. For those of you that missed the evening, here are some notes:
Andrew started writing as a 16 year old and although his first novel was rejected by publishers, he wasn’t daunted and came to London as a 17 year old, determined to write and be a writer. He wrote to publishers, magazines – anyone who hired writers. In the early 70’s many new magazines were hungry for editorial so he got lots of commissions from travel, business and marketing magazines.
Marketing is the difference between an author who can earn a living from writing, and one who can’t.
This was his biggest piece of advice; he gave a good analogy to explain his point. Think about a carpenter – he could spend all year working on one piece – creating the perfect piece. But then at the end of the year, he would need to find someone to buy the piece – at a high price (to cover the year’s wages). But if the same carpenter knocked on doors – asking people if they had any jobs, offering himself as a carpenter with skills to sell, rather than pieces, then the work would flood in. Plus – and an added bonus – the carpenter could spent a night a week making the beautiful piece he always wanted to.
So Andrew became a writer-for-hire. What’s so great about being a ghost-writer?
- all the material is one place – no need to research
- the publisher is usually already in place
- delight in finding out new things, entering new worlds and having access to these worlds
- you don’t have to promote the book – you can literally move on to a new project when the final sentence is written
Who needs a ghost-writer?
- people who have stories to tell or the expertise to share but don’t have the time or skill to write a book
- people who have an audience but can’t write
Andrew likened ghost-writing to writing a monologue within a play – albeit a long monologue!
His first ‘job’ was for a business man, which then was followed by the story of a girl from Birmingham who had been sold by her father as a child bride in the Yemen. She has spent 8 years in the Yemen, together with her sister and wanted to build a platform and raise the funds to get her sister. Andrew received one low offer from a publisher but this then snowballed with a French publisher offering a large advance, and then 18 other foreign territories following. The book, Sold, became a bestseller throughout Europe and to date has sold over 4 million copies.
This gave Andrew the confidence to place a weekly ad – for twenty years – in the industry magazine, The Bookseller. This was his calling card and by having the ad in every week, it gave continuity to his promotion – whenever anyone needed a ghostwriter, they knew who to call.
Andrew doesn’t have one agent – but instead goes with the subject’s agent. He feels it is important for there to be just one agent for both the subject and the ghost writer.
The books he has ghost written can be split into four groups:
1/ Memoirs of ordinary people with extraordinary experiences
2/ Show business/celebrities
3/ Expert books
4/ International rich
The skills needed for a ghost-writer are:
- you must be able to see a story from the mass of information
- you must be able to see a narrative arc – a beginning, middle and end
- you must be un-opinionated
- you must listen to the story completely and put across the story well
- you must be trustworthy
Andrew will always give the person the ability to change anything they want to once the first draft is written. He will stay with the subject for two to three days solidly – this will produce 12-15 hours of recording which will produce the first draft.
The first draft will produce 30k words, and then will be embellished by Andrew to produce 50-60k words. He will then send the manuscript to the subject to make comments on – and after meeting then once more, the word count will be around 80k. The manuscript will then be sent to the agent and publisher for comments. This usually takes 3 months.
He always has projects on the go – in different stages – this enables him to make a living from ghost-writing.
He’s a very talented ghostwriter and a wonderful speaker. Look out for a mention of him in The Ghost, by Robert Harris, now a feature film.