Ghostwriting: Everyone likes being in control

Ghostwriting—the business of quietly collaborating on writing projects with others who generally get the credit—is a fascinating and often misunderstood corner of the publishing world. Ghostwriters bridge the gap between celebrities, executives, and others who have amazing stories to tell but no time to write them, and a global audience hungry to hear those stories.

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter par excellence, having “ghosted” more than eighty books, including a dozen bestsellers. He has also written two books on the craft: the memoir Confessions of a Ghostwriter and a handbook for writers, Ghostwriting. We asked Andrew to weigh in on how self-publishing is changing the game for his profession. He started by describing one particularly nerve-racking meeting.

“So,” my client chuckled darkly, “now we need to find a publisher.”

As a general he had led his army in a successful coup. As a president he had ruled his country with a firm hand while simultaneously building an immense private fortune. I was trying to imagine how this seventy-year-old man was going to react to finding himself pitching the autobiography I had just ghosted for him to a bunch of publishing people less than half his age, who were quite likely to reject the concept of the book as “not commercial enough” for their lists. The very thought of arranging and enduring a series of such meetings made me shudder.

“We could go to the traditional publishing companies,” I said, “but if we do that then you would have to be prepared to lose virtually all control of the project. They would decide when it was published, how many copies they would print, what the title would be, what the cover would look like…” He was glancing around at his advisers, who were returning his look of total incomprehension. “They might even insist on editorial changes.”

“But it is my story,” he growled.

“Indeed it is,” I agreed, picturing the horrified responses I would get from the publishers if they felt they were actually expected to follow the instructions of the author on all the matters about which they believed themselves to be expert. “So it might be better for you to maintain control of the whole publishing process yourself. That way you get to call the shots on every aspect of the publication process. You decide on what goes into the book, what it looks like and when you want it to come out. You will also get to keep a much greater share of any money that it earns.”

I sensed that the atmosphere in the room was becoming a great deal more comfortable.

It is a conversation which I have been having increasingly often with clients as the costs of self-publishing come down, the standards go up and the divisions between books that are funded by an author and books that are funded by a publishing corporation begin to disappear.

In the first months of 2015 an erotic memoir called Chances which I ghosted for a lady who goes under the pseudonym of “Penny,” will be published by RedDoor, whom Penny commissioned to be our publishing partner. She also hired Midas, probably the best-known publishing marketing consultancy in London. We made the decision to follow this route when some of the traditional publishing houses failed to see the potential for a “non-fiction version of Fifty Shades,” while others objected to the idea of the author remaining anonymous, and others were horrified by the steaminess of the contents. There were deals put on the table but none of them reflected the potential which Penny, her partner, James, and I, believed the book actually had. Self-publishing was once again the way forward.

I have been ghostwriting for thirty years now, and for the first twenty years self-published books were extremely rare, but more and more now I am being asked by clients to not only write the books but to help them to get all the way to publication. They want to avoid the gruelling and often humiliating and disappointing process of trying to persuade a traditional publisher to provide the seed money in exchange for virtually all creative and commercial control of the project.

I’m not pretending that self-publishing is right for every book. There are still some genres which benefit from being part of a larger, more impersonal publishing machine. London super-agent Andrew Lownie sold “Secret Child” by Gordon Lewis, another of my projects, to HarperCollins in a traditional publishing deal just the other day, but increasingly the best way forward is the one which leaves the authors with the greatest possible amount of power over the product and the process. In some cases self-publishing also gives the authors a greater chance of earning a decent amount of money for their efforts, although that is still, and always will be, I suspect, a lottery—just like the traditional publishing model.


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