Working as a ghostwriter

The recent publication of Confessions of a Ghostwriter by Andrew Crofts shines a rare spotlight on what can seem a hidden world.

Crofts has ghostwritten around 80 books, a number of which have climbed into the bestseller lists. With this sort of track record, it’s no wonder that his fees average six figures.

But most ghostwriters won’t earn anything near that amount, but they can often earn more than most publishers would pay in an advance.

Some people with stories to tell will approach a ghostwriter expecting that they will write the book for peanuts or, worse, for free.

I remember meeting a policeman who was about to retire from the Met. He’d had an interesting career, working in the drugs, robbery, and murder squads, and seemed to think his story would make him a fortune.

“The first thing we need to do is to talk about money,” I said when I sat down with him in a west London café.

“Oh, don’t worry, that’s not a problem,” he said with a shake of the head.

“But have you a figure in mind?” I asked.

“I was thinking of about five hundred quid. But we’ll go fifty fifty on the royalties.”

When I told him the true cost, his mouth fell open. “I can’t afford that – I’m going through a divorce,” he said.

No ghostwriter is going to work on the basis of future royalties, which, unless someone is a big name, are likely to be non existent.

Writing someone else’s story requires a huge amount of work. You have all the interviews to do, tapes to transcribe, research to carry out, a structure and theme to come up with (no, we don’t just write down what someone says), and then the writing and editing.

I hope Andrew Crofts’ book might lead a greater understanding and appreciation of the skills of a ghostwriter. And for those who might be thinking of hiring one, I hope they are more realistic in what it will cost them.


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