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.
Andrew’s name first became known amongst publishers for the stories he brought them by the otherwise disenfranchised. Travelling all over the world he worked with victims of enforced marriages in North Africa and the Middle East, sex workers in the Far East, orphans in war-torn areas like Croatia and dictatorships like Romania, victims of crimes and abused children everywhere. He also worked with members of the criminal fraternity.
As well as using traditional publishers to reach readers, he has also published his own fiction, most recently “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”, which draws on his experience amongst the powerful and wealthy.
Andrew is on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors. He lectures on the subject of making a living from writing at Kingston University and frequently guests at writing workshops, literary festivals and in the media. He blogs regularly on matters pertaining to publishing, self-publishing and writing.
How did you first get involved with ghostwriting?
I was working as a freelance journalist about 30 years ago, doing an interview with a management guru for The Director Magazine. At the end of the interview the guru told me he had been commissioned to write a series of books but didn’t have the time.
“Why don’t you do them?” he suggested. “Then I can have the glory and you can have the money.”
I was insulted for about ten seconds and then realised that this was a brilliant way to get access to interesting material very fast. The publishing deal was already in place and I would be able to move on to another project as soon as I had finished writing this one.
Following this epiphany I took classified ads, “Ghostwriter for Hire”, in The Bookseller and Publishing News, every week for about fifteen years, until the Internet took over as the source of leads.
How would you define the primary role of a ghostwriter?
The primary role of the ghostwriter is to produce the book which the subject would write if they had the time, expertise and inclination
How does the process of ghostwriting change depending on the subject?
It doesn’t change a great deal. I start by getting the material out of them in any way I can. That might be two days of solid interviews or a series of shorter ones. There might be some existing material to be read and possibly other people to talk to, (I prefer not to talk to other people, as that can confuse the “point-of-view”).
I then go away and write a first draft, which will probably be about half the length of the final book. We will meet again and they will either say “fine, keep going” or they will explain to me where I might be going wrong. I will also ask all the questions which have risen in my mind during the writing of the draft. I will then write a final draft. We can go on tweaking it for as long as they, or the publisher, want.
In some cases they don’t have a publisher and I will start by writing a ‘selling package’ consisting of a synopsis, sample material, chapter breakdown etc, and will then go to agents and publishers on their behalf, only writing the final book once we have a deal.
If they want to self-publish I am happy to oversee the whole process for them.
How can you best maintain a positive collaborative relationship with your subject / client? What pitfalls do you need to avoid?
Never argue with them. You are there to write their books for them, not to change their minds about anything.
If, for example, they are running an oppressive dictatorship somewhere, or working as a hit-man or sniper, it is my job to help them explain why they work the way they do, not to show them the error of their ways. If I argue with them they will become defensive and clam up. I need to coax them to open up and talk as freely as possible. It’s a bit like being a barrister getting a client’s story clear so that they argue on his/her behalf in court.
They need to feel as safe and comfortable with me as they would with their doctor, their lawyer or their accountant. I am on their side from start to finish.
If they want to make a change to the book that I don’t agree with I will explain to them why I think it would be better to do it my way, but if they still want to do it their way that is what will happen.
How do you best achieve the right tone of voice on each project you’ve been hired to work on?
I think that may just be a knack. It is a bit like acting and a bit like writing a very long monologue. Once you have spent some time with someone you know what they sound like. You know the sort of things they are likely to want to talk about. You know what their opinions are. You know words they would or wouldn’t use. The voice just flows from there. A sixty year-old Oxbridge-educated Finance Minister or General is going to sound very different to a fourteen year-old girl who has been white slaved from a council estate in Birmingham or someone who has been raised in an orphanage in Romania.
Tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
I have just published a novella of my own with a ghostwriter as the central character, called “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”, and re-published an older one called “Pretty Little Packages”.
“Secrets of the Italian Gardener” tells the story of a wealthy dictator of a volatile Middle Eastern country, who enlists a ghostwriter to tell his story to the world, enshrining him in history as a glorious ruler, just at the moment when everything outside the palace walls is about to explode.
My agent tells me it is “a contemporary re-casting of Ecclesiastes, a story about the vanity associated with the desire for power and possessions and ultimately about the cycle of birth, growth, death and re-birth”, which was a surprise but a pleasant one.
“Pretty Little Packages” is about a ghostwriter who is approached by a girl who tells him someone has “stolen her beautiful new breasts”, which leads to him uncovering a people-trafficking scam with a difference.
I am also working with a variety of clients from Africa and the Middle East, re-working a novel for a gentleman in Australia and I have on-going projects in both the US and UK.