Ghost Writing: Ups, Downs and Earnings

When I was a young writer living in London, I often use to chat with a most entertaining writer at publishing parties called Andrew Crofts. He was totally clear about his professional aim, and he wanted to become a top and in-demand ghost writer.

I’m sure you know this, but just in case, a ghost is someone who writes books for other people, sometimes anonymously, sometimes not. Andrew more than succeeded in his goal,getting described by The Arts Show on BBC Radio 2 as ‘ One of the most successful – if not the most successful ghostwriter in the world’ He’s penned over 80 books, with a dozen of them Sunday Times bestsellers. His Freelance Writer’s Handbook has been reprinted eight times in the past 20 years.

Now ghost writing is not for everyone. It requires sensitivity, skills of listening and collaboration and sublimation of ego. If you crave publicity and adulation as a writer, it will not be for you. But if your aim is to write fairly constantly, to meet many interesting people and to derive a great deal of satisfaction from seeing your words in print, then it may be an apt path for you. As Andrew points out on his blog:

‘Compared to many other forms of public relations and advertising, publishing a book is a very cost-effective method of putting across a message to a target market. If a company has a customer base to give or sell the book to, before it’s offered to the general public, they may recoup their initial outlay before the book even gets into the shops.

The publication of a book can be the cornerstone of a much wider corporate relations campaign, leading to interviews with the subject or the author in the media, and in some cases even to a film or television programme. But even if it doesn’t grow into a media event, a book still lives for many years as an unarguable testament to the achievements of any company or any business person.’

So if you’re hoping to write for business, then this is certainly a line to pursue.

For the last ten years, Andrew has earned about the same as the Prime Minister of the UK. In 40 years of ghostwriting, he’s made about £4 million, so averaging £100,000 a year. He can ghost 3 to 4 books a year, sometimes for a fee and sometimes for a royalties split. It is the latter that have turned out to be most lucrative.

Andrew describes starting off as young writer, with his work either getting rejected or ignored:

‘Then I discovered the secret of marketing: instead of writing things and trying to persuade people to buy them, I would find out what writing services people needed and offer to provide them. So, at the same time as begging publishers and editors for commissions, I made myself available to anyone who might want to write an article or a book but did not feel able to do it for themselves.’

His ability to earn money as a writer, to support a family and comfortable standard of living, has latterly given him time to pursue passion projects, like novel-writing and his business experience has helped him sell these projects and get good deals.

If you’d like to know more about ghostwriting then here’s Andrew’s book on the subject, and here’s his helpful blog, too.

Do hope you’re feeling the spirit here…

This month’s links are:

On Productivity: 21 Hacks From Highly Productive Writers

A most comprehensive blog post with lots of infographics on How To Earn Money As A Writer

And as podcasts seem to be mentioned with increasing frequency these days, for those of you who like them or who’d like to sample, here’s a Facebook post about them from the excellent Writers Helping Writers Facebook group.

Happy listening.