Laura Parker investigates the ghosts in the bookcase
He’s sold more than 10 million books, but I bet you haven’t heard of him. Andrew Crofts is a ghost writer and he loves his job: “I converse with kings and billionaires, go backstage with rock stars and actors…stick my nose into everyone else's business and ask all the impertinent questions. At the same time, I also live the pleasant life of a writer.”
In 2014, having already written more than 80 books, he published the first one under his own name. In Confessions of a Ghost Writer, he sheds some light on a life lived vicariously, but remains steadfastly – and infuriatingly – tight-lipped about which royalty or rockers he has written for.
Not all ghost writers are as happy with their trade. The novelist Andrew O’Hagan eventually gave up attempting to understand Julian Assange and wrote instead about his frustrating experience as a ghost autobiographer in his fascinating The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age, published last year.
Journalist Hadley Freeman once ghosted for Victoria Beckham. Never again: “The really boring thing is that famous people lead very boring lives.”
That doesn’t stop some of those people famously producing many books. Katie Price, the glamour model formerly known as Jordan, had published six volumes of her autobiography by the time she was 38. She is also a best-selling novelist – in 2008 her first novel outsold the entire Booker shortlist – but is frank about not having written every word. “I'm not going to lie, I don't sit there with a typewriter and write it, of course I don't. I don't have time to do that.” Instead she thinks up the storyline and “it goes away to be written.” Her ghost writer, Rebecca Farnworth, co-wrote 14 of the books, including Being Jordan, which sold over a million copies worldwide, and always kept out of the limelight herself.
Does it matter who writes books? Andrew Crofts says what counts most is a good story. Literary agent Jonny Geller calls celeb memoirs all part of the entertainment industry and that we, as the public, “know what we're buying."
But although it is reasonable to assume that sports people and politicians such as Wayne Rooney or Sarah Palin use ghosts, did you know (or care) that Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook was not his own work? Did you realise that crime best-seller James Patterson’s involvement in his books (sales of over 300 million) is now more about coming up with the plot than bashing out the sentences? He is, at least, open about it and gives his co-writers credits on the covers.
I’m wondering what effect this has on those who genuinely write their own stuff, only to have the book-buying public assume someone else did it? Will anyone be bothered whether David Cameron, Chippy’s erstwhile MP, wrote his memoirs all by himself? His much-heralded autobiography is due out this year, but there is, as yet, little sign. As the deadline approaches, and he labours on, alone with his laptop, might he be thinking of calling in some help from a friendly ghost?
Ghost writing – or at least, the term, was invented Christy Walsh, who set up a syndicate in the USA in 1921 to publish books for sporting heroes.
Traditionally, a ghost receives 33% of the advance (plus royalties), but it can be as low as 10%.