WHAT IS A GHOSTWRITER/SURROGATE AUTHOR?
Thanks to Robert Harris's 2007 novel 'The Ghost' and its 2010 cinematic interpretation,'The Ghost Writer' (directed by Roman Polanski, and starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall & Olivia Williams), ghostwriting has acquired an upsurge in respectability of late. I'm always surprised that people are surprised, whenever I let slip that this or that Hollywood legend, rock superstar or sports personality didn't pen their own memoir or autobiography – considering the multi-million pound contracts such tomes can attract. People tell me that they feel 'cheated' to 'find this out'. 'I wish I'd known, I wouldn't have bothered buying it!' some whinge. You can bet your last razoo that they would have anyway.
THINK ABOUT IT:
When would folk so desirable, so jet-set, so relentlessly in demand, find time in their lunatic schedules to write a whole book? It's a massively time-consuming and exhausting undertaking – even when you know the story first-hand, because you lived it. Besides, these people are not professional writers. They might relish the idea of 'having written', but would find the thought of having to commit to slaving every day over an entire 100,000-odd-word manuscript a most prohibitive task. While they may well be educated, hyper-intelligent and irresistibly engaging, they usually lack the skills required to organise their thoughts, compartmentalise their experiences and relationships, plot an accurate timeline and 'get it down on paper' – to the tune of an invariably punishing deadline that affords room for little else. Time, and the publishing editor, wait for no one.
WRITING IS NOT THEIR JOB -
- it is mine. I have years of experience at interviewing, research, planning, plotting and drafting. They are second-nature to me. So is that other vital element of the equation: mastering the 'author's' voice. Having conducted many hundreds of interviews with people from all walks of life, all over the world, over the past twenty five years, I have an extremely accurate ear. I have never yet had a manuscript hurled back at me.
I honed my craft on the toughest street on earth – Fleet Street, London - as a newspaper journalist. I have since published many books, several of them under my own name, including 'Freddie Mercury The Definitive Biography', 'Ride a White Swan: The Lives & Death of Marc Bolan', 'Naomi Campbell: The Rise & Rise of the Girl from Nowhere' and a 'beginner's novel'(we all have to start somewhere), 'Blade on a Mirror'. A number of my books have been collaborations with other authors, such as 'The Sony Rock Review', with Robin Eggar & Phil Swern, and 'Excuses, Excuses' with Gray Jolliffe. Some have been written under pseudonyms - for example, the novel 'Wow!' by Amy Auden, which I wrote with Caris Davis, and a Kylie Minogue biography, 'The Superstar Next Door', co-written with Roger Tavener, Garry Jenkins and Martyn Palmer, and published under the pseudonym 'Sasha Stone'. Several more have borne the bylines of those whose stories I was chosen to tell anonymously, leaving my name off the jacket completely. I have spoken on the subject at literary festivals, workshops and in masterclasses, on radio and on television in the UK, USA and India. The 'anonymous' titles I have worked on include five novels and a volume of short stories; the family memoir of a Saudi prince based at the Dorchester; a volume of anecdotes about her own pony, commissioned as a gift for an East Coast daughter with everything; a retirement memoir for a captain of industry as a parting gift to his staff - they each received an engraved copy; and a 25,000-word wedding-gift 'love letter' from a groom to his bride.
None. If you have the story – your autobiography, a family memoir, a shocking experience to divulge, a universally life-changing revelation to share, or even a brilliant idea for a novel – but you lack both the time and requisite skills to be able to turn it into a book, let's talk about it. If it grabs me, we can arrange to meet.
If we hit it off and if there's an opening in the schedule, I may be able to write it for you. I will also keep our collaboration a total secret. Our mutually-beneficial non-disclosure agreement will allow you to enjoy all the glory and publicity on publication. I wouldn't even dream of crashing your launch.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Negotiable. I'll be devoting a minimum of six months to your project: a full-time commitment for me. I usually request 50% of the fee in advance, with the balance payable on delivery of manuscript. Expenses are charged on top. If, for example, you want me to rock up at your palace in Jordan to spend five or six days interviewing you in one hit, please bear in mind that I am UK-based (I live in London), and that my travel, accommodation and incidentals will be at your expense, payable in advance. With a little notice, I can meet you anywhere in the world at your convenience. In the unlikely event that you change your mind after signing the contract and once the work is underway, the 50% advance is non-refundable. Just so that you know.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
Again, negotiable. How many interviews I may need to conduct with you will depend on you, your story, and on how long and in-depth you want it to be. If I need to do research, and perhaps even interview others for the purpose, the process will take longer. You can generally bank on about ten recorded interview sessions of two to three hours each. I will then prepare a transcript of your interviews for you to read – at which point you can eliminate anything you're not happy with. It is YOUR story. I will suggest ways of organising the book, which we will agree, and I'll go away and write it. It will normally take me around four months to produce a first draft. We hone and refine it until you are completely satisfied.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Once you have the manuscript in your hand or on your computer, it's up to you. I do not engage in the search for a publisher. It's not what I'm good at. I have neither the time nor the inclination. I prefer to spend my working hours researching and writing. It may well be that you have a publishing offer and contract before you even approach me. That being the case, you're more than halfway there. I do not undertake the research and purchase of images, copy-editing or legal reads etc – your publisher will oversee all of this. I will not, unless you are an international celebrity whose book is likely to sell millions of copies planetwide, expect a percentage of your royalties. If, however, you are a household name, I accept 10%.
IF I DON'T HAVE A PUBLISHER, HOW DO I GET ONE?
Happily, you are no longer dependent on landing a deal with a mainstream publisher. The discerning, budget-conscious major houses are commissioning fewer titles than ever, so your book had better be good. If you are hell-bent on this route, you will need an excellent literary agent to pitch it and negotiate on your behalf: publishers hate dealing with wannabe authors 'off the street'.
There are alternatives. The digital age has facilitated self-publishing to such a degree that many authors now favour it over the traditional route. lulu.com amazon.co.uk and amazon.com are well worth a try. Many internet publishers will Print on Demand at competitive rates. You can bypass the print process completely, if you like, and publish an e-book for Kindle/iPad/equivalent. You can go to a crowd-funding publisher such as unbound.co.uk who have recently made history with their first million-seller, and also with their first Man Booker Prize nominee, Paul Kingsnorth ('The Wake'). He won't be the last.
I'll look forward to hearing from you.