I was working as a general freelance writer, straight out of school, when someone I was interviewing for a magazine told me he had been commissioned to write three books but didn’t have the time. He asked me to ghost them for him so that he would benefit from the publicity without the problem of doing the writing. He told me I could have the money from the publisher.
It seemed like such a good idea I started advertising “Ghostwriter for Hire” in The Bookseller magazine and other people started to approach me. The next book I ghosted was Sold by Zana Muhsen, which was her story of being sold as a child bride in the Yemen. It went on to sell more than five million copies. After that more and more people approached me with stories, including publishers and literary agents.
5 Good Reasons to Become a Ghostwriter
1. It is an excellent way to make a good living as a professional freelance writer, which is generally one of the hardest and worst paid professions in the world.
2. It allows you to meet and get to know the most interesting people in the world whether they are inventors or reality television stars, dictators or bonded labourers, call girls or bank robbers.
3. It allows you to travel to all the places you ever dreamed of, whether that is great cities like London, New York, Paris or Dubai, paradise islands in the Caribbean or South Pacific, or inaccessible areas in deepest Africa.
4. It gives you permission to ask really impertinent, (and therefore really interesting), questions, the sort of questions you would love to ask people at dinner parties. “How did you make so much money?” “Why did you get divorced so many times?” What made you marry him, of all people?” “What is your sex life like?” “How much do you earn?”
5. You also get to spend a lot of time with your family and alone with your thoughts in your working shed/spare bedroom.
I learned that in order to get enough compelling material to fill a book I just needed to start a conversation and press “record”. Once the interviewees had forgotten the tape was running I could then encourage them to open up their hearts.
5 Golden Rules for Successful Interviewing
1. Take time at the beginning to form a normal social relationship so that it feels like a conversation to them, not an interrogation. Make them totally comfortable. Pay them compliments, (genuine ones), make them realise that you are interested in them and whatever they have to say.
2. Get your interviewee to start at the beginning of the story in order to be sure your understanding has solid foundations. Never pretend you understand anything that you don’t. Always stop them and ask apparently stupid questions if necessary.
3. Never hesitate to move them on if they are going in circles, repeating themselves or going off at a tangent. Remind them that there is a specific story that you are trying to follow with them.
4. Never shy away from asking an embarrassing question, (you can always apologise if they are offended). Most people will answer spontaneously.
5. Once they are up and running, keep quiet and let them do the talking. Don’t interrupt with your own thoughts and opinions, (unless you are still at stage one and forming a relationship). You need to know exactly what they are thinking and feeling and what they saw and heard and experienced. Almost nothing you can tell them about yourself or your opinions can be of any help.
Confessions of a Ghostwriter by Andrew Crofts is out this week from The Friday Project.