With a bachelor’s in English and K-12 Education and a master’s in Library and Information Sciences, Amber Cross began her career teaching children how to write before she transitioned into ghostwriting. She has ghostwritten many novels and nonfiction texts that span a wide range of genres. Cross is always looking forward to new projects that challenge her creative skills.
NP: There’s a saying along the lines of – if you have something to write but are not a writer, you hire a “ghost.” How would you define your role as a ghostwriter and your ghostwriting philosophy? And what types of projects are you working on?
Cross: When people ask me what I do for a living, and I reply with “I am a ghostwriter,” I am often met with a look of puzzlement followed by “what is that?” Briefly, my answer is something along the lines of, I write books for other people when they can’t do it themselves. This of course brings up a host of other questions about fairness, money, credit, and ethics.
The truth is ghostwriting is so much more than simply writing a book and letting someone else take credit. Every job I have ever done has been a collaboration. My clients bring expertise, creativity, knowledge and ideas. In this world, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Someone who has extensive knowledge about the inner workings of your heart, or nutrition or the economics of the lumber industry may not have the skills to put those ideas on paper. This is where I come in. I help organize their thoughts and put them down on paper. Just like a songwriter might give their song to a different or better singer to be performed.
I see myself as a facilitator for the creativity of others. I bring my own knowledge and experience to their project in order to create a book that other people want to read. I find it thrilling to watch someone else’s ideas realized in words. I feel that ghostwriting affords me the opportunity and space to truly craft words into sentences rather than just string words together to form coherent thoughts.
I have been lucky enough to work on a wide variety of projects. I have written mystery novels, romance novels, true crime, self-help, nutrition, memoirs and medical books. I love the opportunity each new client provides me to learn new things.
NP: What is your process in accepting a project and preparing to write about it? And have you found that a number of clients are not sure of their targeted audience? What are the specifics of your approach?
Cross: Most people who reach out to a ghostwriter are doing so because they know they need help. That means they are often disorganized or unclear on their own idea for a book. More often than not, creativity can be an unruly force. It is my job to reign in their ideas, give them context and format. I like to start with a lot of conversations and interviews. Many clients benefit from a sounding board that will provide reasonable feedback. Also, through targeted questions the client often finds their own focus and voice.
From there, I like to create an outline. Seeing the structure of their ideas provides a clear path towards completion. It brings the ideas into a clearer picture. Although creating an outline for a client is hardly innovative or new, it does create a path forward for them to hold on to. Working with a ghostwriter can be an overwhelming process, especially for someone who has never worked with one.
Organizing my own work and thoughts is highly dependent on the type of project I am working on. My library and information science degree has helped me in my research and personal organization. I like to create sub-topics within my research and notes. The smaller I break down an idea the more manageable it becomes. This is true both for the set up and the writing itself. I highly recommend the program Scrivener. It has built-in organization that has helped me a lot.
NP: There are large numbers of competitive corporate “ghostwriters” and student writers. What advantages does the independent ghostwriter bring to a project?
Cross: I find that I have to answer this question all of the time. There was a time when the only option was an independent ghostwriter. The publishing companies and big business saw an opportunity and now the market is flooded with large companies making big promises or student writers working for pennies.
Often ghostwriting companies are a front for publishing companies. They will provide package deals of ghostwriting and publishing on the cheap. Which is very alluring to an average person who has limited disposable income.
The most valuable advantage of working with an independent ghostwriter is that you always know whom you are working with. I have very close relationships with all of my clients. They will text me ideas in the middle of the night or we will have lengthy phone conversations on the fly. My goal is to always provide individualized attention to my clients. I generally only take on one client at a time. We work together until the book is exactly what they want.
Choosing to share your ideas with another person is a very personal experience. Individuals are often just a dollar sign to these companies as they shuffle you around. In order to make a profit, they will give your project to an inexperienced ghostwriter who gets a tiny fraction of what you are paying. A client would be lucky to speak to their writer directly or get changes made if they felt the need.
Student writers on the other hand fill a niche to some extent. There are people who have very limited funds and don’t mind a finished product that is mediocre or amateurish because they plan to finalize it themselves.
Hiring a large company or a student writer is a gamble. A well-vetted independent ghostwriter is always the surest way to get the finished product you are looking for. My advice to all of my clients is to have a conversation with whomever you are considering hiring. You will know pretty quickly if this is someone you feel you connect with and trust with your ideas.
NP: Ghostwriting can be exciting work if not intriguing at times, as I have personally discovered in helping clients and their concern for confidentiality. Have you experienced that and do you see any trends in the area of the future of ghostwriting? What do you think those trends might be? Is technology affecting the nature, process and quality of ghostwriting?
Cross: Confidentiality is important to most of my clients regardless of the type of material. I find that there can be a stigma to admitting to the use of a ghostwriter because it is assumed that the author is a fraud or did not actually “write” the book. While it is true that I put words on paper, the clients I work with are authors. I hope any stigma that exists surrounding ghostwriting changes towards acceptance, and it becomes seen as a collaboration much like any other work of entertainment or art. Even authors who do not use ghostwriters still have an army of people helping them on the road to publication.
One trend I do see coming when I speak with other independent ghostwriters is the legitimizing of the profession. Despite the stigma, people are realizing the need for ghostwriters and it is becoming a profession marked by some element of standardization. Standardization of experiences, education, marketing and pricing that truly qualified ghostwriters meet. This is in part due to technology. Ghostwriters are no longer working in isolation. Communities are created through LinkedIn and Facebook. Prospective clients have a huge range of ghostwriters to choose from. Gone are the days in which a ghostwriter can work outside of the industry standards.
This trend is positive for the consumers looking for a ghostwriter. There are certain safety nets in place that any good ghostwriter will meet such as contracts, confidentiality agreements and payment plans.