In a little more than a decade, a small academic tutoring service has bloomed into a ghostwriting company with a stable of 150 writers and editors.
Kevin Anderson has a million great stories he can’t tell you. There are the ones about working shoulder-to-shoulder with A-list supermodels, Silicon Valley tycoons, professional athletes, prominent politicians, and TV stars. There’s the one about the eccentric billionaire who insisted on meeting with Anderson’s team in a Barnes & Noble travel section within an hour of first speaking to him on the phone, and then hosted the team a week later at his private penthouse for a celebrity-studded 10-course dinner. There’s the man accused and acquitted of a terrible crime who, Anderson ultimately decided, was probably guilty. And there’s the would-be bestselling author who insisted on sending Anderson pictures of himself dressed up like a wizard in front of neon laser backdrops.
Kevin Anderson & Associates, the ghostwriting and editorial services company Anderson founded, is nearly as much about discretion as it is about books. Some projects are completely confidential. For others, he is allowed to use the ambiguous phrase “worked on” (as in: “Yes, we worked on that project”) but can’t say his team “wrote” the book. And for some, Anderson and his team get full credit for their work—even if their name is in a dramatically smaller font than that of the author.
“Authors sometimes worry about the optics of giving credit to a ghostwriter, and they don’t want readers to think that someone else really took over the project,” Anderson explains. “But the fact of the matter is, the author really is the author. We’re just a very sophisticated pen. It’s the author’s idea, their message, their stories.” He notes that in addition to their writing and editing services, his firm helps authors navigate the entire publishing process.
Anderson, who splits his time between West Newbury and New York City, never set out to be a ghostwriter. (In fact, while he used to do a fair amount of editing, he doesn’t actually do any of the ghostwriting for Kevin Anderson & Associates.) His company has its roots in a tutoring service that Anderson started when he was a Harvard graduate student majoring in postmodern literary theory and criticism (“a real lady killer,” he jokes). As the service—which is now a separate company—grew, he hired his colleagues to help keep up with demand, and most of what has happened since was simply the result of Anderson saying “yes” to some unexpected opportunities. Rather than spending half their day on the road, would his tutors help people out online? Sure. What about editing books instead of term papers? Yep. Now maybe write some of those books? Okay. Could you do a few dozen in a year? Why not!
“I’d never even heard of ghostwriting,” Anderson says. “I wasn’t really part of the publishing industry. One thing just led to another.”
This up-for-anything attitude has led to a stunningly diverse array of projects and clients—a roster that is, in some ways, a microcosm of the current moment in publishing. There are the handful of can’t-miss titles penned by household names, which garner big advances; there are the slew of emerging and midlist authors duking it out for limited resources and attention; and then there are the “book-as-a-business-card” authors, who don’t even necessarily care about traditional publishing but want to be able to demonstrate their expertise and leadership within their industry by saying, “I literally wrote the book on this.”
The 2009 survival memoir Crazy for the Storm was one of the company’s first big successes, reaching #2 on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. Anderson’s writers also co-author the Five Nights at Freddy’s horror mystery novels, the first of which hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Much of the company’s current work is for business clients. Some of these authors self-publish their books or use hybrid publishing companies (which offer wraparound publishing services in exchange for a fee), but Kevin Anderson & Associates is also in the middle of a 14-book deal with HarperCollins Leadership. The most recent of these books, Built Not Born, by Paychex founder Tom Golisano, recently hit #1 on Barnes & Noble’s bestselling business books list. In all, the company’s 150 writers and editors work on roughly 350 titles a year, with ghostwriting packages starting at around $20,000 and stretching up to around $175,000 per book.
Working with Anderson’s company provides a level of quality control prized by increasingly harried editors, says Timothy Burgard, senior acquisitions editor at HarperCollins Leadership. “We know the manuscript is not going to need as much developmental work as if it hadn’t gone through one of their writers,” Burgard says. “Kevin’s writers are very experienced in our genre, and they know the audience, which is key.”
After all these hundreds of titles, Anderson and his team are finally in the process of drafting a book about his own company’s journey. “It’s going to be a little about ghostwriting and the publishing industry,” he says. “We’ll make it funny, make it interesting. We’re still brainstorming.”
But what about a book focused on Anderson himself? Is it time for him to hire one of his ghostwriters to pen his memoirs? “Nah, my life isn’t that interesting yet,” he says. “It’s been fun, but I’ve got a lot more to do.”
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