Ghostwriting Advice: What to charge?

Illustrator: Kalin Nachev

Illustrator: Kalin Nachev

In a comment to one of last week’s posts, Jeannie asked several questions that I thought might be of interest to many followers of this blog:

1.  I’ve been asked to ghostwrite a memoir. How much can I reasonably ask to be paid?

2.  Can I expect royalties if the book is made into a movie (the author is already in talks with a producer)

3.  Would you advise me to engage an entertainment lawyer?

4.  Do you have any suggestions for getting an agent?

Here are my answers (please note: I have updated and revised my answers as of 2014 to reflect the current market):

1. Ghostwriting fees vary widely. Let’ s assume you are a beginner at ghostwriting. Ghostwriting fees in the range of $12,000 – $15,000 are usually the low end for a book of 200-300 pages.  A much shorter book (let’s say 80-100 pages) might only be $8,000 – $12,000. There are folks out there who charge even less, but they generally don’t have much experience, and their products are unlikely to be of traditional publishing quality. For a book of 250-300 pages, an experienced book author, book editor or ghostwriter would commonly charge $25,000 – $30,000 and up.

If you are writing a book of traditional publishing quality and it will be 200 pages or more, a starting place might be around $15,000 (again, if you are a beginner, there is little or no research involved and you will get most of the information through interviews with the author). However, if you have already written books, I would suggest something more like $25,000 – $30,000. And if you are very experienced as an author or editor, you might consider something more like $30,000 – $40,000 for a book in the 200-300 page range.

If you will be doing extensive research, you can increase your fees to reflect research time. If you already have publishing credits to your name, you should also charge more. Experienced ghostwriters tend to charge between $20,000 – $60,000 and even more.

You may want to negotiate a modest royalty and see where it goes. I wouldn’t make it a deal breaker, but it’s worth pursuing as a possibility. Another negotiating point is whether your name is on the cover as a co-author or “as told to.” Depending on your goals, this may be worthwhile for you. In addition, you want to ask the author whether they are comfortable giving you credit as either writer or editor. If not, will they allow you to mention the project at all to prospective clients? If not, this can be a negative for you when you are trying to land the next project.

Yes, I recommend hiring an intellectual property attorney. Do be careful. Try to find a person through personal referrals–someone who’s used this lawyer specifically for a ghostwriting contract. If you can’t find that, ask the lawyer for references who’ve used him or her for ghostwriting contracts.

I once hired a lawyer for a ghostwriting contract and the client ran out of money. The lawyer had not even written in anything about late fees, let alone anticipated the situation. Instead he told me, “If you need a lawyer to collect, just let me know.” I think he should have said, “I’m sorry I did a terrible job for you and didn’t deliver what you paid me for!”

The lawyer was my friend’s husband and I learned my lesson–don’t hire a friend unless you know they have experience in the exact area you are looking for and you know they are excellent at what they do.

If the client is asking you to help find an agent and publisher, you will need to write a book proposal. I highly recommend Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal. Both agents and publishers love proposals written in Michael’s format–it’s thorough and marketing-oriented. A typical ghostwriting fee for a book proposal is $10,000 – $18,000, which includes sample chapters and chapter outlines or summaries, in addition to all the marketing-oriented information specific to a book proposal. However, if you are new to this, I would recommend a lower fee or hire an experienced book proposal coach or editor to help you fine tune the proposal.

It’s always great if you can meet agents in person and pitch a book, though a good query letter can do the job as well. Two of my favorite places to meet agents are Harvard Medical School’s CME Publishing Course in March and the International Women Writers Guild’s (IWWG) Meet the Agents during their BIg Apple Conference every April and October. IWWG also has regional workshops that may have agents present.

Have you thought of ghostwriting? Wondering how to break in? Tomorrow, I plan to follow up Jeannie’s questions with a few more ideas for anyone contemplating a ghostwriting project or career as a ghostwriter.

This writer cares about typos. If you find one, click here to be part of the EditMob – it’s anonymous.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for recommending Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal. Within the first few pages I realized I’d found the “Bible” on how to write a book proposal. It’s been my constant companion and guide throughout this first writing venture. I believe he’s provided us with a template from which we can create a great proposal and promotional plan that will get noticed. From how to incorporate “hooks” and tag lines, to identifying target markets, to the necessity of providing pertinent related statistics, to even choosing a good title, I have complete confidence in Michael’s recommendations. The case studies and “Hot Tips” he includes have also provided valuable assistance. I’ll pass on your recommendation!

  2. Jeannie says

    Dear Lisa,

    Thank you for your extremely helpful advice. Thank God for the Internet! I just didn’t know where to start and now I feel like I’m on more sure footing. I’m checking into the IWWG thing- I would love to go to that. I’m going to order the Michael Larsen book too.

    I’ll let you know how it’s going as negotiations continue!

    Thanks again,

    Jeannie

  3. says

    Hi Maria,
    I knew you’d love Michael Larsen’s book. I’ve recently been buying books about book proposal writing just to see what else is out there and even see if I could pick up a new idea or two on social networking, web 2.0 and other newer marketing techniques.
    Disappointing…the new books just don’t cut it–they offer a much fluffier look at book proposals. Many seemed to copy the advice they did have right out of Larsen’s book. Even the sample proposals are generally weaker. In fact, I wondered if a few left out some of their “top secrets” because they didn’t seem to offer any eye popping marketing plans or powerful internet strategies. More of the same. Makes me think your statement about it being the Bible of the industry is quite accurate.

    • says

      Yes, you can. Often, agents and publishers like to see the additional information in a book proposal, such as the promotion plan and author platform. However, you may need more sample pages (usually 50) than with other nonfiction/how-to books.

  4. Toianna says

    Hello, Lisa!

    For the first time ever, I am negotiating my way into being someone’s ghostwriter. We are talking about a long term relationship, whereby I become that person’s writing voice for the duration of her career. She is looking for help with books, articles, maybe blogging, newsletters.
    Although I have decades of writing experience (not publishing), I have never before officially done ghostwriting.
    Prior to reading your blog or doing adequat research, I suggested to the prospective employer $10/hour April 15 to June 15 for research, writing articles,and we have not ironed out what all…then re negotiation in June.
    I am not locked in with any contract, but rather than asking for more money I’m not sure I am worth yet, would I be best to set parameters about what the $10/hr or $1600.00 per month includes? OR should I say upon further reflection, I am worth $15.00/hour?
    Should I agree to write x amount of research, writing articles and blogs, and exclude book fees to compensate for my low fees?
    Am I shortchanging the person or myself by proving my merit to myself — as much as to the person, — then in mid June spike my costs to twice what I am asking ($3200.00 range per month) if the person is pleased (and more to the point a 3rd party publisher is pleased) with my work?
    Please get me started.
    Thank you.

    • says

      Dear Toianna,
      Congratulations on your foray into ghostwriting. It’s tricky to change your pricing once you have already suggested a lower price. However, it can be done. I think your question about what your work is worth is also a good one. Without seeing your writing and without knowing how fast or slowly you work, it’s hard for me to know. However, $10/hour does sound quite low to me. Many ghostwriters charge by the word or project.

      While am I not an entertainment lawyer, so do not know what you should put in your contract, specifically, it seems to me that if you are paid by the month, you have some agreement about how many hours that is. I do think that if you’re planning on “Spiking” your fees, it’s best that you discuss this up front with the person and maybe even have that in the contract–that by the third month or fourth month your fees would increase to $20/hr.

      If the person is looking for a traditional publisher, they will need a book proposal. Will you be writing book proposals? If so, I do suggest you get Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal, as well as Terry Whalen’s Book Proposals That Sell. Publishers do not want to see the book, but rather a book proposal. Even with a good book, a book proposal can benefit from having someone experienced in book proposals looking it over and providing feedback. Perhaps you want to include some funds for that in the contract. It will probably increase your client’s chances of getting published.

      Good luck!

  5. says

    Hi Lisa,
    I’m grateful to have found your site, and found this post especialy helpful.

    I’ve got a client interested in an eBook, and I’m not sure what to charge. No details have been decided yet — in fact, he hasn’t committed yet — but I’m assuming 12-point type, double-spaced and probably 10,000 words or less.

    Thanks,
    John Christensen

    • says

      Hi John,
      For a 40 page book, I’d say it depends partly on whether you need to do any research, but if he’s providing all the materials, or you’re interviewing him, I’d recommend charging around $2,500 – $3,000. If he’s not so focused on polish and quality, you might quote something lower. If there’s lots of research involved, you might want to charge more. For more pages, I would definitely charge more.
      Freelance writers charge all kinds of numbers across the board, but generally, clients get what they pay for. They can find someone very cheap to write a book, but the quality won’t be there and it may have many errors or be fairly unreadable. Good luck with the project. Sometimes I am looking for freelance writers for projects that aren’t a fit for me personally. Do feel free to send me a resume and writing sample if you are interested in projects.

  6. Candace says

    This is a very helpful blog Lisa – and I will pick up the book proposal publication you recommend.

    I have been asked to quote on a 200 page health book. I am an experienced business and marketing writer with 15 years experience writing everything from PR articles and newsletters to ads and web content.

    I was thinking of charging 10-12,000 – with 50% upfront. This would include content interviewing etc – the works. With 50% upfront. Or perhaps 3 equal payments

    Should I ask for royalties? Is there wording to be worked into the quote.

    Any other recommended resource for novice book writers?

    Thanks
    Candace

    • says

      Hi Candace,

      Given that the book requires research, I’d say you could charge $15-20K (or more) depending on your experience. If it’s your first book, then your pricing is probably good.

      One third up front may be more customary, though the person may want to pay for a sample chapter first and make sure they are happy with the writing style. I often have the final payment be smaller than the others if it’s paid at the very end, so that you don’t have to “collect” after they have received services.

      You could certainly ask for royalties, especially if you are charging at the lower end. Some people are comfortable with that and some are not. Best thing would be to get wording from an attorney or look online for a ghostwriting agreement.

      I do have a course to complete a first draft of your book in 60 days (usually that does not include research). You can let me know if you are interested in that or in the book and workbook that comes with the course (I do sell that separately). It takes you through exercises that help you create a solid foundation for the book–a compelling concept that addresses your readers’ needs and wants. And it also walks you through some of the logistical issues like making the time and getting support and accountability.

      Good luck with the project and enjoy.
      Lisa

  7. Judith Ann says

    I have been asked to help an elderly businessman and entrepreneur organize, edit and write his memoirs. I’m not sure what to charge but considering the time I have to spend reviewing what he & his wife have already compiled, interviewing him and editing and writing — I’m figuring on spending at least 4 – 6 hours a week on the project — I am a freelance writer and retired educator — would $50.00 an hour be a reasonable fee to charge him?? Thank you. Judith Ann

    • says

      Hi Judith Ann,

      Generally, I would suggest a cost for the entire project, but I would create parameters around it. For instance, it might include x number of revisions and x number of hours research and would cost $15,000. Generally, $15,000 is a good starting place for a ghostwritten book, particularly if you haven’t ghostwritten a book before.

  8. PJ says

    I’m a screenwriter by trade, but I’m about to undergo my first ghostwriting experience. Would it be reasonable to ask for exclusivity in writing the screenplay as part of the deal?

  9. says

    Hi Lisa,
    Your writing site is wonderful – so glad I stumbled upon it!

    I have been asked to ghostwrite a self help book for a psychologist. He has written the book basically, but it needs a lot of work, especially reworking/rearranging chapters and then tying it altogether within a yet to be developed theme.
    He had also talked to me about marketing.

    This would be my first ghostwriting experience, however I have written multiple magazine articles and collaborated on a couple of books. He has told me to be fair to myself in what I charge, but with the numbers all over the place, hours vs pages, project vs time,…,I’m stumped.

    Also is there a difference in cost expectations for someone writing in the Midwest rather than on the coasts?

    Could you give me some advice?
    Thanks – Molly :-)

    • says

      Hi Molly,
      Congratulations on the ghostwriting job.
      I would definitely separate the marketing and the writing parts of the project.
      My guess is, since it’s your first ghostwriting experience, you might go a little lower on price than average, but not much, since you have collaborated on books before.
      Every book takes a different amount of time. I would say, estimate how much time it will take you, add in some slack since it always takes longer, and think about how much you want to make per hour.
      Then look at per page pricing and compare to see that they’re not light years apart.

      Pricing for ghostwriting varies tremendously. Often, a starting figure is $15K and it goes up from there, but a shorter book (100 or 150 pages) or other circumstances, might mean you’re willing to charge less. I’ve also seen that many writers are charging less due to the economy.

      Fortunately, your client has been clear not to short-change yourself.

      One thing I suggest is to have the agreement include a certain number of phone conversations, a certain number of revisions, etc. and then a per hour charge should you go over that limit. This way, if the book changes dramatically, or there is some unforeseen additional work, you get paid for the additional time.

      Every project is individual. I recently spoke with another ghostwriter and we came up with some ways to estimate her time and come up with a fee. Good luck!

  10. says

    Lisa,
    Thanks so much for your expertise and quick turn-around on your response!
    I also appreciate your personal email and additional advice and comments. Now I know I have a go-to person!
    Molly :-)

  11. EG says

    Thanks for all the great information!

    I’m still trying to establish myself as a writer, and currently i’m the editor of two newsletters for non-profit agencies. I’m also in the the middle of ghostwriting a book with my father, which will probably be published by the non-profit he works for. I’ve also received a request to ghostwrite a book with another acquaintance.

    Since I won’t be getting paid for any of these projects, (except for a percentage of any royalties), will they be viewed as valid experience? Can I claim to have “published” books if they are published by a small non-profit agency?

    • says

      EG, yes, once these books are published, whether self-published or by a small non-profit agency, you can certainly call yourself a published author. Just be sure that they are well edited and represent you well, especially if you want to get more (paid) ghostwriting projects or wish to share them with potential writing clients.

  12. Author Unknown says

    This site is very interesting.
    I have also received an invitation to Ghost write for an author who is writing a biography of her experiences. She would like 2 chapters and a marketing plan as well as choices to send it to. How much should I charge for this venture? Assuming that each chapter will contain approx 3000-4500 words and a marketing plan which will include a press release.
    I appreciate any help you can offer. Thanks in advance.
    Author Unknown

    • Lisa Tener says

      Ghostwriting fees vary considerably. Generally, for a full book, I would suggest not going below $15K as long as you have considerable writing experience. If you are a novice and want to do this for your portfolio, you might charge less. For determining agents to send to, maybe charge a couple hundred dollars, though you can certainly charge less. For marketing plan, if you have lots of experience, that is a very valuable part of a proposal and takes time and expertise, so you can charge anywhere from $500 to $1,500 for that depending on the ideas contained and how proven or fresh they are.

      For the two chapters, I’d say $1,000-$2,000 a chapter, depending on your level of expertise, but you can charge more than that if you are a very experienced writer. Most agents and publishers will want to see 50 pages and then the whole memoir before they sign her, so you’ll probably need to write the whole thing and have a book proposal to interest publishers. See Mike Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal for your format. I assume this is a memoir (not famous person and about a period of the person’s life, not their whole life). If it is truly about their whole life, they’d better be pretty interesting and famous. Do be mindful whether you call this autobiography or memoir. You want to sound knowledgeable. Good luck!

  13. Tamiko Gordon says

    I’m a self published author, and now I want to take my publishing to the next level. I self published with Iuniverse, but I want to public under my company Blondie’s Publications. Please help me.

    • Lisa Tener says

      You’ll have to look at your contract with I-Universe for any previously published books. For new books, you can call yourself a publisher and just get the books printed POD or offset. Indie Reader has some good publishing resources. You may try them.

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