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:
1. Ghostwriting fees vary, but $12,000 – $15,000 are usually the low end for a book of 250-300 pages or more. A much shorter book might only be $8,000 – $12,000. There are folks out there who charge even less, but they generally don’t have the experience and they may write a book worthy of self-publishing but not necessarily a book that is traditional publishing quality. If you are writing a book of traditional publishing quality and it will be 300 pages or more. I would start at $15,000 if there is little or no research involved and you will get most of the information through interviews with the author.
If you will be doing extensive research, you should definitely charge more than that. If you already have publishing credits to your name, you should also charge more. Experienced ghostwriters tend to charge between $20,000 – $50,000 and even more.
I would definitely try 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.
Yes, I recommend hiring an entertainment lawyer. Do be careful. Try to find a person through personal referrals–someone’s 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.
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.
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