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More Ghostwriting Advice: 10 Things You Need to Know

Yesterday, Jeannie shared in this writing blog that she’d been asked to ghostwrite a memoir and asked some advice about what to charge and what she might negotiate. Ghostwriting is a great way to write books and get paid right away. But it’s also easy to get burned when ghostwriting a book. Here are 10 things you need to know.

Almost all my points revolve around good communication and setting clear expectations from the get-go. Discuss everything you can think of ahead of time and you are much more likely to have a mutually satisfying experience.

1. Discuss whether your name will be on the book as an author. Will it say “with” or “and?”  Sometimes you can negotiate a higher fee if your name is not on it. Be sure to ask if they will still provide a reference for you. If they are not comfortable crediting you as ghostwriter, would they call you “editor,”  “book coach” or “consultant?” Would they provide a testimonial for marketing purposes if they are happy with your work?

2. Set a time line. If either of you is not able to keep to the schedule, make it clear by setting a new time line.

3. Get paid a significant amount up front (such as one third). Then get paid in additional increments so that you are less likely to find yourself in the situation that a client has run out of money and is unable to pay you for a significant amount of work.

4. Clarify any late fees up front and what is considered a “late payment.”

5. Clarify how much research you will do and how much data or information the client will provide.

6. Make sure your contract or agreement spells out how many revisions you will do.

7. Specify who will be the sole provider of revision requests. Ideally, you want to incorporate feedback from one person only. If several people offer changes and edits at the same time, you could find yourself doing much more work, and having an inferior product while you try to satisfy everyone.

8. Include a “kill fee.” Should the client decide to terminate the project, there should be a kill fee in the agreement for that.

9. Interview the person, even if you know them. Make sure you understand their goals, vision and expectation. What do they expect you to do and what will they do? Listen to your gut instincts–is this someone who will be easy to work with? If you get a funny feeling in your gut, pay attention. If it feels great, trust yourself, but still get references or try to talk with other people they’ve worked with in the past.

10. It’s a good idea to hire an entertainment lawyer to write or review the contract or agreement–but make sure you get glowing references from people who actually had the attorney draw up or review a ghostwriting contract.

Of course, none of the above should be considered legal advice–just practical experience from someone in the field. Consult an entertainment lawyer for your specific situation.

Have any questions about ghostwriting or other writing projects? Ask away and I will do my best to answer.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jeannie says

    That’s a great point about the revisions! I do editing on a free-lance basis, and one of the major drawbacks is having to go back and do revisions without getting paid for the extra time. The “kill fee” is also a fantastic idea, as plans can run awry, and I would definitely want to get a third of the fee up front. I guess that’s why an entertainment lawyer is important!

    Thanks again!

  2. lisatener says

    You should definitely work your revisions into the fee you charge, whether your charge by the hour or by the job. And setting expectations around what revisions consist of is also key.
    Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  3. Conner Moore says

    Hi Lisa – When does an editor become a collaborator? My son Michael has been editing my book about my 40 years as a Maine pediatrician. I asked him to help me. Michael has worked as a textbook editor. He has made the book more readable via change in format, culling of unimportant passages and even whole chapters, suggestions for new material, and tightening of the manuscript. Michael has not added any new material. He has been fairly paid. Profits will go towards nursing scholarships.I may cut him in just s bit on profits.I plan a book page acknowleging his role and thanking him -and some funny bits regarding s child editing his father. Should his name appear on the cover? Have not asked him. Publisher dos not care. I think local sales will be strong – will ” with Michael Moore” dampen this. He may say no anyway. Thanks CMM

  4. lisatener says

    Congratulations on completing your book and getting a publisher. Good question. If there’s any advantage for your son, I’d put his name on as “with.” For instance,
    if thinks he may want to ghostwrite a book at some time or if he really does want his name on it, I’d put it on. It’s unlikely to hurt book sales. Also, if he has a following, it may help book sales.

    If none of these is true, I’d just have your name and acknowledge him the way you mentioned.

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