This is an updated version of a 2009 post, with updated pricing/fees and other advice. I’m happy to add to the post, so send your feedback and ask more questions!
In a comment responding 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 (upated as of 2018 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 $30,000 – $60,000 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 $40,000 – $60,000 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 $25,000 – $60,000 and even more.
2. 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, if they don’t want to admit they hired a ghostwriter, would they credit you as 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.
3. 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.
4. If the client is asking you to help find an agent and publisher, you will need to write a book proposal. I highly recommend Jody Rein and Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal, 5th Edition (note: this edition is significantly different and updated; don’t purchase the older edition). 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 (next offering in June 2019) and the International Women Writers Guild’s (IWWG) Meet the Agents during their Big Apple Conference, usually every April and October. IWWG also has regional workshops that may have agents present. The San Francisco Writers Conference, generally held in February, is another great place to meet agents, pitch and network. You may want to attend yourself and/or suggest it to your ghostwriting client.
Have you thought of ghostwriting? Wondering how to break in? I plan to follow up Jeannie’s questions with a few more ideas for anyone contemplating a ghostwriting project or career as a ghostwriter.