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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 (updated as of 2020 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 and may be a competitive place to start if you do not have other projects under your belt and want to get the experience.
For a much shorter book or e-book (let’s say 80-100 pages) you might charge $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 $40,000 – $75,000 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 – $25,000 (assuming 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, yet new to ghostwriting, you might consider something more like $40,000 – $60,000 for a book in the 200-300 page range.
Do keep in mind that ghostwriting does require skills that are different from writing a book in your own voice, such as interview skills, capturing an author’s voice and communication skills. This last skill is vital as I have seen what happens when a ghostwriter does not set expectations with an author up front, or communicates poorly. The result can be disastrous and therefore I address this issue later in this post. For now, know that you may want to charge a bit less than top prices as you develop these skills.
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.
Can I Expect (or Negotiate) Royalties as a Ghostwriter?
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.]
Should I Hire an Attorney to Write My Ghostwriting Contract?
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.
An attorney who has written ghostwriting contracts can also help you in setting expectations. As promised, more about this crucial aspect of ghostwriting shortly!
Suggestions for Helping an Author Secure an Agent or Publisher
4. If the client is asking you to help find an agent and publisher, you will need to write a book proposal. In addition to the free articles and blog posts you’ll find on the link I just provided, 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 (currently on hold due to COVID-19) 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.
CRUCIAL TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL GHOSTWRITING
Work with an Editor
Most of the best writers have editors review their work and provide feedback. It’s wise to get input from other writers or editors, particularly if you are new to ghostwriting. I suggest you hire an editor for a round of feedback and a copyeditor to polish the manuscript and correct any punctuation errors, etc.
While this can make a project less lucrative, it will help you create a high quality manuscript and you will learn a great deal in the process. Consider is an investment in your education in your new career. You may be able to raise the price a bit and sell yourself as a team, sharing the editor’s credentials as well, and explaining the value of the second set of experienced eyes (and being clear that most writers hire editors; this does not reflect poorly on you).
Set Clear Expectations Up Front
Your client is likely to be new to ghostwriting as well. Be sure they understand the process, what’s involved and what is and isn’t covered in the fees. Set very clear parameters. For example:
- How many iterations / rounds of editing by the client are included?
- How many hours of research are included? What is the hourly cost for additional research?
- Are you on the same page as to what kinds of research the client wants and, if so, do you have the background to do such research? If not, can you hire someone to your team who does?
- What are the costs for travel? Will the client pay travel expenses? If so, what are the limits or ranges per day for food, lodging, etc.?
- Be clear that voice is something you collaborate on. Give the client a sample early on so they can give you feedback on whether the voice fits for them or what would make it sound more like them. You can also ask them for examples of books that capture a voice they are after. But beware that sometimes they may give an example and that’s not really their voice or the voice for the book–continue to discuss and explore.
- Will the client provide written information for you? If so, how much material will they provide and in what shape (slide deck? course materials? draft of sections?)?
- What happens if the client changes major aspects of the project? For example, mid-way through the project, the client decides on a different target market? Or wants to add 3 chapters? Spell this out beforehand.
- How many words (approximately) will the book be? If longer, what are the costs to lengthen the book and add more material?
- What is the schedule for completion? Factor in extra time for unforeseen circumstances. Perhaps also make sure they understand that changes to the book can delay the completion.
Communication is Key
Get clear about your client’s goals ahead of time. If they want a traditional publishing deal and the book is a prescriptive book (business book, how-to book, self-help book), then they may just need a book proposal and query letter for now (rather than starting with the entire book), unless they want to have the entire book completed before querying agents and publishers. A book proposal includes marketing information, chapter outlines or summaries and sample chapters.
If the book is narrative in nature, they will likely need the entire book to be complete, in addition to a book proposal. Make sure they understand the process. You wouldn’t want to surprise a client after ghostwriting the book for them to suddenly spring it on them that they now need a book proposal!
The bottom line: no surprises! Spell everything out in your ghostwriting agreement or contract so that you’ve set clear expectations and anticipated issues that can arise. An intellectual property attorney or experienced ghostwriter can help you with this. While you may not be able to anticipate everything, you can do much to avoid misunderstandings.
Make sure you check in with your client regularly and get feedback to know that you are on the right track, the same page, and that they are happy with progress. If you anticipate a delay, let the client know immediately. Ideally, you’ll factor in extra time when you make your original schedule.
Have more questions? Ask away!