July 2011


In my last post I discussed some ways to break into ghostwriting and different types of ghostwriting that are available, such as writing for magazines, ghosting for business execs, and writing speeches. In this post, I want to focus on pricing and getting credit for your work.

How to Price Ghostwriting:

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly how much to charge for your work, because it will vary widely based on the publisher, person, or company you are working for, and also your amount of experience. I know of some ghostwriters starting out who have received $2500 for a book, while others with 20+ years of experience regularly get six figures for their work. But, what I can tell you is how to charge.

What I have found works best for me (you may need to experiment to see what works best for you) is to charge an hourly writing rate for shorter projects, like articles and reports, but charge a flat project fee for larger works, like books or longer speeches. Sometimes you will contract directly with the publisher for articles, in which case you’ll have to play by their rules of payment. But if you’re working with the author, you can typically set your own guidelines for how you want to charge them.

For the shorter works, I will wait until I have completed the project to the customer’s satisfaction before I bill. I just figure that’s the way I would want it. I’ve found that they appreciate that I want to make sure they are happy before I send out an invoice. And if the customer is happy, chances are my name will get passed on to others.

For longer projects, like a book which may take several months to complete, I’ll ask for a down payment of sorts before I start the project. I’ve yet to have anyone complain about this. I have however, heard of some people who have bailed on the project mid-stream and left the ghostwriter with no payment at all after writing half the book!

So, after the initial payment, which is typically about 1/4 to 1/3 of the total, I will then collect again at roughly the half-way point. The remainder of the payment is due after final approval of the finished work. If a book requires extensive research or many hours of interviewing, it may be wise to ask for a partial payment after some of that work is complete.

Speaking of interviewing and researching, don’t forget to bill for this time! Don’t limit your charges only to actual writing. Often, the time you need to spend with the author or the time it takes to research in order to write can be a bigger drag on your time than the writing itself.

Will your name go on the cover?

It used to be that when a book was ghostwritten, you never saw the ghostwriter’s name–anywhere! Obviously, that’s how the term came about, and the actual writer was always kept a secret. Nowadays, however, you’ll often see both the author (the person with the idea) and the actual writer’s name on the cover. But, aside from books, you still won’t know if material has been ghosted. You can assume that most speeches are not written by the one giving the speech, but for articles, reports, or other correspondence, the ghostwriter will not be revealed.

I ghostwrite many articles for one particular organization, under the name of the founder. When I’m with him at various company events, people often come to him and comment on “his” article they saw in the organization’s magazine. He just smiles and says, “Thank you!” And I smirk!

Depending on whether you have a traditional publisher involved in the book you are ghostwriting, you may or may not see your name on the cover. If the person you are writing for is self-publishing, you can always negotiate with that person to get your name on the front with his. One way is to ask for slightly less money if your name appears on the cover, or slightly more if it does not. Even if your name is not on the front, you still may get credit inside the book, either on the inside cover or in the Acknowledgements section. These are all negotiable terms.

If you’re working with a traditional publisher, you may have less say about where your name appears, if it does at all. Often this will depend on who the author is. If it’s a big-name celebrity or other writer, it’s doubtful that you will see your name with theirs, unless you are a big name as well. If, however, you are simply telling the story of an average Joe, then there’s a good chance your name will appear, especially if you have other books to your credit. In this case, you are the draw to the book and not the other person, who is probably unknown to most readers.

But, keep in mind, that for most ghostwriters, it’s all about the joy of writing and the paycheck at the end of the day–they’ve learned to set their ego aside and not worry about whether or not anyone ever sees their name. If you’re thinking about whether you want to start ghostwriting, this is a question you’ll definitely need to ask yourself: “Am I okay with not getting credit for my work?” If so, you can smirk all the way to the bank!

Lately, I’ve found myself taking on more and more ghostwriting projects. When I began discussing some of what I was doing with a critique group, I learned that many writers don’t really know much about ghostwriting, especially the business side of it. Today, I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far and hope that many of you out there will also chime in with your experiences so we can all become better educated on this often overlooked, yet profitable writing niche.

One thing I discovered is that when writers think of ghostwriting, their minds turn to thoughts of writing children’s books for celebrities who would otherwise have a hard time even writing a grocery list, or maybe retired athletes who’ve used up all their money and they’re looking for a few decent royalty checks. Other times we may think of people who want to write a memoir but don’t know where to start.

Ghostwriters are certainly involved in all of these cases, and for the most part, the ones we typically hear about are these high-profile bios that ghostwriters have to write because the person behind the bio doesn’t know the first thing about writing.

But there are so many more ways that ghostwriters may be used. Some ways that writers who are starting out ghosting may not consider include:

1. Business or Trade Writing–High-level CEOs, CFOs and the like, as well as business executives who contribute to industry magazines often hire ghostwriters. These leaders already have the research and information on what they want to put into writing, but seldom have the time to do it themselves. It’s not that they can’t write, but it’s more efficient for them to contract this process out. this type of ghostwriting could include books, reports, intracompany articles or articles for trade magazines, and social media content (see point #4).

If you have an expertise in a business or trade field, make yourself known in these industry circles and start making the leaders aware of your writing ability. Put together 2 or 3 writing samples specific to their industry and snail mail them along with a cover letter to director levels and above of the companies you choose. If you personally know anyone who could use your services in one of these industries, offer to do a small job for free so you can gain writing credits then use that person as a reference to get more jobs. Ghostwriting, more so than other kinds of writing, is often about who you know. Network every chance you get, and get the word out about yourself.

Another avenue is to approach business or trade magazines with your writing samples. Often the magazine publishers are the ones who hire the ghostwriter, and they keep the names of several in their files. Approach this as you would any other magazine submission, with a writing resume, a query letter, and writing samples.

2. Other Writers–Many think it’s odd that writers, who know how to write, would use a ghostwriter. Again, it comes down to a matter of time. Many writers, like myself, have their own projects they desperately want to get off the ground, but get so caught up in writing for others, that they never seem to have the time to do their own thing. I have actually considered hiring a ghostwriter in the past, but I decided I’m too much of a control freak for it to work!

Let your writer friends and those on writing forums and other writing organizations know that you are available for ghosting their projects. Keep in mind with writers, though, their standards will be higher for your work, so don’t take on any project you’re not confident you can handle.

3. Anyone with a Story to Tell–There are many, many people out there who have amazing stories to tell–but it would never cross their mind to write a book about it. That’s where you come in. Every writer needs to have a little journalist in him. As you meet people, snoop out stories. If you find someone with a very interesting life or who has a book-worthy story, talk to her about the idea of you putting her story into writing. For some, this may be the first time they ever thought about it; for others, they may’ve wanted to write a book, but had no idea how to do it. A lot of stories that have been ghostwritten came about because of the ghostwriter, not the person who lived the story.

4. Social Media Content–This is perhaps one of the biggest areas for ghostwriting right now (it’s definitely the fastest growing). Many of those business and trade leaders discussed in point #1 are required to create blog content, website content and the like. This type of writing is typically one of the first things to get contracted out to someone else. In fact, if you ever look on any of the freelance writing job forums, you will see mostly writing jobs for website and blog content.

Again, it’s not just company leaders who need ghostwriters for social media. Writers do as well, along with small businesses, nonprofits, educators–you name it! You could go through the job boards for this work, but I find it best to go with who you know. If you know small business owners, writers–anyone who regularly maintains a website or blog–it never hurts to ask if they need some help in this area.

5. Speech Writing–In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked areas in all of writing, even within the ghostwriting niche. In general, most people do not write their own speeches. And, in general, the higher of a leadership position you have, the less likely you are to write your own speeches–those around you see to it that you don’t!

There are specific speech writing organizations that you can list your name with, or again, network at business luncheons or on leadership forums. Speech writing is highly sought after. Good speech writers are hard to find. When one is found, that person’s name becomes golden, and referrals will come quickly. One way to start is, as mentioned above, to offer your services for free to someone you know who regularly gives speeches–maybe a civil leader or someone who speaks at trade shows. Once you get a few speeches under your belt, use these as leverage to approach people you don’t know and try to get in the door with them.

If any of you have other avenues for ghostwriters that you’d like to share, I’d appreciate hearing from you. Next time, I’ll be discussing pricing your projects and the matter of whose name goes on the book!