An overview of ghostwriting
By Diane Sismour
After announcing that you are a writer, how often have you heard, “I have an idea for a book. You could write it for me.” Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone has the fortitude it takes to keep their butt in a chair and pound out the words or the dedication to editing the story, memoir, or non-fiction into a cohesive, sellable work. Ghostwriters are the scribes not seen on the cover but paid highly for their skill.
Ghostwriting requires skills different from working on your projects. The author’s works should capture their writing voice as acquired through interviews (by phone, Zoom, or in person). This is essential for a happy partnership throughout the process and satisfaction for the author for the result. Taking the time to know the author and their story is imperative to a good working collaboration.
Whether you work independently or through a company that matches you with an author, you, as the writer, set your hourly or per diem rate. Choose which genres to write or help an author focus on a slice of their history for a memoir. Non-fiction writing would be determined by the writer's areas of expertise and their capacity for research.
There are extra options to consider when naming your fees. Writing query letters, non-fiction proposals, and synopses all add value to your talent and give the author a professional forum to traditionally publish their book. If the author is looking to self-publish, a copy edit should be included in the fee.
Pricing per project depends on the genre, book length, and the ghostwriter's experience. Good writers charge upwards of 30 cents per word for memoirs and 24 cents per word for children's fiction. If you are a beginner ghostwriter and the author is inclined to traditionally publish a work over 200 pages or more, $15,000‒25,000 is a fair starting point. There should be little to no research involved, and the author will provide all the information through interviews. If you have published books and have more experience, $25,000‒30,000 is a reasonable fee. The more experienced writers/editors can ask $40,000‒60,000 for their expertise.
You can negotiate a modest royalty for non-fiction books. Other negotiations to consider are whether your name is on the cover as co-author or "as told to." If the author doesn't want to admit they hired a ghostwriter, they could credit you as editor. Some authors want to keep your participation anonymous, which could hurt when landing your next opportunity.
A legal contract specific to ghostwriting should be drawn by an intellectual property attorney. The expected word count, finish date, and what is included in the projected proposal should be clearly stated in the verbiage. Also included should be how changes in the book can delay the completion, dates when percentages of payment are to be made, and any extra fees like additional words over a set word count and/or continued expense to time in finding them a publisher.
Diane Sismour writes poetry, short fiction, and novels with a dry humor and fast-paced plots in Romantic Suspense, Psychological Thrillers, Horror, and Crime Fiction, and takes pleasure in Ghostwriting for others. She enjoys creating characters while shaded under the maple tree and greeting guests at her Leaser Lake B and B located in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Diane is a motivational speaker, a member of Romance Writers of America, Liberty States Fiction Writers, the Bethlehem Writers Group, the Horror Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, and The Hive Writing Group. Look for her at conferences or giving a workshop.
Have another person edit the work as you would on a personal writing project. They will be more objective and provide a more polished finished project. This is an added cost but worth the overall investment into providing the best work possible.
Setting clear parameters is important: list how many rounds of iterations or rounds of edits are included, time spent for research or reviewing the author's research, if any travel expenses are included, and what information the client will provide.
From personal experience, the ghostwriting process is fulfilling. Collaborating with the author and giving them a manuscript with their name on the cover is satisfying and profitable. Ghostwriting isn't for everyone, but it's a way to keep writing full time in a saturated market.