Ask a Ghostwriter: How Do I Charge a Friend?

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Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, A family friend has reached out to me to ghostwrite her memoir for her children. It’s kind of sticky because, although I am a writer, I write first-person food and humor columns for newspapers. I’ve never done this kind of thing before. I’d love to do it, but feel weird charging her for my work, and have no idea what I should charge a friend. Help? Thanks in advance for any words of wisdom you may have for me. – Debbie

Dear Debbie,

I think it’s wonderful that you wish to help your friend, but completely understand your dilemma. Since you don’t have specific experience in this genre, I agree that you shouldn’t charge a friend professional rates. However, I feel strongly that it’s important that you charge her something. Here are a few reasons why:

A book takes time to write

Since this will be your first ghostwriting project, you might not know the time that will be involved on your end. Honestly, it takes two to three hundred hours to write a full-length book. Also, it’s worth pointing out that your friend will need to put in time to help you collect the information needed.

If you decide to accept the job without pay, I need to warn you that it will be tough to complete. While I can tell that you’re excited about the project now,  it will be less thrilling to spend the hours required to push through the inevitable road bumps when you know there will be no payment. How much time will you be willing to devote to it on top of your full-time job? Unless you are independently wealthy, it will start to be a drain on you to work all day at your regular job and then put in another couple of hours a day to write someone else’s memoirs.

Friendship and business do mix

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While some people may preach that business and friendship don’t mix, that somehow one kills the other, I disagree. Networking is a powerful tool for marketing! The fact is, friends hire one another all the time!

If your friend is a good one, she won’t want to take advantage of your time. It’s one thing to volunteer to help a buddy move over a weekend, or paint their home, but no one would expect you to put in hours every week to complete a project without getting paid. Also, if she didn’t pay you, that could very well break the friendship because she’d feel too indebted to be comfortable around you. Bottom line: it’s OK to charge a friend.

Friend’s rates

While I don’t recommend offering to write her book for free, you can certainly offer her a special rate. My suggestion would be to find out what she can comfortably afford and work out a payment plan she can manage. I can’t say what that figure might be, because it has to make sense for you and for your friend. I just don’t want to see you working for hundreds of hours with no recompense. Also, whatever you work out, please make sure you deliver a finished manuscript. Besides preserving your friendship, it’s just good business practice.

If you enjoy the project and wish to continue as a ghostwriter, this book will give you the much-needed experience to land a second client. It’s always toughest to close your first book project.

Debbie, thanks for writing! If you can, let me know how it goes. And feel free to contact me directly any time!

Laura Sherman (116 Posts)

Laura Sherman, a.k.a. “Laura the Friendly Ghostwriter,” is a professional ghostwriter and author. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction and is happiest when juggling multiple projects. She recently authored “Chess Is Child’s Play” to introduce the next generation to the game of kings and queens. As a parent of three, and one of the top 50 women chess players in the United States, Laura wrote this book to teach any parent to teach any child, of any age, to play chess.