An oral agreement should never replace a written one. Make sure you have a good ghostwriting contract before you begin a book project.
This nugget of advice is something I’ve heard from almost every successful professional. No matter what industry you are in, always be sure to have a good contract that spells out all the important details; that way there can be no room for misunderstandings later.
Recently, I spoke to a renowned serial entrepreneur who confessed to jotting down a partnership agreement on the back of a cocktail napkin in a bar. The two were friends and thought nothing could go wrong. Well, the agreement blew up after a few years. Fortunately, the two found a middle ground and were able to sort out their differences and continue, but it could have ended up much worse.
I’ve been a ghostwriter for two decades. I learned long ago that it is vital to have a good, clear ghostwriting contract. That way you and your writer know what to expect, and there can’t be misunderstandings down the line.
Hire a lawyer
If you’re a professional writer, I highly recommend you hire a lawyer. Ask him or her to create a good basic template, which you can adjust depending on the parameters of a particular project. It’s well worth the cost to make sure your contract says what you think it says!
While some projects are so small you might feel they don’t really require a contract. I would still advise you to put your agreements in writing in some fashion. An email can sometime suffice.
When I was starting in this industry, I will admit to you I floundered on the subject of ghostwriting contracts. It took me a while to sort it all out, so I hope I can save you a little time. As you put together your contract template, here are a few basic components to consider:
The first paragraph of my contract includes my company name and the name of the client, as well as the effective date of the contract. Later, I include the four major milestones, along with their deadlines.
The four milestones I use in my ghostwriting contract are the:
- Completion of the outline.
- First half of the first draft.
- Completion of the first draft.
- Final manuscript.
This milestone approach is something I developed after nearly two decades of experience as a ghostwriter. I tried many different methods, but this is a best when it comes to ghostwriting a book for a client.
Because I use four milestones, I like to break up the payments into four parts. My policy is to be paid ahead of the writing, but really you can come to any sort of agreement that works for you.
Set the total price for the service then include the payments for each segment in your contract. For instance, if your total price is $60,000, the compensation for each segment would be $15,000 (if you use my four milestone approach).
To learn more about the cost to hire a ghostwriter, please review my article on the subject.
Most ghostwriters charge on a per word basis, so the contract should specify how many words the author should expect to receive. Most clients think in terms of pages, but that just isn’t precise, because the number of words per page really depends on the font style and size chosen. I like to include the agreed-upon word count along with a rough page estimate for clarity.
It’s a good rule of thumb to consider that there are 250 words per page, so a 200 page manuscript should run about 50,000 words.
A Description of the Project
If possible, you might include the genre or a rough description of the book in the contract, along with the title. This description doesn’t need to be long. An example might be, “The life story of Mary Smith” or “A science fiction novel.”
It’s important to mention the specifics of the service you will provide. For instance, as a ghostwriter, I can’t promise that the book will be published. It is a good idea to state that concept within your contract. I also don’t create the cover design or work on layout, nor do I provide illustrations or photographs (again, I make that clear inside my contract).
My job as a ghostwriter is to create a well-written manuscript that is as error free as I can get it. I work with a few proofreaders and editors to produce an as near-perfect product as possible. I think it’s important to have a number of eyes review the final document before turning it over to the client.
Address copyright issues in your ghostwriting contract, making it clear that the client will own all the rights to the final work. They are the author and own all the right so the work. It’s always the client’s book and they can publish it in any form they desire. As a ghostwriter, I own no claim or rights at all.
It’s to be expected that the client will have revisions for the ghostwriter as pieces are submitted. However, if the number of revision requests isn’t specified, the process can be endless. Back and forth, back and forth can ruin a book.
Personally, I allow the client one set of revisions per milestone, but will of course make minor revisions along the way. Since we always work off of a detailed outline, there usually isn’t a need for any drastic changes during the revision process.
Often a client requires confidentiality because of the nature of the project. Perhaps the ideas are unique and cutting edge or the author simply doesn’t want anyone to know he or she had help writing their book. If this is the case for your project, definitely include a confidentiality clause within the contract.
Things That Could Go Wrong
Most likely everything will go smoothly throughout the process, but it’s always good to put in a clause covering what happens if one party wants to terminate the agreement prematurely.
In addition, consider limiting the damages and agreeing to arbitration to resolve all disputes.
A ghostwriting contract is something you’ll need for any large project. It shouldn’t be taken lightly as it could save you from unnecessary headaches in the future. If you have any questions or concerns, please consult a lawyer. It’s worth the investment!
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