A Ghostwriter’s Contract
Finding the perfect ghostwriter for your project probably took a lot of soul searching, research, and time. Congratulations! You are about to embark on a brand-new journey with someone who is likely to become a good friend for the next year or two. Although this bond will be very personal, it’s important that you create a formal agreement in writing that covers all the important elements of your working relationship. Please make sure a solid ghostwriter’s contract is in place before you begin.
This document should cover all the bases of the writing project as well as address any potential situations that might arise. It allows you and the ghostwriter to be on the same page, providing protection and security for each of you so you can focus on the joy of creating and writing.
A ghostwriter’s contract should be easy to understand and have no ambiguities or conflicting information. If you find it to be confusing or convoluted, you’ll know what to expect from the writer with regards to your manuscript.
A ghostwriter’s contract should protect the client
If you’re writing a book and need a little help from a friendly ghost, it’s important that you are assured of a few basic rights. Whether you hire me or another ghostwriter, please make sure these rights are covered.
You are the author and should always keep the rights for your book, as well as all sales and distribution rights. You should be able to publish your book in any form, at any time, without any interference from the ghostwriter. Say in the future you wish to turn your book into a film or a graphic novel series, make sure you have the right to do so.
A ghostwriter should never try to hold onto any of your copyrights. If he tries to slip that into his contract, don’t hire that writer or company.
When you hire a ghostwriter, she should keep your material confidential. This is a sacred pledge of all ghostwriters. Always ask for a non-disclosure or confidentiality clause. A ghostwriter should never divulge her part in your book project to anyone without your consent. Of course, if you give her a cover credit or mention her help in the acknowledgement section, it won’t be a secret. However, that’s your choice, not hers.
One would assume that if you’re paying good money, the work your ghostwriter delivers is her own original words. Unfortunately there are unscrupulous ghostwriters out there, who nimbly help themselves to the writing of others. Copying another author’s work and claiming it as your own without his or her consent is, of course, a misdemeanor and can come with a hefty fine and jail time. So ensure there is a clause to protect yourself from any charges of plagiarism.
A ghostwriter’s contract should specify relevant details
As you discuss your book project with your ghostwriter, you will make many agreements about the specifics. For instance, you’ll set a schedule of delivery dates and payments, as well as settle on a rough word count and fee. It’s vital that you back up every detail of these oral agreements in writing so there can be no misunderstandings later.
Different ghostwriters will have different systems for delivering their work to their clients. Personally, I divide a project into four major milestones, which I include in my ghostwriter’s contract, along with their deadlines.
This milestone approach is something I developed after nearly two decades of experience as a ghostwriter. I tried many different methods, but this turned out to be the best strategy when it comes to ghostwriting a book for a client.
The four milestones I use in my ghostwriting contract are the completion of the:
- first half of the first draft
- finished first draft
- final manuscript
Payment amounts and schedule
A ghostwriter should break up the payments for you, delivering segments of the project along the way. If she asks for the entire fee upfront, recognize the mark of a con artist.
Because I use the four milestones technique, I break up the payments into four parts. So if the price for your book is $60,000, the compensation for each segment would be $15,000.
A ghostwriter’s fee will vary depending upon the ghostwriter and the project’s complexity. For instance, a book proposal written to secure an agent and publisher might run $10,000 – $15,000, while the price of a book will cost $25,000 – $100,000, depending on the length.
If the project involves numerous rewrites and edits, it’s possible that the ghostwriter will charge by the hour (usually $50 – $200 per hour). Research is also done on an hourly basis but is usually included in the price of a ghostwritten book (definitely with this ghostwriter).
Most clients think of book length in terms of number of pages, but that isn’t precise because the number of words that fit on a page depends on formatting and font size. That is why most ghostwriters charge a flat fee based on a per word basis. So the contract should specify how many words you should expect to receive. 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.
Every ghostwriter will have his or her own process, therefore it’s a good plan to spell this out in a contract. A description of how you and the ghost will work together, along with the communications methods, is important. That way there will be no surprises as the project unfolds.
Other agreements to include in a ghostwriter’s contract
A ghostwriting relationship usually spans the course of eight to eighteen months. There are many aspects to this partnership and it’s good to spell these out in the ghostwriter’s contract.
A description of the project
If possible, you might include the genre or a rough description of the book in the contract. This description doesn’t need to be long. Some examples might be, “The life story of Mary Smith” or “A science fiction novel.” If you have chosen a title, you can include that as well.
Before you enter into an agreement with a ghostwriter, make sure you know the extent of the service you will receive. For instance, as a ghostwriter, I can’t promise that the book will be published, and I make that clear in my ghostwriter’s contract.
I also don’t create the cover design or work on layout, nor do I provide illustrations or photographs. But I can usually help my clients find a qualified professional to help them accomplish these actions.
It’s to be expected that you will have revisions for the ghostwriter. However, if the number of revision requests isn’t specified, the process can be confusing for both you and the ghostwriter. Plus, too much back and forth can ruin a book.
Personally, I allow the client one set of revisions per milestone and make minor revisions along the way. Major revisions aren’t usually required since I always work from a detailed outline, which was previously approved by my client.
Things that could go wrong
Most likely everything will go smoothly throughout the process, but it’s always good to put in a contingency clause covering what would happen if one party wishes to terminate the agreement before the book is finished.
In addition, it is wise to limit the damages and agree to arbitration to resolve all disputes.
In my experience, you’ll need a ghostwriter’s contract 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!
If you’re serious about writing and publishing a book, and wish to hire a ghostwriter, please email me. Once we determine that I’m a good candidate for your project, I’d be happy to send you a copy of my contract to review in detail.
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