A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Is It Charged?
If you’re searching the internet trying to learn about what is involved with hiring a ghostwriter, one of the things you’re probably wondering about is the cost. What is a ghostwriter’s fee?
There seems to be mystery and confusion surrounding a ghostwriter’s fee, so I thought I’d tackle this subject for you, upfront and head on, so that you can be armed with knowledge before reaching out to interview a ghostwriter.
How to calculating a ghostwriter’s fee
As you will quickly discover, each ghostwriter charges differently. Not only do fees vary from writer to writer, but the way they calculate their fees will differ as well.
There are four basic ways a ghostwriter’s fees are calculated:
When you interview with a high-end ghostwriter, she will almost always bid on a per project basis. Check out my article How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter to learn more about the bids you might expect to receive from the different classes of writer. To summarize, there are:
- Cheap ghostwriters who charge anywhere from $2,000 – $15,000 to write a book. They are very easy to find, but, as you can imagine, will be less reliable. Watch out for scam artists if the price tag seems too good to be true. Also, you’ll need to invest in good plagiarism software to make sure the manuscript you purchase doesn’t, in fact, belong to someone else.
- Mid-range professional ghostwriters will cost more. Their fees will range from $15,000 to $100,000 depending upon the size of the project. These writers are very experienced and reliable but are harder to find. With this class of writer, you’ll learn a lot about the writing process and get a high-quality product.
- Celebrity ghostwriters are really reserved for those who have a household name and can afford the Learjet prices (six to seven figures) of this class of writer.
Honestly, when I first started out twenty years ago, I tried a variety of methods and quickly settled on this one. It’s very precise and, as the client, you will know exactly what to expect. This makes it by far the most popular method to calculate the overall cost of a book project for mid- to high-end professional ghostwriters.
My research shows that these mid- to high-end professional writers charge $0.50 to $2 per word (sometimes more). Personally, I charge one dollar per word.
When I began seriously pursuing a professional writing career about twenty years ago, I started by charging by the hour. Through experience I discovered that most clients are hesitant to enter into a contract with a writer on an hourly agreement. After all, who knows how long it will really take to complete a book!
I’d say that the average full-length book takes me two hundred hours to write. However, if there is extensive research or interviewing required, that estimate might be doubled.
Nowadays, the only time I bill by the hour is when I consult. My rate is $145 per hour.
Over the years I’ve noticed that clients usually think in terms of page count for the length of a book, whereas writers think in terms of word count. I always specify both in a contract to make sure the author has a clear idea of my intention.
I’ve never charged on a per page basis but know that some writers bill this way. I feel this fee is difficult to calculate because the word count per page really depends on a number of factors:
- Font size and style
- The spacing of the text
- Margins, line spacing and other similar factors
For instance, a single page of text that is dialogue driven and double spaced in 12-point Courier New font might be 150 words, while a nonfiction piece with long paragraphs in a different font might exceed 350 words. That’s a significant difference.
I consider that there is an average of 250 words per page, but that’s just an estimate. If I were asked to give a per page bid for a project, I’d charge $250 per page. A realistic range for professional writers charging this way would be $125 – $500 per page.
Cost for a book proposal
If you plan to engage an agent and submit your story to a book publisher, you will need to prepare a standard book proposal. This is a specialized document containing a lot of information about your book. Book proposals vary in length and need to be tailor made for each submission. In most cases, proposals run 50 – 80 pages, though some can be longer.
A typical book proposal contains the following components:
- An overview of the book that should be one or two pages in length
- A description of your target audience
- A short author biography
- A list of book titles of published works comparable to your proposed project
- A strong marketing plan
- The book’s table of contents
- Two sample chapters
If you are going this route and plan to hire a ghostwriter to write your book, you’ll want to first engage her to write the proposal. After all, she will outline your book and write two chapters as part of this process. So she will already be well on the way to getting your book done.
For in-depth tips and tricks on how to write a book proposal, you can read my blog article on the subject.
A ghostwriter’s fee for a quality book proposal will run somewhere between $5,000 – $15,000. However, this price should be factored into the overall price, if you hire that ghostwriter to write your book.
Incentives to offer a ghostwriter
If you’re looking for a cheap ghostwriter on Guru or Upwork, you’ll discover that many will vie for your attention like fish seeking breadcrumbs. However, the tide shifts a bit when you seek a high-end professional ghostwriter. You may find that she isn’t as desperate for work.
A writer in this category is often quite picky about the projects she takes on and will be interviewing you even as you interview her.
If you are eager to engage a popular ghostwriter and sense that she might be able to sign with only one or two new clients when you contact her, it might be wise to consider offering a few incentives to entice her to sign a contract with you.
Here are a few inducements you might consider:
A percentage of the back end
While it would never be proper to ask a professional ghostwriter to work solely for a percentage of the back end (royalties), it can be a nice bonus to a ghostwriter’s fee. This incentive has the added benefit of including the writer in the marketing of the project. She will be invested in ensuring that the book sells well.
Some ghostwriters won’t be able to do much to help you with sales, while others are well versed in that area. If your prospective writer is great at marketing, it doesn’t hurt to bring her in as a marketing partner from the start.
A cover credit
For a ghostwriter who is starting out, a cover credit is worth a lot, because he can add it to his portfolio and resume. An open credit will help him gain future clients. Most authors don’t want to share with their readers that they had help in writing the book. That is always fine with me. It’s part of the job. You’re the author; I’m the ghost. However, if you’re willing to share credit, it can be a lovely enticement.
This is the way it would work: The front cover would read by Your Name, then underneath it would read “with” or “as told to” Ghostwriter’s Name. The author still gets the recognition as the creator of the book, but the ghostwriter gets her name associated with the project.
As I mentioned, most authors don’t like to spill the beans that they actually didn’t write their book themselves. However, many will find a way to pay homage to and thank their ghost in the acknowledgment section of their books. Over the last twenty years, I’d say half my clients gave me such a gift. It’s always appreciated by me.
Write a testimonial
When you are finished with your book, it would be nice to offer to write a testimonial for your ghostwriter. This allows him to share your success story with other potential clients in the future.
I have been very fortunate to have gathered quite a collection of testimonials. Some authors sign with just their initials, as they wish to keep their anonymity, while others proudly share their full name.
Make sure to sign a legal contract
As I stated in my article What You Need in a Ghostwriting Contract, “An oral agreement should never replace a written one.” It’s too easy to have misunderstandings between an author and a ghostwriter if there is not a firm contract in place.
Please don’t sign an agreement on the back of a cocktail napkin (yes, it’s happened). To fully protect yourself, you want to sign a formal contract. A professional ghostwriter will have hired a lawyer to help her draft the document because she knows a good contract is well worth the cost.
Key points for a contract
When you review a ghostwriter’s contract, be on the lookout for these elements:
- The deadlines for each milestone of the project. Smaller projects might only have one date of completion, but most full-length books have more. I have four milestones in my contract.
- The overall price clearly stated. The contract should specify the ghostwriter’s fee, as well as the payment plan for the project. In my contract I break up the total cost into four payments, to be paid at the beginning of each segment.
- The expected length of the book. As stated above, a professional writer will specify a word count, not a page count. However, in my contract I provide both. For instance, I might state, “50,000 words (or 200 pages).” I do this because my clients usually think it terms of pages.
- The services expected of the ghostwriter. It’s a good idea to spell out what the ghostwriter will or will not do for you. For instance, will the writer help you with the publishing process? If so, make sure those services are well defined so that there are no surprises later.
- The number of revisions allowed. Make sure you know how many revisions your ghostwriter will allow. For example, I specify one set per milestone, but always plan to make minor adjustments along the way.
- Confidentiality and copyrights. It’s important that you retain the rights to the book. In addition, be sure there is a good non-disclosure agreement (NDA) within the contract.
With a good understanding of the elements of a contract and the ghostwriter’s fee associated with the project, you can make an informed and educated decision and find the best ghostwriter for you.
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