I didn’t know what I was doing for the first book I ghostwrote and charged in the mid-four figures. But it was an easy project, so my compensation worked out okay.
My second ghostwriting experience was much more involved, and I charged twice as much. The fees for that book turned out okay, as well.
I understand that the minimum going rate for a ghostwriter is $15,000, with experienced ghostwriters in the $25 to $35,000 range. (And I’ve heard of much higher numbers too.)
As a means of comparison, Book In A Box, now called Scribe, is a business that offers a turnkey solution to authors. Scribe will ghostwrite, edit, and publish a nonfiction book for $36,000. They may effectively be your competition.
I’ve ghostwritten a couple of books and enjoyed doing so. The payment is almost always a fixed rate, paid in installments. The first payment is required to start the work, and the final payment is due when the writer submits the finished product to the author. (The person who hires you is the author—you are the writer).
The number of installments for ghostwriting books is up to you and the author. Two, three, or four are common, but my last book was in ten installments (per the author’s suggestion). Also, try to frontload the installments so that you receive more money in the beginning. That way if things don’t work out, the author changes their mind, or they stop paying, then you have received most of your compensation.
Don’t write on spec or have it contingent on them getting a book deal. Also, avoid a 100 percent revenue share based on books sold. Though you could negotiate a base fee plus a revenue share unless the author has a large platform and can sell books, assume there will never be any significant revenue for them to share with you. So make your base fee large enough to make the project worthwhile.
Two related items: When it comes to ghostwriting books, always have a contract that states your fee, the installment amounts and dates, and details of what is and isn’t included. A basic “work-for-hire” agreement should work. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.)
The other item is to be aware that you are selling your words and cannot claim them as your own or reuse them for another purpose. (Though a nice author may share the byline with you or acknowledge you were the writer.)
Maintain an idea repository to jumpstart your creativity every time you sit down to write
Each week I create several posts for my blogs. I also compose posts for others (content marketing). In addition, I need to produce columns for my various publications. At a minimum, I write five new pieces a week, sometimes upwards of ten.
Yet I seldom struggle with what to say. I always have at least one idea waiting for me when it’s time to write, usually many. Here’s my process:
Keep a Running List: For each blog, client, or publication, I have an idea file. Sometimes I note a concept or a title. Other times it’s the first line or even the last. Occasionally there’s an anecdote to serve as the focal point for me to package. Then there is a bulleted list, the result of a quick brainstorm session during a moment of inspiration. Such is the case with this post.Maintain an idea file to jumpstart your creativity when it’s time to write. Click To Tweet
Look For Fresh Ideas: Life and living provides a treasure chest of ideas. We merely need to recognize their value when we see them. This takes practice, as well as discipline. Reading provides creative fodder for me, too, as do podcasts and especially movies. The key in this, which I learned the hard way, is to seize these gems as soon as I see them. Trusting my memory has cost me too many good ideas.
Retain What You Can’t Use: Sometimes a piece doesn’t develop as I expect or I need to skip a thought or go in a different direction. Other times I need to cut a section. I always stuff these untapped nuggets into my file for another day.
Build on Feedback: Some people comment on posts. Others email me their thoughts and questions, and a few react in person. Each source of input provides the potential for a future piece, which I add to my list.
Tap Your Muse as You Write: Perhaps the most common source of inspiration occurs during my writing process. As I develop one piece, other gems for future posts pop into my mind. I stop writing immediately and capture them in my idea file. This happens with about half the pieces I write. Sometimes I receive multiple ideas in succession. I eventually use most of them.
Bonus Tip: Sometimes when it’s time to write, I simply ask myself, “What do you want to write about today?” Without even peeking at my list of ideas, another concept pops into my mind, and I can’t help but develop it. This saves all the ideas in my file for another day.
I polished this process over time. First, it was to minimize frustration over lost ideas; then for the sake of efficiency. But now it has become necessary for me if I am to meet all my commitments and make my deadlines.
The success some authors have in marketing their books can overwhelm writers or even cause them to give up
Last week we talked about how to deal with writer envy, of how to avoid having the abilities of other writers overwhelm us. While the threat of writer envy does assault me from time to time, I’ve mostly come to peace with my writing ability. I know I am good and am getting better. I may never be really great, but I’m okay with that – most of the time.
However, the flip side of writing ability is marketing proficiency. I must admit that I sorely struggle with my lack of promotional prowess. I’ve taken classes (even at the graduate level) and understand the theory. I know what to do, yet my gut churns when it comes to implementation. Too often it feels smarmy. Yet when I press through, I do well, but too often, I don’t bother to push myself to act.
I see other authors who successfully promote their books into the stratosphere of success, book after book. Their results devastate me—especially when the book isn’t well written. The sad reality is that a marketing maven doesn’t need to write a good book to make a lot of money. They just need to excel at marketing. I am envious.
So if we’re not good at book marketing, don’t want to do it, or even feel it is beneath the art, what are we to do?
Give Up: We could just forget our passion to write, our dream to create art, and move on to a less frustrating, more profitable career. Yet would that make us truly happy? Or would an unsatiated compulsion to write roil in our souls? I think we all know the answer.
Ghostwrite: Writing for others as a ghostwriter, writer for hire, or collaborator allows us to write—and earn money—without the need to market. I like this. I do this. Yet I also want to see my name on the cover. True ghostwriting assignments don’t provide that option.
Write But Don’t Market: This is a built-it-and-they-will-come mentality. We focus on the art of writing and forget about the business of writing. In rare instances, it works. Usually not. Don’t pin your hopes on this strategy.
Outsource Marketing: I’d love to hire someone to do all my marketing for me. It would be so freeing. Yet two questions nag at me: Would it be cost-effective? (likely not), and would they produce acceptable results? (doubtful).
Press Through: Every job has fun aspects that we like and other chores that are, well, chores. We must slog through the difficult toils to resume the joys of creation.
I’ve considered each of these five responses. I often vacillate between them. Though I seldom consider quitting any more, the other four considerations pop up each week. I don’t have an answer, but as I try to figure one out, I will continue to write.
Our writing style will help us find work, sell our writing, and grow an audience.
When people hire me they often say “I like your writing style” or share some similar sentiment. (I do content marketing, ghostwriting, commercial freelance work, and whatnot.)
I’m glad they appreciate how I write. It helps us start our working relationship from a good place. At the same time,g I wonder what they mean.
If you asked me what my writing style is, I would sputter at my response. I strive to write logically. I work to have a smooth flow from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph. I use complete sentences, avoid clichés, and like to write in triplets. Occasionally my words have a playful tone, and I hope my writing is always interesting. Does this describe my style? Or does this merely delineate my technique? Is there a difference?
Regardless, I know that having a writing style is critical to me finding work. So I’m glad I have one. My writing style has emerged over time. How that happened for me is likely the same as for any writer.
We need to:
Put in the Time: I have logged my 10,000 hours and long ago hit the million-word mark, both milestones that writers must reach. All writers need to invest in the craft of writing. This takes time.
Write in Public: I blog, and I write articles. My work is out there for everyone to see. Many of the people who hire me have read my words for years but not everyone. My last ghostwriting client was a referral. Until that moment he had never heard of me, but he found my words online, liked my writing style, and hired me.
Get Feedback: When we write in public we sometimes receive criticism—both constructive or otherwise. We can also seek feedback from people we trust, such as other writers, a critique group, beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. Their reaction to our words today helps make our words tomorrow better.
Strive to Improve: Not all aspects of our writing style are necessarily good. Everyone has weak spots. So we work to write better. As we do our style morphs into something grander. How I write today, though similar to last year, is better. The same is true for anyone who writes with intention.
Even if we don’t know our writing style, the people who read our words know what it is. Perhaps they can’t articulate it anymore then we can, but they know our work when they see it.
Having an engaging writing style will help us find work, sell our writing, and serve an audience. That’s why I write. How about you?
Last week I blogged about forming a habit to write regularly as prompted by the book The One Thing. A second idea that resonated with me from Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s book is the idea of blocking out time to focus on one thing, in my case writing. While most people might strive to block out an hour a day to focus on their one thing, the authors advocate a four-hour time block—in the morning.
I realize this is impossible for most writers who jockey writing with work and family and life in general. Yet a couple of months ago I would have said the same thing about myself. Though I would have liked to write four hours every morning it loomed an unrealistic fantasy. But when a ghostwriting project made it absolutely necessary to spend four hours writing each weekday, I found a way to do it.
The results are amazing—not only for my writing but for other things as well.
I’ve long felt that my work as a magazine and newsletter publisher did not require forty hours a week to do. Some weeks I could prove this as correct, while on other weeks my work would absorb every minute I could give it—and insist upon more. Now that I don’t have more time to give to my work, I’m finding I can typically do it in less time. My goal is twenty hours a week. Though I’m not there yet, I am close.
Setting aside a four-hour time block to write has resulted in me being more efficient in other areas as well. I have even more incentive to say “no” to things that don’t matter. I feel so free (most of the time).
Because of the intense writing project, I’m on, my four hours a day writing has become more like five or six. So once this project is over, it will be easy to scale back to only four hours a day. I would have never thought that.
In last week’s post, I said writing is fun. While acknowledging that some writers don’t like to write, I am the opposite: I love to write.
A number of things contribute to my joy of writing:
I see improvement in my writing
Whenever I read my past work, I’m struck with the realization that my writing is better today than it was five years ago, one year ago, and even a few months ago. I am always learning and seek to apply new techniques. Though I will never complete my writing education, seeing progress is one cause for joy.
I find satisfaction in each completed writing project
Each time I finish a project, regardless of its length, I take time to celebrate my accomplishment. For smaller works, my congratulatory pause lasts only a few moments. (When I finish this post I’ll celebrate with breakfast.) For longer works, such as a book, I might even take a day to revel in my accomplishment. And these emotional boosts cause me to anticipate finishing another project and re-experiencing the thrill of a job done well.
I make money from my writing
For freelance work and ghostwriting there’s the added joy of a paycheck awaiting me at the end of each job. The payoff is quick, and that motivates me. While some of my writing will never earn a paycheck and other work has a payout far into the future, each check I do receive makes me want to write more.
I give to others through my writing
Writing has many purposes. It can entertain, encourage, teach, or challenge. As others read my words I serve them in one of these ways. I write for my readers. I give them something of value. Your appreciation gives me joy.
These are the reasons why I write. I’m fortunate I can do what I love.
If all you want to do is write, you should be a ghostwriter. Ghostwriters don’t need to seek an agent, sign with a publisher, or promote their books. They just write. The downside of being a ghostwriter is they seldom receive recognition for their work, just a paycheck.
In some books, the ghostwriter is mentioned, following the official author (that is, the person who will promote the book and paid the ghostwriter) using the words “with,” “and,” or “as told to.” Their name is in a smaller type than the official author’s. Other times the ghostwriter won’t make the front cover but will appear on the title page or maybe in the acknowledgments section. Usually, however, the ghostwriter’s identity is kept a secret, especially with fiction.
The first time I saw my words – really good words, if I may say so – with someone else’s name attached to them, I was taken aback. It was disconcerting.
Yes, I was paid for my work as agreed. But in retrospect, it wasn’t enough. I should have asked for more if my name was to be omitted. The next time I did.
Why is receiving credit for my work so important to me?
I suppose ego is a part of it, but a bigger issue is the realization that I can’t use those words again. I can’t repurpose them for a book, put them on my blog, or turn them into an article. I sold them; they are gone.
A few years ago, I was commissioned to write a biography. Naively, we never discussed who would get the byline. I finished the book and was paid, but for reasons outside my control, it wasn’t published. Had it been published with my name on the cover, I would have been happy with the money I received. However, if someone else’s name would have ended up there instead of mine, I would have felt undercompensated. I think I would have wanted twice as much or negotiated for a percentage of the sales.
I’m convinced ghostwriting is a viable option for writers. Since my first work-for-hire experience, I’ve ghostwritten many more works, from blog posts to books and everything between. I just ask if my client will list me as a coauthor, and then I charge appropriately.
A company asked my friend to write blog content for their website, and he wasn’t sure where to start. He called for advice. “So, what’s a blog?”
I skipped the pat answer and connected with his experience. “It’s short articles posted online.” I referred him to this website as I shared things to consider.
At first he was excited, but then his interest waned. “What if I just refer them to you?”
I had just started offering a blog writing service, aka Content marketing. “That would be great!”
“What do you charge?” That’s a question with no easy answer. It’s like wondering what a vacation will cost without revealing the length or destination.
Here are a dozen questions to ask before agreeing to write blog posts for pay:
How many words per post?
How often do they want me to post?
Will I get the byline (with a link and maybe even my photo) or will I be a ghostwriter?
Can I use my own voice and style, or do I need to follow their guidelines?
Is the content exclusive to them or can I repurpose it for other uses (that is, repackage and resell it)?
If it’s exclusive, will the rights revert to me at some point?
Are they looking for straight content, or do I need to do keyword research and write meta tags?
Do I need to supply graphics?
Will they indemnify me if there’s a problem?
How much direction will they provide about topics and content?
Will I email them the finished post or must I add it to their site?
Will I need to monitor and respond to comments?
Depending on the answers, I’d charge $100 to $250 for a typical length post, more for longer ones. Yes, there are folks out there who will crank out a post for $25 or even less, but if someone’s looking for cheap content, they shouldn’t look to me. My focus is on quality, and quality costs.
Bargain-hunters aside, I will work as a blogger for hire.
Last month I shared my perspective on ghostwriting. I urged caution for those who hire ghostwriters (give your ghostwriters credit) and understanding of those who are ghostwriters (because I do ghostwriting).
Then, I read “The Cheating Epidemic” in the May Reader’s Digest, which addressed academic ghostwriting. The article chronicles a prolific writer who earned a decent income cranking out papers, academic proposals, and even dissertations for hire. His dubious work helped both lazy students and unqualified students receive grades and credentials that they didn’t earn or deserve.
I am quick to condemn this type of ghostwriter. Their work goes beyond tricking the public with an incorrect byline. In addition to being immoral, I characterize academic ghostwriting as fraudulent and likely illegal.
After all, would you seek the help of a doctor, lawyer, or member of the clergy who had paid someone else to earn their degree for them? I think not. Yet, with academic ghostwriting, you will never know.
For academic ghostwriting, there is never a situation where it is acceptable.
[Although I am appalled by academic ghostwriting, I am not shocked. When educators tell students there are no moral absolutes, they implicitly grant permission for their charges to pay others to do their schoolwork for them.]