The Ghostwriting Process: What does a Ghostwriter Do? What do ghostwriters charge? etc.

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Many people want to write a book—they know the importance of a book in establishing their expertise and building their business. As a business book coach, common arguments I hear for not writing a book is that it takes too much time or they don’t know how to go about writing one.

There is a solution if you don’t have the time or the expertise to write a book. Hire a ghostwriter. Just exactly what is a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter is a behind-the-scenes professional writer, who will step in and write your book for you. But ghostwriters aren’t reserved solely for books; there are many who write web copy, blogs, and articles for their clients.

How does the process of hiring a ghostwriter work? Ghostwriters usually charge a fee in exchange for their services. Upon payment in full, the copyright or ownership of the book transfers to the author, who gets to claim full credit for writing the book. Let’s answer some common questions and misconceptions about ghostwriters.

What do ghostwriters charge?

Ghostwriters charge a wide range of fees for their services. A quality book takes time, research, and ability, if you want it written well. Experienced, published ghostwriters might charge $10,000 to $20,000 for their services and proven successes. Technical writing or specialized subject matter (such as law, medicine, etc.) will usually demand a higher rate, as much as $40,000 to $50,000. Less experienced ghostwriters might charge $5,000 or less. Beginning ghostwriters with little or no experience will likely charge even less, accepting $800 or $1,000 for their services. Variables that ghostwriters take into account are:  The number of desired pages, the subject matter, the desired turnaround time, and whether any research or material are being provided by the author, their client. In addition, a ghostwriter might also adjust his or her rate if they are given credit for their contribution.

Ghostwriters who write copy other than books can charge per word, per project or provide an hourly rate. There is no set industry standard, but the common rule of thumb is to expect to pay an experienced ghostwriter at least ten cents a word. On an hourly rate, a quality ghostwriter with experience might charge $30 to $40 dollars an hour, or more, depending on the complexity of the material.

As a self-employed professional, ghostwriters have to maintain their equipment, pay taxes, and obtain business telephone lines. They spend a percentage of their time updating and maintaining their website and applying for writing jobs. Some pay a membership fee to professional freelance organizations, as well as having to pay a finder’s fee to the organization or individual who procures writing projects for them.

Regardless, I’ve found that the adage “you get what you pay for” does apply to ghostwriters. The best and most professional ones are worth the higher rate.

What does the fee cover?

The fee to ghostwrite your book is usually detailed in a contract between the ghostwriter and the client. It includes the time for communications between the client and the writer, sufficient time to research the material, writing, editing, and one or two revisions. Some ghostwriters offer other services, which may or may not cost more, such as writing query letters, book proposals, or assistance with publishing or self-publishing efforts.

If travel is required, that fee is negotiated. Travel time is usually covered; however, overnight lodging and transportations fees usually are not.

Does the ghostwriter’s name go on the book cover?

Usually a ghostwriter stays invisible, meaning that they are not given credit for their work on the book cover or inside the book. However, an author sometimes will include a ghostwriter in his or her acknowledgements, expressing appreciation for their efforts in bringing the book to fruition.

However, it’s more common today to acknowledge a ghostwriter’s contribution than it used to be. What was once considered a secret, is now acceptable in the publishing world. For that reason, ghostwriters are sometimes given credit on the book cover as a co-author. For example, the byline might read “by John Doe, with Jane Smith” or “by John Doe, as told to Jane Smith.”

How do you select a ghostwriter?

Writing is one field that is saturated. There are so many people who call themselves writers, yet lack the real experience that you should seek in a ghostwriter. A legitimate ghostwriter will be happy to provide potential clients with writing samples, and most have a resume available for review on their website. Freelance sites like Elance.com or Guru.com also give ghostwriters an opportunity to post samples and resumes.

It’s also a good idea to ask for references. You can contact past clients directly, or you might be happy with reviewing their client satisfaction rating or feedback and testimonials from past clients. Some ghostwriters even post their rates, taking the mystery out of their fees. Others simply state that their fees are not set in stone and are based on each individual project.

How long does it take a ghostwriter to complete a full-length book?

There are many variables that determine the amount of time it takes to write a book. First, a 150-page book will naturally take less time than a 300-page book. The amount of research and material provided will also affect the turnaround time. That said, expect a quality, well-written book to take anywhere from three to six months from inception to completion.

What is the payment process?

Many ghostwriters accept payments in installments. It’s common to expect to pay a down payment before the work will begin. Usually, that’s 1/3 of the total fee for ghostwriting the book, with an additional 1/3 due at an agreed-upon halfway point, and the remaining 1/3 due upon completion of the book. Some ghostwriters, however, charge an initial deposit and prefer monthly installments.

Should I have a contract before I hire a ghostwriter?

You can have a contract, if you wish, but most experienced ghostwriters already have a contract on hand that covers their agreement in full. They know that a contract protects them, as well as the client. The contract describes the project and the full agreement between the parties, covering confidentiality, payment schedule, timelines, and copyright ownership. There is usually a waiver of liability for one or both parties and a clause stating that in exchange for payment rendered, the ghostwriter is not eligible to receive royalties from the proceeds of the book.

Will a ghostwriter work without payment? Are they willing to ghostwrite a book in exchange for a percentage of the profits?

Inexperienced ghostwriters might agree to this proposal; however, most experienced writers shy away from these agreements. It takes a lot of time, skill, and talent to produce a well-written book, and most ghostwriters know that it takes a year or more before a book is published and ready to go. Then, there is no promise that the book will actually make a profit. For those reasons, most ghostwriters are not willing to provide their services in exchange for a percentage of future proceeds.

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