Ghostwriters are a key part of the process for many authors. They provide a valuable service to help their clients produce books for various reasons. An older person who has lived an interesting life may hire a ghostwriter to interview them and compile their memoir for their friends and family to enjoy long after they’re gone. Many famous people hire ghostwriters to write their books for them to provide their fans with additional information or a different perspective on their life and who they are. Popular speakers and ministers may hire ghostwriters to compile their speeches and talks into books that they can sell online and from the back of the room during events. Business people may hire people to do the same, using the book to establish their authority and as a referral tool.
Some people feel that this is dishonest or unethical, but in reality, a ghostwriter is another service provider who enables someone to publish a book they’re proud of. In this way, they are not so different from a book cover designer or interior formatter. The author has purchased the words from the ghostwriter, and those words are now theirs.
When you receive the completed manuscript from the ghostwriter, this is typically a first draft unless negotiated and agreed upon otherwise. Ghostwriting is the writing part of the process, not the editing. Some ghosts are editors or may have a team that includes editing, but this will be an add-on expense and not included in the ghostwriting itself.
Why Hire or Become a Ghostwriter
Most people hire ghostwriters because they have more money than time. They may also not have the skill to write well, and they would rather spend their time and effort on their areas of expertise instead of on developing a new skill. Although for many indie authors, this might not make sense, for business owners or famous people, especially, their time is much more productively spent elsewhere than on sitting down to write.
You might want to consider becoming a ghostwriter if you’re a strong writer and enjoy working with others to tell their stories—either fiction or nonfiction. No, you can’t add those titles to your portfolio, but you get a nice paycheck up front with no further marketing or selling to worry about.
We interviewed two ghostwriters, Lisa Thompson and Steve Bremner, who fill this niche for their clients. Many of their clients are speakers and business people who have content that they’ve produced, but they need help compiling that content into a book. They often interview their clients to pull out the information and ideas that the client wishes to include in the book.
Levels of Ghostwriting
As with editing, there are various degrees of ghostwriting from compiling already written words into a cohesive manuscript to being given a topic and a word count and doing whatever research is necessary to complete the task.
Fiction and Nonfiction
In Philippa Werner’s talk at 20Books Vegas November 2021, she discussed ghostwriting for fiction. Her goal, when writing books under an author’s name, is to so match the voice and style of writing that it is indistinguishable from the author’s. She said that clients often hire her to write in a new genre so they can test the waters and see if it’s worth their time in diverting their own time and energy.
Keeping a person’s voice consistent in nonfiction is also important, as readers expect a book someone has authored to sound like them. Most often, the ghostwriter is using existing material for nonfiction, which may make this task easier.
When someone ghostwrites, they do not own the copyright for those words. The client owns the copyright. This is part of the reason that ghostwriters should—and do—command a high price. Once those words are bought and paid for, the ghost no longer has any rights to them.
In some cases, a ghost has been credited in a work, but this is not common. If you desire to be credited as a ghost or to credit a ghostwriter, discuss and agree upon the details in writing before work begins.
Ghostwriters are often asked to sign nondisclosure agreements before work begins as well. The limitations imposed should be agreed upon and stated clearly in this document. Not only may the client not want the ghost to share that they were involved in the project, but the ghost may also be privy to proprietary content and information that the client doesn’t want disclosed. If you can’t keep a secret, ghostwriting is probably not the right fit for you.
We recommend that if you have significant legal concerns, consult with a lawyer in your area who is well-versed in intellectual property rights.
Ghostwriting can include some gray areas. Philippa Werner states you should determine your ethical boundaries and not deviate from them, or ghostwriting will not be sustainable for you. These boundaries may include the topics or genres you’re willing to write, the way you work with your client, and their access to you. This can mean turning down a large commission if you are uncomfortable with the topic or the ethics of the client. Ghostwriting is intense, and you can become very involved in another’s world, so consider all the factors carefully before you choose to continue.
The type of work a ghost chooses and what a client agrees to also fall into this category. If you agree to certain conditions, such as length, number of revisions, hours of interviews or research, etc., then you both need to abide by that agreement. Compensate for significant overages or scope creep. If you hire a ghost to write a fifty-thousand-word book and you increase that to seventy-five- or one-hundred-thousand words, expect to renegotiate terms related to those additional words.
As with so many matters in the publishing world, asking how much ghostwriting costs or will pay you is like asking how long a piece of string is. It depends on many of the factors we’ve discussed in this article. The length and the complexity of the project are both significant factors that can influence the cost.
Ghostwriters may be paid per word, per hour, or per project. Clarity on the length of the project is of critical importance, or you can expect to renegotiate if the project’s scope increases. The complexity of the project, for example, and the time spent doing research or interviews may dictate the per-word rate, or these expenses may be itemized. We found rates from fifteen cents to four dollars per word, and Reedsy states that the average fee their ghostwriters charge for writing a book is around thirty-five cents per word.
Other considerations affecting costs include the number and depth of revisions, if travel is involved, what information the client can provide and its usefulness, and the schedule and deadlines. If you’re in a hurry, you may pay a premium for a rush job.
The experience of the ghostwriter is also a significant consideration. A Pulitzer prize-winning author in their own right will command much higher prices than a beginner. As with any part of the publishing process, it’s best to do your research and then find a ghostwriter or client that can work for your purposes and budget.
Where to Find One
Word of mouth is a great way to find a ghostwriter. Happy clients or those who know others who have had a positive experience with a ghostwriter make great referral sources. Some ghostwriters advertise, and places like Reedsy have lists of ghosts for hire.
Remember to look for a ghostwriter with experience in your genre or area and someone you feel you can work well with for the best results. A ghost who has written their own books is not necessarily the right fit, but they will have published works you can read and can discuss with you, which may be helpful.
https://blog.reedsy.com/freelancer/how-much-do-ghostwriters-make accessed 1/17/22
With thanks to Lisa Thompson (http://writebyLisa.com) and Steve Bremner (http://SteveBremner.com)