The Savvy Ghostwriter
Ghostwriting is a business. If you write a book or any other major project for a client, you are providing a service for which you deserve to be paid. While some ghostwriters accept an hourly fee, most arrive at some other arrangement with their clients regarding contracts, budgets, fees, benefits, expenses, and payment terms. What follows are 30 questions you should ask yourself or your client regarding every aspect of your payment agreement.
1. Who provides the contract? (If it’s the client, will I agree to changes?)
2. How do I want to be paid (in advance, at intervals, upon submission, upon approval of the manuscript)?
The client’s contract
3. Is there anything I don’t like or understand in the contract?
4. Has my literary agent or attorney read it and made any necessary changes?
5. Is the client willing to make those changes? (If it is a standard, unchangeable contract, if my agent/attorney or I don’t like it, am I willing to walk away?)
6. Do I have a standard contract or letter of agreement that can be customized for each client?
7. Does it allow me to recap what we agreed on, my role, the client’s role, how much and how I will be paid, deadlines, how either party can get out of the agreement, and any other important points?
8. Has my literary agent or attorney seen and approved my contract ?
9. Have I spelled out what the client can expect from me?
The client’s budget versus my proposed fee
10. Does the client have a fee in mind?
11. Do I have a ballpark figure and a “not less than …” in mind for every project.
12. If the client won’t meet it or offers me a lower fee, before I say no, do I know my reasons for accepting less than I want (my name on the book, referrals to other clients, great line on my resume, experience in ghostwriting)?
Formal financial arrangements
13. Does the client understand the meaning of these payment arrangements?
- Royalties: money paid each time a copy of the book is sold
- Advance against royalties: money paid ahead of time that will be deducted from future royalties
- Royalties plus advance: money paid up front, plus a share of profits
- Hourly rate: time actually spent on the project, billed periodically
- Work for hire: flat fee
- Flat fee plus expenses
- Consignment: promise of a percentage of potential sales, with no guarantees
14. Will this book enhance my reputation as a ghostwriter?
15. If there is an advance, will it be enough to live on for a while?
16. How much, if anything, has already been done by the author?
17. Exactly what is expected of me (research all of it, rewrite, edit)?
18. Will I have adequate time to learn a completely new topic?
Credits & acknowledgements
19. Does the client understand the meaning of my name appearing on the cover preceded by one of these three words or phrases
- With: indicates that the ghostwriter has assisted on the project
- And: means both parties have contributed to the material in the book
- As told to: the ghostwriter has transcribed and edited the client’s story or material
20. If there is no credit line, can I negotiate a higher fee?
21. If there is no credit line, will the client express appreciation for my contribution somewhere in the acknowledgements?
What should I charge?
22. Have I researched competitive rates?
23. What is the range of fees people are charging?
24. What is the going rate for books with no credit for work?
25. How much are my previous work, references, and reputation in the field worth?
26. Who is writing the check — an individual or a corporation? Does it matter?
27. Will my expenses be paid
28. Do I have an accountant? Do I need one?
29. What counts as a reimbursable expense?
30. What counts as a deductible expense?
The payment process for ghostwriting is complicated, but not mysterious. Asking these questions can simplify it considerably, as well as create a mutually satisfying agreement for you and your client.