Ghostwriting Compensation: Too Much or Too Little?

Both potential clients and fellow ghostwriters are uncertain about ghostwriting fees.  Clients always want to know what the ranges are.  Fellow ghostwriters always feel they are not charging enough or perhaps they are charging too much. It’s all a muddle.

 

I wish there was more transparency in the fees ghostwriters charge. Very few ghostwriters I know of list fees on their web sites. My own blog on ghostwriting was recently selected by Feedspot as one of the 40 best ghostwriter blogs in the world. I appreciate the honor. So I used that list to see if any of the top ghostwriters listed fees on their web sites. None do.

 

I do.  My web site is very clear that my minimum fee for ghostwriting a book is $50,000. Does this statement scare away potential clients with a budget of, say, $45,000?  I doubt it. What it does do is cut down on the number of calls and emails I get from prospects who are in no position to hire me.

 

Advances and Royalties

 

Besides the writing fee, ghostwriters also want to know about indirect compensation. Here we are talking about the ghostwriter sharing the advance or royalties, if any, with the client.  I’m very clear on this matter.  I don’t ask for any share of the advance or royalties.  I make it clear that my writing fee represents the total compensation I earn.  Advances and royalties go to the client. 

 

I think this is the cleanest way to do things. It also short circuits a conversation I really don’t want to have. Some clients have the impression that ghostwriters will write the book without a fee in anticipation of getting some or all of the anticipated advances and royalties.  I’m a business ghostwriter. That model is not for me.

 

I know some ghostwriters do well with participating in the royalties.  Some have gotten rich. (Think of Tony Schwartz, Donald Trump’s ghostwriter (really collaborator) on The Art of the Deal or UK ghostwriter Andrew Crofts.) These ghostwriters typically work on celebrity books that sometimes generate revenue far beyond any reasonable fee. And there’s an argument to be made that revenue sharing royalties aligns the long-term interests of the ghostwriter and the client.

 

Yes, risks sometimes pay off big. And early in my career I did well by sharing royalties.  But lately I’m more comfortable just charging a fee and letting the writer benefit from the royalties.  Like I said, it’s a cleaner model that avoids long-term financial entanglements.

 

Hope this discussion helps clients and ghostwriters have more informed conversations about fees and other compensation issues. And ghostwriters, if you do list your fees on your web site, let me know and I’ll include your web site in a subsequent list I post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. T

    Then I would argue that those 40 listed ghostwriters aren’t the best. I’ve ghosted more than 55 books since 2006 and I put my fees on my site for all to see, including the new site I’m currently building. It’s simple and strategic. If you’re scared away by my $50,000 average, then I know you’re not a player at my level and you won’t waste my time. If you contact me and argue about my fee, I know you don’t respect my work or the work of writers in general, so I’ll decline your business. Again, my time is not wasted. If you contact me and ask me if I’ll cut my fee in exchange for a share of your book’s sales, when I’m done laughing I’ll politely decline, thus not wasting my time. If you quickly say, “Okay” when you learn my fee, I know you’re a serious person who respects what I do, gets that top professionals in any business charge top dollar, and I can probably work with you. Posting fees works very well as a screening tool, and cuts down on confusion. I don’t understand why more ghosts don’t do it.

  2. M

    Well said, Tim!

  3. A

    The sharing of royalties happens more often when someone comes with a really good story and no possible way of paying a fee, (a genocide survivor perhaps or someone who has been sold into slavery or forced into an abusive marriage). If I really want to write the book and I think we stand a good chance of getting a publisher, and selling a lot of copies, I am sometimes willing to take a 50/50 punt.
    Looking back over thirty years or more I can see that the books where I split the earnings and took no fees were by far my biggest earners ,and also by far my smallest earners, depending on their success in the marketplace. Over time they average out to about the same as the fee based books.

  4. j

    I appreciate Andrew’s comments. I think it’s great if ghostwriters bring an element of altruism or social justice into the equation of who to represent. Some writers indeed have important stories to tell and no other way to tell it than through the discretion of a ghostwriter. And sometimes in the long run it even works out financially. Not every successful collaboration is a financial success.

  5. A great and thoughtful piece, John. I also post my fees on my website (both for my ghostwriting services, and for my book creation services through my company Red Hill Publishing). I hope one day to be in a position to take on “delayed payment” work – AKA royalty-base deals – for worthy causes. I’ve worked on some such projects in the past and have not seen too many of them even earn out their advances. Right now my focus is on connecting with clients who are both a pleasure to work with and are able to allocate the kind of budget required to create a quality book.

  6. M

    Thanks John – this is good stuff and I appreciate learning some key points. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and would love to see a way to sign up for automatic notifications for new posts.

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