How Much Does a Ghostwriter Cost, According to a Pro Ghost
Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing. In this post, he explains how to go about hiring a ghostwriter, the cost of ghostwriting, and the process of working with one.
The job of a ghost is to write the book which you would write if you had the time or the ability. Writing books takes practice, like any other skill! It also requires more time than most people can afford. It’s perfectly sensible to hire a professional to do the job for you, just as you would hire a barrister to plead for you in court or a speechwriter if you wanted to get into the White House.
Choosing between a traditional publishing deal and self-publishing
Do you want to follow the traditional route of trying to find a big name publisher and getting an advance to help defray the costs? Or do you want to maintain control of the whole project and self-publish, either with or without the help of an independent publisher?
If the former, then you initially need the ghostwriter to produce a proposal that can be taken to publishers, either by you, by the ghost, or by an agent to who the ghost may be able to lead you. The ghost can then write the whole manuscript once the publisher has been found.
If you want to maintain control, then the ghostwriter will be writing the whole manuscript for you from the start and should be able to help you find the experts you need to turn it into a finished book. A book proposal for a traditional publisher will probably be between 10,000 and 20,000 words, containing a short synopsis, an author profile, chapter breakdown, some sample chapters, and any background information which will help the sale, (similar books on the market, captive markets, etc).
A complete book could be anything from 30,000 to 100,000 words or more. There are usually between 300 and 400 words to a page, so you can work out roughly what that will look like.
Today’s Ghostwriter Costs and Rates
Low Quality: 800,000 to $24,000
Hiring anyone under $24,000 is almost guaranteed to be a terrible decision. There are some good writers in this range who are new to ghostwriting and are trying to build up their portfolio. But professional writers who are actually decent and have established track records are few and far between.
Many of the ghostwriters in this range with good credentials are subcontracting their work to content mills. The worst of them just plagiarize other people’s work. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anyone who quotes you in this range.
Good Quality: $25,000 to $75,000
It’s wide, but this range is where you’ll find a reliable ghostwriter. You can find good ghostwriters from $25,000 to $40,000, but expect them to either be desperate for a gig or relatively inexperienced. The sweet spot for good ones with credentials is usually within $40,000 to $75,000.
Best Quality: $100,000 to $250,000+
There are only about 100 ghostwriters in the world who can command these prices. They usually work with Authors who have traditional publishing deals already lined up. Think famous actors, musicians, politicians, and people like that.
Some of these ghostwriters demand a share of an Author’s advance and royalties. For example, my friend Nils Parker, often charges up to 50% of an advance. He also negotiates to take a percentage of a book’s profits.
These ghostwriters are easier to find since they’re known by most book agents and editors. But they’re selective about who they write for and tend to take on Authors on a referral basis only.
How Ghostwriters Handle Payment
These ghostwriters will ask for a big chunk upfront, usually non-refundable. Then, they’ll ask for portions of the rest as they hit certain benchmarks. Some examples of common milestones include the delivery of:
Most ghostwriters will set a maximum of either hours worked or word count for their flat fee, then charge a set rate for anything over that amount. This is widely practiced and a sign of an experienced ghostwriter. Paying extra for work that goes over and above the initial scope isn’t a red flag, that’s just good business.
Paying a ghostwriter a by-the-word fee creates the wrong kind of incentives. They’re motivated to write more than they should instead of being concise. Your book could end up wordy, difficult to read, full of asides, boring, or all of the above.
I’ve never heard of a good ghostwriter who charges by the word. Run as fast as you can from anyone that proposes these terms. At Scribe, we don’t charge by the word because the best books are short, simple, and direct. In fact, we try to help clients write the shortest books possible, and this saves money on fees.
There are also ghostwriters who charge by the hour. Most ghostwriters who insist on only charging by the hour are likely bad at estimating how long it will take to write your book.
Working at an hourly rate also creates the wrong incentives. The more hours they work, the more they get paid, which encourages them to take their time. While you can find a good ghostwriter who charges hourly, you should vet them very carefully before working with them.
Should You Ever Pay Up Front?
You have to understand that freelance writers take on significant risk. Because of that, they need some insurance to protect themselves in case the working relationship goes bad.
So many ways to cut ghostwriting fees
There are actually several ways to keep the costs of ghostwriting reasonable. They won’t all work for everybody. And you might decide that it’s worth it to pay more. Or you might decide to abandon the project. I have seen both extremes. The path you choose will depend on:
David Leonhardt is President of The Happy Guy Marketing, a published author, a “Distinguished Toastmaster”, a former consumer advocate, a social media addict and experienced with media relations and government reports.
That depends on the ghostwriter. As with any other profession, fees vary widely. I know of competent ghosts who will write a full-length book for as little as $15,000; I know others who live in expensive areas like New York or San Francisco who won’t work for less than $80,000. I personally charge $60,000.