You write a book for someone else, and they pay you to put their own name on it.
Is that even legal? It is. And professional ghost writers defend their right to do it.
There’s money to be made here because there are many people who have a lot to say but do not necessarily have the time nor the skills to write it all down.
However, there are some pitfalls to the ghost writing business.
First piece of advice? Always have a contract in place before you start the actual writing.
It will save you a lot of heartache - and lawsuits - in the future.
It’s worth remembering that not all ghost writing will entail writing books. Some corporate executives want their company statements written by someone else.
Scientists and doctors sometimes procure the services of ghosts to write their dissertations and academic reports.
Celebrities have been known to hire ghosts to maintain an online presence for them.
Webmasters too will often want their sales pages written for them - to which they will attach their own names.
If you’ve ever helped anyone with an article for which you never took any credit, you’re involved in a form of ghostwriting.
Some wannabe authors will even pay you to write their fiction for them - a scenario that, to be honest, rarely ends well.
Many people will want you to write their autobiographies - and may well have lots of money to pay for them.
At least once a month I meet someone who says they’ve led such a fascinating life that ‘everyone’ tells them they should write it down - or at least get someone else to do it.
As a writer, I know my own life story is not particularly riveting to anyone but me. Publishers, too, generally don’t care about normal people’s lives, even when their histories are sometimes astonishing.
But that doesn’t mean YOU shouldn’t get paid for writing them!
It’s surprisingly easy to get lots of potential clients when you set yourself up as a ghostwriter.
It seems there are hundreds of punters out there constantly looking for scribes to write for them - or at least toying with the idea.
The real issue you have to face is which of these people are ever going to pay you a fair going-rate for your services.
When people ask how much you might charge to write an autobiography for them and you mention $5,000 as a minimum starting point, you will often be met with total incredulity.
But you will need to stress that book writing takes time - and is clearly a skill the client doesn’t possess!
A thorough and well-researched book may take anything up to a year to write.
So there’s a year’s salary for most - right there.
A traditional in-house publisher’s ghostwriter may get anything up to $100,000 per manuscript, to give you some perspective.
The best way to go is to advertise yourself as a ghostwriter - say on Facebook - and deal with each inquiry separately.
I’ve found that sustaining a dialog over time before mentioning price is more effective than simply quoting quickly, which generally goes nowhere.
You need to find out exactly what your potential client wants. How they want everything to work, including how and when payments will happen, what approvals the client is looking for and how the contract will look once it’s finalized.
In amongst these details, you will also want to familiarize yourself with the envisaged project.
Face-to-face meetings often help here because there will be nuances about what the client expects from a ghostwriter that are impossible to discern through email or via the phone.
When you’re satisfied you know what you’re letting yourself in for - and that the client does too - then this is the time to present a quotation that will also act as a contract of employment - once it’s signed by the client.
The quotation should list the time frame, the payments, exact specifications as to what is to be considered "a final manuscript" and usually some leeway for the client to make changes and request deletions.
There should be clauses that deal with the relationship breaking down plus riders that perhaps outline that future payments may be in order if, for instance, the manuscript becomes a runaway bestseller without your name on it.
Conversely, you’ll want a brief clause that will make it clear you are not legally liable in any way should the client get sued over the manuscript’s contents.
While it might be nice to charge a dollar a word for short ghostwritten articles, you’ll rarely find anyone who wants to pay more than $50 for an 800-word piece.
Many punters want to pay less than $5, clearly slave labor - and not to be encouraged.
Just say no, would be my advice.
For short projects you might want to charge an hourly rate of perhaps $50 an hour, although most clients are nervous of hourly rates, especially if they’re unsure of how fast or slow you work.
What I usually do is to set a fixed rate for the job, payable upfront - or at least a quarter upfront - and then an hourly rate for unplanned amendments or later consultations.
The first couple of consultations I will do most times for free.
Big jobs require sizable upfront payments in my view.
Many ghostwriters I know have gotten suckered into writing for free, only to have their manuscripts rejected half way through the job, losing the client and their pay.
This can happen, so you really must make sure you get paid for what you do before you start. At least then, if things go badly before the completion of the project, your time and energy has not been entirely wasted.
Good luck if you’re ready to take this ghostwriting path.
True, it’s not for every writer. I get way too involved in my own stuff to have the necessary patience for ghostwriting.
I’ve only done it a few times - and realized quickly the work was not for me.
But, you never know, YOU might be really good at it!
Ghost Writing does pay pretty well, after all.
(c) Rob Parnell