Ghostwriting: How Much Do Book Ghostwriters Charge?

As you may know, I love ghostwriting. It’s been a major part of my writing for decades, starting when I wrote business books that were commissioned by the publishers Prentice Hall and Allen & Unwin.

When lunching with an editor, I asked her what her greatest challenge was with her authors. “Getting them to deliver on time,” she said. Her tone was grim; no joke, she ground her teeth.

So because I delivered my commissions on or before my deadlines, the publishers commissioned me to write chapters and sections of books for authors who hadn’t delivered.

Next, they commissioned me to write complete books under someone else’s name. They’d signed a celebrity or an academic to write a book, knowing that the book would be ghosted. (Many more books are ghosted than you’d think, and competent ghostwriters are in demand.)

As young and naive as I was until then, I hadn’t even realized that ghostwriting was a thing and that people made a living at it.

If you’re a new ghostwriter, you quickly realize that your income level depends on how much you charge.

“How much should I charge for ghostwriting a book?”

The “how much” question pops up frequently, especially for ghostwriting books.

Reedsy’s How Much Does a Ghostwriter Cost to Hire? suggests:

An experienced ghostwriter costs between $40,000 and $70,000 for a full book-length project (not a proposal).

That seems like a lot, until you realize how much time writing the book will take.

Let’s look at how to estimate a fee for a book project.

Estimating your fee begins with the project

Start with the project itself, and ask some questions. You need as much information about the project as you can get.

Write down the answers:

  • What does the client want? You must know the type of book they expect. Fiction or nonfiction? Genre or category? Will they choose a traditional publisher or self-publish? Etc.
  • Help the client to create a brief. (Project description.)
  • Estimate the number of hours. (You’ll be wrong. Everything takes longer than you expect.)
  • Decide on your hourly rate. (Consider how easy or challenging the project will be.)
  • Multiply the number of hours by your hourly rate.
  • Look at your schedule; how much time do you have, and when?
  • Write a proposal: this ensures that you and the client are on the same page, so to speak. Please don’t omit a proposal. This is your chance to nail down specifics; it avoids scope-creep. It’s common; the client expects you to deliver additional work not mentioned in the proposal or contract.
  • Create a contract.

Speaking of hourly rates…

Charge by the project and deliverable: avoid hourly rates

Why, you wonder? Primarily, because it works for me and for my clients. Your mileage may vary; experiment.

The client benefits. He knows the total fee, so he also knows he won’t receive unexpected invoices. This freelancer site reports that 63% of their writers charge per project.

On my side, I have a schedule into which I slot projects. If a project runs longer, it means I earn less; my hourly rate goes down. Similarly, if I can wrap up a project quickly, my rate goes up.

Over the years, I’ve learned the value of itemizing everything that goes into a project in a proposal. It means I know what I need to do, and so does the client.

Essential: create a project proposal

Many ghostwriters omit proposals; they send the client a contract and invoice and call it good. However, scope creep is real. Every additional item takes time.

To be fair, your clients don’t intend anything bad when they ask for additions: “This won’t take long, I’m certain, so could you (do something or other.)”

I enjoy my clients and always want to help, so when they ask, it’s in my nature to agree, rather than refuse. Unfortunately, this means some clients respond like Oliver Twist: I want some more.

This leads to whining (my own, in private) as well as bad feelings. So create that proposal, and add: “Any work which isn’t specifically mentioned in the proposal will be charged at my hourly rate, which is (your hourly rate.”) Add the same note to the contract.

In book ghostwriting, everything depends on the book

As we’ve said, you want as much information from the client as you can get. Gently ask what results they envision.

Do they see their book as a:

  • Paperback, hardcover, and ebooks that are sold in bookstores everywhere and reviewed widely?
  • Income-enhancers, something they can sell when they give speeches or make personal appearances?
  • Products they can sell on their blog?
  • Way to build their reputation as a thought leader?
  • Memento for their family?
  • Company history?

Every client has expectations. When you discover what they are, a project becomes easier.

And as I always say, have fun. 🙂

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