What is a Ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is a professional author who, for a fee, writes on your behalf (“cover author”). In other words, the ghost gets the debit, you get the credit. Unless otherwise written in the contract, all sales proceeds, royalties, etc. are yours. The ghostwriter simply writes the book for a flat fee and that’s all the ghost ever receives.

Is Ghostwriting Legal?

Yes, ghostwriting is done all the time on behalf of professionals who do not have the time to write or who find it difficult to organize the concepts into a clear, concise manuscript that artfully manages the reader’s mind to the final conclusion.

Legally, ghostwriting falls under the “work for hire” doctrine. Under U.S. copyright law, work-for-hire can only exist under two conditions: The first is when a work is created by an employee under the ordinary scope of his employment. The second is when a work is created by an independent contractor (ghostwriter).  

It Still Sounds Like Plagiarism. Is it?

No. Plagiarism is when you steal the words or ideas of another. Work-for-hire is when you pay for the work. Despite paying for the work, some clients don’t feel right about declaring themselves as the author so will credit the ghost using “with” or “as told to” on the front cover. For example, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.”

The only exception to this rule is when you are under a separate agreement to produce the work yourself, such as college students. The academic code of conduct (a contract with the student) states that the student must produce the work as a way to demonstrate knowledge and writing skills. While there is nothing illegal about a student hiring a ghostwriter, the problem arises when he turns the work in as his own since it is a violation of the university’s contract. A good ghostwriter will never knowingly accept such an assignment.

In the business world, however, there is no contract with the universe that you have to produce the work yourself. If you have a story to tell and need assistance, it’s perfectly legal provided you pay for it.

How Much Does the Ghostwriter Contribute?

In most cases, the ghostwriter will take your notes, outlines, partial manuscripts, and other research you provide and organize it into a book, magazine article, or other work. This is the preferred method since it allows the ghost to take your tone, words, phrases, and other traits so that the book sounds like it came from you. If you sound like Shakespeare, you don’t want it written by Dr. Seuss.

However, ghostwriters will also write a book from cover to cover, with virtually no contribution from you. Even in these instances, it’s still best for you to assist by editing words, phrases, and examples so they sound like you. Of course, the more time the ghost has to spend, the higher the fees. After all, ghosts relish their time for haunting houses and clanging chains.

Whether you contribute a little or lot, you should spend time with your ghost by phone or in person so the ghost will understand your ideas and, more importantly – personality.

How Much are Ghostwriting Fees?

Fees vary depending on length, complexity, graphics, and amount of research.  According to several national writing organizations such as Ghostwriters Ink and Writers Market, fees range from $12,000 to $25,000 for a typical book of about 200 to 300 pages.

Some ghosts quote rates in cents per word, which range from about 10 to 50 cents per word. For some quick math, an average page contains about 300 words. If you want a 200-page book at 15 cents per word, it would cost about 200 pages * 300 words per page * 15 cents = $9,000.

Independent ghostwriters usually offer better rates than ghostwriting companies, or “author houses.” Companies usually charge the client at the upper end of the spectrum – about 30 to 50 cents per word – but pay ghosts 5 to 8 cents per word. This is probably the worst arrangement for clients since they pay top-dollar for the project but receive low-grade work. Remember, you get what you pay for. Author houses receive the bulk of the fee for simply matching you with a ghost. Instead, it’s better to find your own ghost and receive work that matches the money spent.

For higher-profile clients, fees can dramatically increase to $50,000 or more. In 2001, the New York Times predicted that the ghostwriter for Hillary Clinton’s memoirs would receive around $500,000. So while it’s difficult to say what any single project is worth, one thing is for sure – fees vary.

Most ghostwriters require a percentage of the total fee up front and then partial payments as the work progresses.

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

Depending on the complexity and amount of work your ghost performs, expect at least nine months to one year for a book to be completed. During this time, pages or chapters should be exchanged for you to review and the ghost will expect partial payments as the work progresses. If the topic is not too complex and is a relatively short book, say 100 pages or so, you may receive your book in as little as six to eight weeks.

How Many Pages Should my Book Include?

A book should not be judged by its cover – or its length. If you have an interesting story that can be told in a short book, say 75 pages, your readers will appreciate the conciseness and efficiency. Readers buy business and finance books for one reason: information. They do not care how thick the book is as long as they get the information promised.

One of the most successful business books written is "Who Moved my Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life" by Spencer Johnson. It is only 96 pages. You do not need to produce a lot of pages to be a best seller. Produce quality.

Keep in mind there is a multiplier effect too when you transfer your words to print. If you write 100 pages in a computerized document but print a 5 x 7 book, you will end up with closer to 120 pages. Even with a large textbook size format, your page count will increase about 5%.

In today’s digital age, most writers are formatting for e-readers such as Kindle by Amazon.com or Nook by Barnes and Noble. When a book is electronic, readers do not see the size in the same way as when shopping at a bookstore; they just see the price. Further, the current trend is to produce shorter reads over a series of books rather than one long book. Today, authors are better off writing 80 to 120 pages in an electronic format rather than creating 300 pages in print.

Another benefit arises from e-books: Retailers pay much higher royalties. For example, publishers usually pay about 15% to 20% royalties for traditional printed books. On the other hand, if you price your e-book between $2.99 and $9.99, Amazon.com pays 70%!

What Topics will Ghostwriters Write About?

A good writer should be able to write on just about any topic, especially if you are providing most of the notes and research. The art of writing lies not so much in what is said but how it is said. However, it is still best to find a ghost that is competent in your field of interest as that allows the ghost to contribute in meaningful ways that you may not have considered.

I specialize in financial markets, economics, and general business topics.

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