Speak to half a dozen ghosts about your book and you’ll probably get half a dozen wildly differing quotes. Some sought-after ‘A’ list ghosts with a track record of bestsellers behind them command as much as a million pounds or dollars per book, plus a share of royalties and a writing credit. The lowest tier of writer, sourced from freelancing websites such as Elance, will pen a book for as little as £5000, or even less in some cases. In between these two levels are hundreds of ghosts with a bit of experience under their belts who expect between £15,000 and £50,000, or sometimes even more.
You may well be left thinking: surely this must be the most diverse pricing model in the business world?
There is a big element of ‘buyer beware’ here. In ghost writing, you really do get what you pay for. Experience and quality are (or at least should be) everything in book writing. It is virtually impossible to cut corners, do it on the cheap and still expect a readable book.
Employing a ghost is not like buying some cut-price goods off-the-shelf, that have maybe been improved by some nifty little tricks to make them seem on a par with a leading brand. You can’t do this with the written word. A skilled and experienced ghost knows how to structure a plot, build characters and grip the reader from the very first page. An unskilled, inexperienced ghost, won’t. No amount of upselling can disguise that fact. You can’t pretend to produce a fantastic book.
So, on the understanding, you get what you pay for in ghostwriting, the other thing to know when it comes to price is how the ghost gets paid, because this can vary too.
If the author has already secured a publishing deal and wants to bring in a ghost, they have the choice of paying their co-writer a flat fee, or a percentage of the advance. This will be very much up to a negotiation between the individuals. Authors will generally favour flat fees, while ghosts will push for fifty fifty split. Of course, well-known, or previously successful, ghosts are in a good position to negotiate.
Some publishers will offer deals with no advance at all, or at least a very small one. This happens when there is less certainty about a project and how it will sell. Instead, they might offer an author and their ghost a joint share of 50 per cent of the receipts. For each book sold, the publisher gets half the receipt and the writing team get the other half. It is a way of encouraging the writers to share the risk and reward equally. It is a huge leap of faith on the ghost’s behalf, because it means the professional writer will initially work for nothing on the understanding of a decent income down the line when the book sells. Researching a book and drafting the requisite chapters is no small undertaking. During this time, a ghost will not receive a penny of income and don’t forget he or she has no certainty that the book will ever generate any money at all. Ghosts are therefore very choosy about the books they do on this basis and many won’t do it at all.
Another way of structuring a deal with a ghost is for an author to pay them a flat fee, regardless of whether the finished book is picked up by a publisher. Here, the author will agree a fixed price up-front with their ghost, which may or may not include a percentage share of any future royalties. The ghost will base their fee on the amount of time it will take them to write the manuscript and how much research and interviewing will be needed. Prices can vary wildly according to the experience of the ghost and can be anything from £10,000 to more than £100,000 depending on the ghost and the complexity of the project.
A fee-based scenario like this is most effective where an author already has a ready-made market for their books, is not reliant on a publishing advance and quite happy to self publish. Their book may be part of their marketing package and they will source a ghost in the same way as they would look for a graphic designer to lay out their book’s pages, an editor to refine the copy and a printer to cover production.
For many ghosts, the most profitable way to work is to hedge their bets, doing the majority of their work on a straight fee-basis, a little on a guaranteed fifty fifty split and a small number of speculative projects that may or may not pay out significantly down the line. In any ghosting fee arrangement, as with any business deal, the key is that all parties go into it with their eyes wide open. Skilled ghostwriting is often more expensive than people realise and it is worth exploring all the possibilities before agreeing to anything.