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 will pen a book for as little as £5000, or even less in some cases. I’ve even heard of ghosts who have charged below £1000. In between these two levels are hundreds of ghosts with a bit of experience under their belts who expect between £25,000 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?
To help unravel it all, let me try to explain how the price is calculated.
Experience is key. In ghost writing, you really do get what you pay for. A ghostwriter with one, or several, bestsellers under their belts will naturally command a far higher fee than a newbie. 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. There is no guarantee that your book will be a bestseller if you pay more for an experienced ghost, but it will certainly lead to a very high quality book of the standard publishers would want and expect. 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.
There are other variables that will impact the price too. The majority of ghosts structure their fees on the time it will take to write the manuscript and work to a standard day, or hourly rate. Therefore the length of the book, or word count, will play a part, but so too will the amount of research the writer needs to do. It may be that a straight autobiography, where the ghost relies on a series of taped interviews with the author, will be less expensive than a book which also requires an additional amount of fact-checking and desk research to discover and verify complex detail. If a lot of content already exists in written form, that may also help bring down the overall fee. Factored into the price will be how much back-and-forth is expected in the editing process. Again, the more complex the project, the more the author will be expected to pay.
I should probably say here that one of the biggest bugbears for a professional ghost is when a prospective author asks them to write their book for free, on the understanding of a 50:50 share of profits at a later date. It is very, very rare for a ghost to agree to do this if this is their full time job. We have mortgages to pay too and it can take up to six months to write a book. Don’t forget ghostwriters have no certainty that the book will ever generate any money at all. There are not many people that can give up half a year’s earnings on the chance that their efforts may turn into a multi million pound bestseller somewhere down the line. We very much hope it will be a success, but there is no business in the world that can operate on those terms. Ghosts are therefore very choosy about the books they do on this basis and many won’t do it at all.
If an author has already secured a good publishing deal and wants to bring in a ghostwriter service, 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.
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. Prices can vary wildly according to the factors outlined above and for an established ghost can be anything from £25,000 to more than £100,000 depending on 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.
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.