Ghostwriting contracts and services

I’m a ghost. You may not know me by name, but you might know some of my ghostwritten books. In many cases the ghostwriter / client relationship is protected by a confidentiality agreement, but in others, the named author is all too happy to admit that they have had some help in writing their book. That’s the kind of ghostwriting I prefer: where egos are in their rightful place.

Egos can make or break a ghostwriting contract; either the ghost’s or the client’s. If you are the kind of writer that must have their name emblazoned across the front cover then maybe this isn’t the type of writing for you. If on the other hand you are satisfied with knowing that you have written a good story, and you don’t mind if someone else takes the adulation (or flak!), then you could be a successful ghostwriter. It may also be a step towards having your own work published some day.

Who needs a ghostwriter?

When I told someone I was ghostwriting children’s books, they asked: ‘What, are you pretending to be some millionaire brat?’ It’s a common belief that it’s only the rich and famous who require ghostwriter services. The first client I wrote for was an artist with an amazing life story. She wasn’t rich nor was she famous outside fine art circles. But she believed the story of her life would make a gripping tale. And she was right. She contacted me because she had read my co-published children’s book Donovon’s Rainbow.

elizabeth-robertson-campbell-the-choiceI wrote the book over four months, using her diary as a primary source then supplementing with personal interviews. My journalistic background no doubt helped me in this. I was credited, as agreed, ‘with Fiona Veitch Smith’ on the title page but not the cover. See The Choice.

I have also ghosted for a wealthy financier who wanted to compile a book of profiles of inspirational South Africans. I got the job because I had done some freelance feature writing for a magazine she funded. The financier did not ‘pretend’ to be the author and no authorial credit was given.

My current ghostwriting contract (a series of 12 fictional picture books for 4 to 7-year-olds) is covered by a confidentiality agreement, so I can’t tell you too much about it. However, I can say that my client came up with the plot outlines and character list. It is my job to write the stories and suggest changes to the plots where necessary. According to our contract I will be given title page credit as co-author.

I got the job after being head-hunted through a website listing on the Writers’ News site and the Society of Authors.

Ghostwriting Contracts

Which brings me to contracts. My first two ghostwriting contracts were not as watertight as I would have wanted them. So for the third, I took advice from the Society of Authors who publish a very helpful guide on the subject

How much do you get paid?

It’s what you all want to know and what I can’t tell you. Again, this information is often covered by a confidentiality agreement. How much you get paid needs to be negotiated between you and the client. There is no set guide. For my other freelance writing I have an hourly rate – I apply the same principle to ghostwriting contracts. I estimate how long I think it will take to research and write, then quote accordingly. I also quote for possible rewrites and editorial changes. The quote is then periodically reviewed by me and the client to see whether it is still applicable.

andrew-crofts-ghostwritingIn most ghostwriting contracts you get a flat fee with all royalties going to the client. However, I have heard of ghostwriters who negotiate a nominal up-front fee and then a cut of royalties. This can work for or against you. It would have worked well in my favour with my first ghostwritten book as it is now in its fourth run. It has also been taken on by a mainstream American publisher and there is talk of film rights. But I won’t get anything out of it. That’s just the business and I wish my client all the best with her success.

My second ghostwriting contract would not have been so lucrative as it only had a short print run with nominal sales, so I’m more than happy with my modest up-front fee. I’m still waiting to see how the third contract pans out. I’ll let you know when it does.

Resources

An excellent introduction to the ghostwriter business is Andrew Crofts‘s Ghostwriting.

For a list of ghostwriting projects and further resources, check out worldwidefreelance.com.

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2 comments on “Ghostwriting contracts and services

  1. Andrew Crofts on said:

    Hi, Fiona,

    Thank you very much for giving my Ghostwriter book a plug on your site. Did you realise, however that you are promoting a German version there? The English one is called “Ghostwriting” from A & C Black and doesn’t have a picture of me on it. I’m particularly pleased with it at the moment as Robert Harris has quoted it all over his forthcoming new thriller, “The Ghost” which is about a ghostwriter and a Tony Blair type ex-Prime Minister.

    Thanks again for the plug and nice website by the way.

    Andrew Crofts

  2. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Thanks Andrew. I’ve updated the link. On the other hand, we don’t want to discriminate against any German-speaking visitors, do we? I’ll be sure to have a look out for the Harris book. Cheers.
    Fiona

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