Working with a ghostwriter

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For as many roles as a ghostwriter can fill, there are an equal number of ways that working with a ghostwriter can get from start to finish of your writing project.

One size fits all solutions simply do not work in the creative the arts. Project scopes are unique by nature but there are a few benchmarks that should be a part of every agreement.

A non-disclosure agreement serves to protect a client’s intellectual property.

We’re all familiar with the term, usually reserved for top secret computer code and the development of big inventions. Once you reach out to a ghostwriter to work on your project, your idea, your story becomes intellectual property and it needs protection.

When you begin working with  a ghostwriter, he or she should offer a non-disclosure agreement, even before the contract. This is critical in part because an NDA protects the ghostwriter later on down the line in the rare instance that there is slight project overlap.

A project should line out a clear scope of work. Every ghostwriter that I know would love to work on indefinite retainer but that is not realistic. Draw out the project steps start to finish. Build in the achievable benchmarks that represent progressive steps toward the finish.

A project should also have a timeline (although there is a caveat to this). There is nothing more frustrating for a client than to make their payment, get their chosen writer started and then wonder when the deliverables start rolling in. A client is paying for results and it is always a good idea to show when those results become reality. The caveat is, be flexible and realistic. Look ahead. We can’t predict the future but there are easily recognizable pitfalls.

A timeline is also important for the ghostwriter. Keeping two or three projects in the air can be very stressful as well as unrealistic. A series of well timed benchmarks keeps the project moving but it also ensures you get the best, most focused writer that your money can buy…

Which leads to the most important factor. Money. The subject no one likes talking about is one that must enter the conversation and the earlier the better.

A well thought out payment structure can make or break a project. Too much on the front end reduces incentive and puts the burden of risk squarely on the client’s shoulders. The opposite problem, too much money in the back end, devalues the groundwork.

Don’t think of money in terms of dollars and cents. Think of it in terms of value. A good payment structure fosters value in the work. I prefer to contract as follows: 30% up front with 50% at a major watershed benchmark and 20% to finish.

This type of spread, while it’s not realistic for everyone is effective because it values work’s commencement, which is exciting, and it doesn’t breed contempt in the end.

Erick MertzWorking with a ghostwriter

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