How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?
Every week I interview with prospective clients for ghostwriter jobs. Meeting and getting to know people is among my favorite parts of what I do. One of the first questions prospective clients usually ask me is, how much do ghostwriters charge for their services?
However the interview begins, the question of cost always comes up and it is usually the most critical of the hiring process. Ghostwriting rates tend to vary depending on a number of factors, including region, desired product, and the type of provider. When I first started out as a ghostwriter, I did an informal survey of my established colleagues, trying to decide how to come up with an effective price. One thing I learned from that exercise is that ghostwriting rates fall all over the map.
Because of that experience, I honestly feel the frustration expressed by many of my prospective clients. Hiring a ghostwriter for your book project can sometimes make you feel like you’re out there flying blind. There is little guidance and, maddeningly, even less certainty. I’m here to say that finding the right ghostwriter for your novel, screenplay or memoir doesn’t have to be a lot of guesswork.
How do you learn how much ghostwriters charge? You ask them.
If you’ve explored available ghostwriters on the internet, you really understand that ghostwriting rates can vary. I spent a lot of time exploring the industry and I’m always surprised at the high costs some of my fellow writers charge and, naturally, the staggeringly low costs of others.
Are some ghostwriters merely closing their eyes, crossing their fingers, and throwing a dart at a board? Probably not but it feels like it sometimes.
In general, sorting ghostwriters by price puts them into three categories.
On the lowest end there are what I think of as bargain writers. These are the professionals you see charging less than a dime per word, sometimes as low as a penny. How does that break down? Well, a penny a word ghostwriter will make approximately $600 for a book. However you look at it, that’s not a lot of money. When you factor in the amount of time, it’s practically criminal.
So what about the upper end? The most expensive are what I like to call celebrity ghost writers. These are the cream of the crop professionals, ones who can comfortably charge two and three dollars per word. Where do you find these writers? Usually writing biographies and memoirs for celebrities (hence the name) like former presidents, politicians and public figures. Total book cost? Try $120,000.
The difference is absolutely staggering. What accounts for that range?
There are a lot of factors that account for the disparity between those ghostwriter fees. One that comes to mind immediately is confidence. How confident a writer is in their worth will steer them higher (or, for newbies, lower). Another factor is skill. If a writer is adept at a certain type of writing, say political memoir or business writing, then they can charge top end rates. Exposure to a particular industry or field, then that pushes the rate even further.
Another factor in ghostwriting rates is agency. Pro tip: where you shop really matters. Ghostwriter fees for large companies or agencies tend to be higher, almost double, than for an independent provider. The trouble with that reality is that those companies are usually working with a stable of sub contractors, that extra money you’re paying them goes to company overhead more than anything else.
The main factor is experience. Ghostwriters who have been around for a while, know the business, writing high profile books, are able to demand that top dollar. One look at their publishing credits and past client list and it becomes abundantly clear where the premium comes from.
On the opposite end, bargain writers, those you find posting up on Upwork, Fiverr and other reduced cost sites, don’t have necessary or compelling experience. If they did, they wouldn’t be working with those types of providers. They’ve either never written a book before, haven’t seen one of their projects published, or use English as a second language.
If you’re hiring a ghostwriter, the first thing you need to know is what do I need? Ask yourself: should I try to cut corners by bringing in a bargain ghostwriter? Do I splurge?
The right ghostwriter rate for you is one you feel comfortable paying. Go into the process of hiring your ghostwriter knowing what you can afford to pay. For a full-length book, anywhere from 50-75,000 words, you’re looking at making a considerable investment.
If you pay too much, you run the risk of running out of money before the payments are done. Try and cut corners on cost, you could be disappointed with the work you see along the way.
After twenty years as a ghostwriter, I have settled on a flexible range of rates instead of trying to offer something set in stone. That’s why you won’t see a price sheet on my site. Why a range? I like offering my clients some flexibility. It gives someone looking at the process the opportunity to fit themselves in.
My ghostwriting rate range for original work falls between $.80 and $1.25 per finished word. Considering experience and skill, this places me firmly in the middle.
What does the term “finished word” mean? Most professional ghostwriter fees are, for the most part, based on the finished manuscript word. This is the number of words when the project is done. If the first draft is 70,000 words but the finished draft is 60,000 then that’s what you pay for.
Why finished word? Over the years, I’ve tried monthly fees and hourly rates, but nothing really translates to quality for both me and the client like per word.
How does payment work?
Book writing fees are, for the most part, broken into three (or, in some instances, four) payments. When I make a ghostwriting contract with a new client, I split the payments up like this: one third of the total is due when the contract is signed, one third when the outline is completed and agreed upon, and one third when the book is done. In some instances, when a client requests a four payment plan (usually for larger, higher cost projects) I break the total into quarters, adding the fourth payment when I submit the first draft.
Breaking payments up makes a lot of sense and it is something you should, when negotiating ghostwriting rates, insist on. Paying a large percentage up front tends to dampen the ghostwriter’s incentive to finish; holding out on making payments until deep into the project causes a lag in the beginning phases. Equal payments makes things affordable and keeps everyone motivated to get the project completed. The total cost of a book is a lot for most people to bite off in one payment, which is another reason why a client friendly payment plan is important.
Bottom line is that ghostwriter fees need to make sense for your total budget. I also think they need to make sense for getting the project done right.
What do I mean by this? I’ll try to illustrate by example.
Recently, I worked with a client whose novel ghostwriting project had fallen apart. After an extensive search of ghostwriting providers, they brought me on to rescue the project. Once we agreed on a fair ghostwriting rate, we re-wrote the outline, fixed gaping plot holes and ultimately, crafted a cast of stronger, more relatable characters. Our work was, I thought, quite a success. When we were done, they had a finished novel, something they could self-publish with confidence.
What went wrong for this client? They let budget, the basic desire to pay as little as possible for their service, influence their overall decision.
The ghostwriter they went with originally worked for an agency. They had never finished writing a novel before. With just a few short stories to their credit (none of them published) and a bargain basement price to entice, the client thought they were getting a deal. The book, at least they thought, would get done for a fraction of the cost.
Is that what happened? No. What happened represented a far more discouraging outcome, one I really hate to hear, even if I was able to help. Once the ghostwriter fees were paid, the writer started on the book, but they claimed to run into trouble. It took them months to complete the novel’s first act and when that was done, it became clear that the quality wasn’t up to snuff. I cringed when the client told me, “It almost seems like they didn’t understand how to write a novel.”
It brought me no joy to say, the client was absolutely right. The ghostwriter they hired, and paid for, had no idea how to write a high-level, publishable novel. They came from a provider that had a web presence, a rate that sounded too good to be true and, unfortunately, results to prove that.
The most expensive projects are not defined by how high or low the price tag is. In my estimation, they’re defined by their probability of success.
If the ghostwriters fees are unreasonably small then you need to consider why. Just look at the total cost paid for the service. $600? Who can afford to live off of that kind of money?
The same can be said for ghostwriters fees at the other end of the spectrum. I talked earlier about providers whose rates can push into the high five/low six figure range. $100,000 for a book is a steep cost and, for that money, you’re almost guaranteed to get a real professional. But ask yourself this – is that cost one you could comfortably afford? Even broken up into quarters, that’s $25,000 a pop.
I’ve heard a few of my colleagues talk about clients that drop off the map. One month they’re there, working on the book, the next, they’re not taking calls.
Why does this happen? In a lot of these unfortunate instances, I think, it’s because the ghostwriter rates they agreed to were far too much than they could really afford. But because they identified with quality and professionalism (not necessarily bad things to identify with, to be honest) they thought the top dollar, celebrity ghostwriter fit what they were looking for. A few payments in, maybe a life change, and suddenly, those big invoices become a burden.
What do both of those examples have in common? To me, the situations are equally unfortunate and end up in a similarly sad state. Well-meaning clients with excellent ideas don’t get to see their desired end product because they didn’t understand common sense ghostwriter rates.
How much do ghostwriter’s charge for their services?
Every one of us is a little different. Not a week goes by that I don’t communicate with one of my colleagues about their services. I have come to learn that we each offer a special set of skills, an array of unique services, and connection to the project. The best professionals work to create an affordable ghostwriting rate that offers two things at the same time: a high level of value to their client while also paying them commensurately with what they bring to the table.
Things change, too. The costs for services goes up over time (just like everything else) while the demand for certain services change too.
When I started out as a ghostwriter, going back twenty years now, I made a lot of the mistakes I’ve talked about here. Hungry for work, I charged my clients too little. Other times, when I thought I had something figured out, my ghostwriting rates were out of whack with the market on the other side.
The bottom line is that ghostwriting rates need to make sense for both the client and writer. They need to be structured in a way that makes payment intuitive and affordable.
Most importantly, rates and services need to orient toward completing high quality, publishable, books that audiences will adore. Affordability really comes down to that.
Contact me for a service quote
If you are serious about hiring a professional ghostwriter for your book, screenplay, or non-fiction story, or you need help with editing or self-publishing your manuscript, please contact me.
Every new contact receives a free 30-minute 1:1 consultation about their ghostwriting project or manuscript consultation.
Additionally, I offer all independent and self-publishing authors a 10% discount on my already affordable services.