You’ve interviewed a bunch of ghostwriters. You know your project forward and backward. You’ve got the right one picked out, now it is now time to get started. What you need to do next is create a ghostwriter contract.
Before you read another word, I want to toss out a key disclaimer. Nothing you read here should be taken as actual legal advice.
I am not a lawyer. The contract I use, however, was created by one and it’s important for you, as a client, to know what should be in there. If you have any questions in negotiating your contract, call your lawyer.
Like most aspects of the ghostwriting process, I think timing is a critical factor. You need to have a signed contract in place before you start working with a ghostwriter. That agreement is the foundation of that project.
Another element that is critical for you to note: the specific terms around every one of these areas can be highly negotiable. Their inclusion, however, should not be negotiable. Each one of these should be discussed and understood in all stages of the hiring and interview process.
Your ghostwriter may have preferences (or company policies, if you’re working with a bigger writing or editing firm) but if those don’t work for you… they don’t work for you.
These are the five key areas your ghostwriting contract needs to cover.
Ghostwriter Contract Necessity #1: Ownership
This one is perhaps the simplest of all. Who owns the final manuscript?
While the term “ghostwriter” should make that answer seem rather clear, your contract should alleviate any questions on the topic.
You, the client, are the final “owner” of the manuscript when it’s done. That means, you are entitled to whatever future money there is to be made on the sale, option or publication of that piece of writing.
I don’t do this, but I am sure some ghostwriters out there do. If you and your ghostwriter have decided to share in the wealth, your ghostwriting contract needs to reflect that idea very clearly.
As a point of reference, in the current marketplace manuscript ownership can be a very complicated idea. Publishers and authors have been wrestling with how to divide that pie for ages.
In this day and age with print books, eBooks, digital distribution, translation, and foreign rights, audiobooks, television, movie, and web series rights… you need to understand all of the places your book can make money.
Check out this article from The Balance which talks about this subject.
Necessity #2: Deliverables
This is the work. What is your ghostwriter going to deliver to you?
Most book ghostwriters deliver on word counts. Pages can be subjective. Chapters are of indeterminate length.
Words though are concrete.
The deliverables section should start with the total manuscript length. What is the total number of words you’re buying?
Other types of writing operate differently. Think of screenplays or stage plays where the work isn’t defined by words. Instead, it’s pages. If you have any question of how long something should be, check this out from the esteemed Writers’s Digest.
Once you decide on the total number of words, the deliverable section should break that down into a series of digestible bites. For example, if you are contracting out for 60,000 words (which is a pretty fair book-length) then the deliverables stand for what points the ghostwriter is going to hand something over to you.
Maybe it’s six 10,00 word deliverables. Maybe three at 20,000.
You may choose to make your approval of that deliverable part of your ghostwriting contract. Some clients want the right to give it the OK. Others don’t and are content to let the writer work.
Quite often, a deliverable section also incorporates an outline. After the word, the length is agreed upon, but before the first word is written there should be something in place so you know what the writer is writing.
Yeah, you hired a genius… but you need to know what they’re doing first. Get that in writing, too.
Ghostwriter Contract Necessity #3: Money
You knew this would come up. How much money is this ghostwriting service going to cost?
The same as with the deliverable section, you start with the total dollars. Like an annual salary at a regular job, you negotiate from the top down. Once you arrive at that total, you work together to come up with the smaller terms of how that total is paid out.
Payment includes these three areas: total project costs, benchmarks and payments. Each of these areas is a separate negotiation.
First, you need to agree with your ghostwriter on the total payment. From beginning to end, how much is the job going to cost?
Second, what are the benchmarks? Are you breaking the project payments into quarters? Going by a percentage of word count?
I cover this in my book, but benchmarks are a critical aspect of a strong, ongoing relationship with your ghostwriter. You need to understand what you’re paying for, whether that be words, screenplay drafts, or an outline.
Last, how much money is attached to each benchmark.
You see the idea of money in a ghostwriting contract is far more complicated than simply total dollars. Payments and benchmarks matter.
Although the totals are the same, there is a huge difference between $10,000 in two payments and $10,000 broken out over five.
How this breaks down needs to be a mutual decision.
Necessity #4: Non-Disclosure Protection
I won’t mince around about non-disclosure. These protections simply state that the ghostwriter is not going to talk about your book.
As I talk about in my eBook, How To Hire a Ghostwriter your ideas are intellectual property. However small or large your project is in scope and scale (I always use Game of Thrones as an example of a valuable property) you need to protect that in order to retain maximum value.
Now, I like to say, your ghostwriter should be able to talk to their spouse or significant other about the book. You’re not freaking out because they talk to their dog while on a walk about your complicated characters.
What you are going to need to be very serious about is broadcast over bigger platforms than the kitchen table. Are they talking about it on social media? Are they devaluing the ghostwriting service by telling the world they wrote the project instead of you?
I actually think it is a best practice to sign both a Non-Disclosure Agreement and a contract that covers this area as well. Some of my colleagues think that’s overkill… and they’re probably right, but I’m pretty careful about this.
Ghostwriter Contract Necessity #5: Termination
Let’s be honest, in life things happen. Sometimes those unexpected events affect your ability to fulfill your end of the agreement.
I have had clients cease work on a ghostwriting project for many reasons.
- A family member becomes ill, demanding time and resources;
- They experience a different kind of financial catastrophe that hinders their ability to pay, or…
- …that catastrophe shifts their life focus;
- They find traction on another project, thus rendering our currently contracted project less relevant;
- They simply lose interest and don’t want to complete it.
Yes, all of these things happen. Even the last one.
As a curious aside, years ago, I had one client quit ghostwriting services because, after working on the book for so long, she had gotten past the trauma we were writing about.
Yeah, you heard it right, I was like a therapist.
Your ghostwriting contract should acknowledge what happens if any of these things happen to you. Are you paying the full remaining balance? Is there a termination fee?
On the other hand, what happens if your ghostwriter cannot complete their agreed-upon services for you? It happens. Businesses go under. Those life catastrophes happen can happen to the writer as well.
You need to be sure you’re covered.
On the other hand, be aware, your ghostwriter will very likely have something in that agreement that covers them. What’s important to see in writing is fair protection for both.
If you would like to read more on the topic of ghostwriter services, check out these additional articles.
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