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What Should I Charge to Ghostwrite a Book?

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Q: A friend approached me about writing her memoir. I don't know how to charge for it, especially since I have no idea how much material I'll have to work with and, therefore, how long it might be. Also, I know I want to share credit, on the one in a million chance that the client gets it published and the book becomes a bestseller. What should I charge? Should I assure a minimum number of pages? What guidelines do you suggest? —Tamara Kort

A: According to guidelines set forth in the 2008 Writer's Market, ghostwriters charge anywhere from $50-100 per hour for "as told to" projects and $30-115 per hour for no credit pieces. “As-told-to” ghostwriting often nets you less money per hour because you get other benefits—such as a byline, an advance and a split of the royalties (up to 50 percent). But if you're willing to skip the byline and future earnings, you can act as a work-for-hire ghostwriter and charge more on the front end.

"Whatever is negotiated needs to be done, agreed upon, on paper and signed before work commences (or continues--if already started)," says Robert Brewer, editor of Writer's Market. "Included should be an estimate on the amount of time or pages expected; how many re-writes/revisions are expected; what constitutes a finished product; how and when payment will be made; and conditions under which the price might escalate."

If charging by the hour makes you (or your counterpart) nervous (Hey, I know I said to write about my first time at Yankee Stadium, but I'm not paying for the three hours you spent catching a game in the bleachers no matter how much 'ambiance' it added to the writing)—you can simplify it by charging per page. When translating hourly rates to pages, it comes out to $4-$25. I know that seems like a large range, but, like with any contracting job, the more experience and success you have, the more you can justify charging a higher price.

Realistically, the best bet for your first time ghostwriting is probably to negotiate a specific page count and price per page, so both you and your counterpart know the total amount that will exchange hands when the book is finished. (Negotiate royalties separately). As you become more comfortable with the process, you can adjust accordingly.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

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