“How much does ghostwriting cost?” This is one of the top questions I’m asked when a would-be author is trying to figure out how to get their book printed.
My answer? Well, it depends, and no, I’m not being cagey. It’s just that there’s no one fee for ghostwriting. Many factors must be weighed in order to gain a clear understanding of the scope of the work required.
For example, how much collaboration do you want? Do you have an outline ready to go or is that something you need help with? How much research will be necessary? Will others need to be interviewed to provide anecdotal stories that support the narrative? How many pages do you want your book to be? What sort of a “thud factor” are you looking for?
thud factor: n. A characteristic of a book or magazine that measures its relative weight. It refers to the “thud” a book or magazine makes when you drop it on a desk or table.
Asking how much a ghostwriter charges is a legitimate question, but the answer isn’t simple. Before asking what the fees are, ask yourself these other questions to figure out exactly what you want and need.
As you might expect, you’ll pay more for an experienced ghost than someone new in their career. Can a newbie writer produce a manuscript that you can self-publish? Probably. But an experienced writer will undoubtedly produce a better product that your readers will appreciate more.
An experienced ghostwriter has developed internal processes they follow to ensure a quality product. They’ve spent years crafting a system for gathering information, conducting interviews, sharing drafts, getting approvals, and of course, writing. Odds are they’ve also got a great team of editors to support the creation of a quality manuscript. Sure, talent matters, but preparation and experience matters as much or more.
A word on word counts.
Most professional writers charge by the word, so this is where thud factor comes into play in terms of costs. A hefty book with a bigger thud costs more than a lean publication. Sometimes you can “pad” a thin volume of information by using creative spacing in the margins and employing a larger font, however, it’s not always possible. Many print-on-demand vendors use predetermined settings for page and text formatting. It’s best to decide on the size of the book you think you want to produce and commit.
Assuming you are preparing your manuscript using a 12-point font (which most editors prefer), you’ll get about 250 to 300 words per manuscript page. Thus, a 55,000-word book would be about 200 manuscript pages. A 100,000-word book would be about 400 pages (and quite ambitious!) Most business advice and self-help genres fall into the 40,000 to 50,000-word range.
Here are some of my favorite books and their word counts from a variety of genres.
Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different, by Karen Blumenthal | 50,000 words
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon | 51,472 words
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell | 71,218 words
Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, by Guy Kawasaki | 48,985 words
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood | 97,201 words
The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit | 68,229 words
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury | 50,474 words
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris | 56,774 words
The Stand, by Stephen King | 416,440 words
Fee range ≠ not free-range.
Traditionally published work has more variation in fee structures, with publishers offering authors an advance on royalties. The ghostwriter gets paid a flat fee in advance (usually a deposit and then scheduled balance payments). Any royalties or residuals are paid to the author, not the ghost.
This is more than fair since the writer has no ability to influence sales, participate in promotional activities, or actively engage the audience. Consider also that weeks and often months of work go into producing every manuscript. Whether your timeline is loose or tight, the amount of work is considerable.
Fees range from fifty cents per word for a beginning copywriter to $3.00 per word or more, with the majority of writers averaging between $1.25 and $1.75 per word.*
How much is credit worth?
Co-authored books sometimes cost less than ghostwritten books, but not always. With co-authoring, both the author’s name and the writer’s name appear on the cover—even if the writer does all the work. This allows the ghostwriter to freely share their work publicly, however, any residuals will be paid only to the author.
If an author wants the book credit entirely to himself, the writer will charge more to ghost. The author alone receives all the praise, royalties, and accolades. The ghost is paid to be invisible in perpetuity. They have no further claim to any future earnings because they’ve been paid up front.
Sometimes, but not always, a ghostwriter will be mentioned by name in the acknowledgments of a book. Such acknowledgment is welcome but not expected, and has no effect on the writer’s fees.
People often ask if it’s insulting or somehow diminishing not to receive credit. After all, writing a book is a lot of work. Personally, I don’t care that my name isn’t on a cover. I’m lucky enough to have work that I’m good at, enjoy immensely, and for which I am well compensated. I’m satisfied with the knowledge that I’ve helped someone make a bucket list dream come true.
A cautionary note.
Beware of ghostwriters who offer you a flat fee regardless of the scope of your book, or whose fees fall outside the range presented above. I’ve seen some pitiful examples of 50,000-word books costing only $3000 but the quality is what you might expect. Many publishing services that charge low rates for ghostwriting outsource to cheap labor markets, often to writers for whom English is not their first language.
Unlike a blog post that you can change at any time to correct poor logic, bad grammar, or erroneous facts, a book is forever. You can sometimes make revisions in a second edition but the damage that’s done to your reputation as an author is instantaneous.
If quality, credibility, and impact are important to you, you won’t regret the money you spend hiring a professional writer the way you’ll regret the mistakes that come with buying cheap labor.
*As reported by The Writer’s Market, using sales data submitted by thousands of professional writers and their professional organizations in 2005 and 2006.