I am often approached by people who tell me that they have an incredible story to tell - they took drugs, experienced incest, etc., and they eventually became successful in their careers, etc., and they are now looking for someone to ghostwrite their story.
They normally want you to write this for them free of charge, and they promise that when the book is selling, they will pay you a percentage. Generally, this is about 10%.
So, looking at the logistics of this...
A book that doesn't need any research generally takes about 200 hours if it's non fiction and everything is just a matter of writing down. That's 25 days or (taking off weekends) five weeks of solid works. It also doesn't take into consideration that generally it's impossible to write for eight hours a day because it's a very tiring occupation.
The odds of getting the book published are not high because...
a) Unless one is famous or there is something very unique about the story, this kind of story is old hat at this point.
b) Publishers regard 'best seller' as anything over 2000 books. If 2000 books sell, and the writer gets a 10% royalty (the norm), the writer makes $4000.00. If the writer then pays the ghostwriter 10% of the royalties, the ghostwriter earns $400 for five weeks of exhausting work.
The person who is hiring the writer, of course, is thinking that their story is going to sell millions because another writer did this...
Would you ghostwrite a book for someone else without being paid?
I certainly would not -- even at a higher rate or for less work. There's something like a balance point that might make me interested, but the terms you mention are far from that point for me!
Thank you Aficionada. I've lost count of the number of people who have approached me with this proposition. To try and tell these people that their 'offer' is ridiculous is just plain rude, but, honestly, where do they get this idea from that writing the book is the easy part and that their story is fabulous, and that publishers will fall over themselves to buy it, and then that the public will buy millions, and then they will be rich.
I'm pretty sure that is the reasoning behind it, because every single time I explain it to them, they back off. They honestly were looking for someone to write their 'wonderful' life story for nothing.
Just my 2c:
In my experience ghostwriters are either 1) paid a large flat fee for purchase of all rights (work for hire), or 2) paid a very considerable amount of the advance and royalties, not less than 50% (unless this is for some huge celebrity with writers clamoring to get full access). 10% is measly even assuming the book already has a guaranteed Big Six publisher. As unplaced work in an over-crowded genre... well, it sounds like a very undesirable and non-standard deal to me.
But I would note that a bestseller is something that appears on a bestseller list (e.g. NYT)--which occurs at around 150,000 copies or more--it varies. A poor seller at a Big 6 imprint would still be selling 10,000 books. 2000 copies is nothing and I can;t think fo a conventional publisher who would call that anything but a dismal failure. It isn't that hard to do even just self-publishing. Royalties will be about 10% for print and 30% for ebooks, maybe more.
psycheskinner, you're exactly right with regard to payment. I guess I just can't figure why there are so many people who approach me to ghostwrite for them with the 'deal' that they've got this fantastic life story, and if I write it for nothing, then they will pay me 10% of what they make.
With regard to the best selling bit, I think you've just explained something to me that has puzzled me for years. I have read over and over again that 2000 books sold is a 'bestseller.' I think the people on the web are getting this information from faulty sources. 2000 books is the size of an initial print run these days for an unknown author.
Thank you for clarifying that...
I get "I have a great idea for a novel, you write it and we'll split the profits 50:50".
How about a counter-offer? Namely: "I will write your book proposal, outline, and cover letter for $XXX. If you can get a reputable agent to pick it up, then at that point we will work out a deal for ghost-writing the full manuscript, or you can take the outline and proposal and find someone else willing to work on your terms."
I would ghostwrite for someone, like a veteran who has TBI or PTSD they often cannot put thoughts together at once and remember in bits and pieces. So having someone write it down as they tell it would be a great service to them. Their stories need to be heard so others can begin to understand.
Leaderofmany: Maybe the story needs to be told but, once you've written it (and you haven't been paid for it), and the client can't find a publisher, it means that you've done all that work for no reward, and nobody is going to read it anyway. Would you still write under those conditions?
You know that writing that book, would be from the heart, and I know that a publisher would publish it. Right now people want to know what it was like to be in the war zone. Look at all the movies that have been out recently about that topic. Seeing it through the eyes of a Soldier is priceless.
I would charge by the page and then a commission on royalties.
Agree with all above comments. If they want a writer to do the work, they have to be prepared to make upfront payments.
Thanks everybody. I've had so many people approach me with this 'deal' that I was beginning to wonder if this was the norm out there. Glad to know it's not!
ABSOLUTELY NOT! Don't do anything for free. Many people think that writing is so easy. Like you can instantly pull words out of a hat or have them fall out of the sky and onto your lap. Just who are these people who approach you? They want something for nothing. I would lose them! Even agents these days get paid 15% for their piece of the pie.
You're right, Arlene. There are a lot of people out there that confuse basic literacy with creative writing. They think that if one can write ABC then that's all one needs to write well, and that it isn't such a rare thing. Then they go on to rationalize that if it's that easy, then it doesn't deserve much pay.
Writers are often to write gratis. Personally, I've lost touch of the number of people who have approached me to ghostwrite their books for them and they want me to write them free and then take a percentage of the royalties.
Even world famous writers have this problem...
Once you have written something and you have been paid for it, you find it hard to swallow that statement, not getting paid... and for a whole book! Books are not like Hubs! They are long! Some writers will even ask for a downpayment for researching the book.
The author shoould weigh each writing job up on its own unique merits. With one slight exception - guest blogging.
Would any other professional be asked to work for nothing? A professional writer is no different to say a doctor, would a doctor operate for nothing?
I find it offensive when people ask for help with writing and design and expect it for free. Writing is a profession just like any other job, and if its easy why don't they give it a try themselves?
Well, the people who are approaching me are approaching me as a professional as they see the ads I put in as a professional writer. They see my webpage, my portfolio (and it is extensive with credits in print, movies, business, magazines, web, etc.).
So I'm surprised that nobody else gets this...
Curiously, I have not yet been approached by anyone, ever, to write anything for them. I have numerous offers to rewrite my stuff so it is grammatically correct or entertaining, and some people have begged me to stop altogether.
Still waiting for that call...
Hi Sophie, I'm still doing my reverse psychology schtick. And it still isn't working.
Even though I feel I have a story worth telling and I am incapable of writing it I could never imagine asking someone to do it for free. A person with the ability to write such should be appreciated for their time and paid. It would be very disrespectful not to. I have a friend who is a brilliant painter, I couldn't imagine asking her to paint a picture for us for free.
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