How much do ghostwriters make?
Whether you’re an eager new writer or a passionate ghostwriting veteran, the question of pay and rates can be a squeamish one. As tricky as it can be to put a price on your services, once you know how, it’ll be a cinch to set a reasonable rate that’ll suit you and your future clients.
Like many creative fields, ghostwriting can be undercharged by those who don’t fully appreciate the skills necessary or by those who expect more from you than what’s stipulated in your job description.
And while we’d love to give you an immediate answer, this is a no one-rate-fits-all kind of job.
What we know best at Relay Publishing is fiction ghostwriting with publishers & packagers, so by the end of this article, you’ll have a good grasp on the sort of rates that can be expected in this field.
Instead of thinking “How much can I make?”, try instead “How much do I charge?”
The good news is, ghostwriters can often demand high rates because they’re providing a highly specialized and sought-after service in the publishing industry. Forgoing authorship credit while writing a story to a set of specifications comes at a premium, and rightly so. But the rate range for ghostwriting fiction is still very wide — from $0.01/word all the way up to $1.00/word, or even more!
The maybe not so good news: it’s up to you to decide on what you are going to charge. As a ghostwriter, each project you take on will be unique — from blog posts, to novellas, to epic multi-part series — and each will come with its individual circumstances. The scope of tasks expected can vary, and your rate should be different depending on writing style, genre, or timeframe.
What type of rate do I need to set?
It’s most common for ghostwriting to be paid at a per word rate. The advantage here is indisputable clarity and simplicity — that little number in the bottom corner of your document makes it clear to both yourself and your client what you have delivered. It’ll also allow you to request incremental payments on longer projects — if you’re writing a novel of 100k words, check if you can invoice each time your deliver 20k words rather than waiting months for your lump sum paycheck. “Per word” is the industry standard, so it’s useful to frame your rate in that format.
We have a handy table later in the article to help you decide on your number, but figuring out what your ideal terms and conditions are will also give you a strong starting point in setting a reasonable rate. Some publishers can offer an hourly rate for parts of your service, such as time spent on revisions and research, while others may offer you a lower per word rate in exchange for a royalty split. Knowing all these possibilities and getting crystal clear on what you want, and what is or isn’t possible for your client’s budget before entering into a contract will save you from rueful hindsight down the line.
What affects this reasonable rate you speak of?
The factors influencing your rate will be:
· The type of client — individual, book packager or traditional publisher
· Genre — level of research, the writing style, and your experience within that genre
· Your ghostwriting experience — ghostwriting is very different than writing your own stories, so past experience is valuable
· Your overall writing experience — the level of craft you bring to the table
· The scope of the project — a 300k word trilogy is a big commitment, but also guarantees long-term work. What is important to you?
Have a think about each of these factors and make an honest assessment of yourself and the project. Sometimes you’ll be recruited because you’re the best person for the job, but many times you can be hired because you were the right price for the job. It’s a strength to be able to accurately appraise the specific skillset that you can provide!
First contact with a publisher
Figuring all of this out on paper is vital before you engage with a publisher or packager — you don’t want to get stuck doing your mental math over email with their HR department. If you’re already in conversations, that’s a great step! But they’ll need a clear quote from you for their records. Again, clarity is key, so give them your decided upon per word rate, as well as an hourly rate for revisions/research/development/etc.
There tends to be room for negotiation when you begin corresponding with a potential employer, so don’t get too caught up in nailing the perfect number on your first try. A mark of a reputable publisher or packager is that they know the rate they can afford to pay for a title, and they can let you know if your figure is out of their budget. This also shows that they have solid financial forecasting and projections, which gives you a good indication that they’ll:
a) Follow through on publishing your hard work
b) Honor your invoice upon completion
c) Support and help you with any questions throughout the process
Let talk Revisions. Some love ’em, other’s loath ’em. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, nobody likes 20 rounds of revisions when you expected there to be only 2 — regardless of how much you’re being paid. Set up a predetermined pay and limit on revisions from the outset and you’ll have something to refer back to if a client starts taking the mickey.
Clarity of expectations is key on both sides of the agreement, so be sure to ask in advance about the resources you’ll be provided with. There’s a huge leap between working with a detailed outline and being teamed up with an experienced editor, versus being provided with a 2-sentence logline and a deadline. Allow these resources to affect your rate. The more prepared a client is before hiring you, the easier they are making your job. If you will need to do more research or work on the materials that have been provided to you, then consider if this should be reflected by increasing your rate.
Performance bonuses are an additional type of remuneration on top of your rate. Generally the process is: if you reach a certain sales threshold, then a cash performance bonus will be paid. This should be discussed with your client so that it’s built into your contract at the beginning of your agreement. Performance bonuses are a win-win for you and your client, as it means the book has had great sales figures and it allows writers to benefit from the success of a title that they wrote!
What to expect at each pay range
With remote work exacerbating the secretive nature of pay & rates, it’s tough to know if you’re under or overcharging. We’ve put together a simple cheat sheet so you’ll have a solid base to refer to when browsing opportunities.
70k word novel = $700 to $2100.
You’ll find clients with these lower rates on many freelancer websites, usually acting as an individual and at these rates the client should be carefully vetted. Expect to do your own plotting and edits, too.
70k word novel = $2800 to $5600.
Professional book packagers generally pay within this range, and offer a comprehensive outline to work from as well as an experienced editorial team. Edits are paid at a separate hourly rate.
70k word novel = $6300 to $10,500.
Traditional publishers who are looking to fill a gap in the market or need a book written after a writer goes AWOL pay within this range, and generally use writers who are represented by an agent. Expect to write from a brief synopsis, so you’ll have to do the bulk of the plotting yourself.
70k word novel = $11,200 and $70,000.
Traditional publishers with marque authors or an established franchise series will pay within this range. You’ll need to do lots of research to match the writing voice and story style. This level may also come with co-author credit.
That’s all there is to it!
Ghostwriting is an occupation like any other, so it’s important to assess all aspects that affect how much you can make when you’re starting out, as well as revisiting the question throughout your career. Your rates will vary of course, but as long as you keep coming back to the fundamentals, you’ll be enjoying that aspirational balance of working regularly with a paycheck you’re happy with.