8 Things a Ghostwriting Contract Should Include

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If you’re thinking about hiring a ghostwriter, you should know the basics of a good contract. Ghostwriting is an intensive process shaped by many factors, so there are various issues you should discuss with your ghostwriter before jumping into a contract. From who gets the writing credit to how many revisions are included in the rate, working out the details will protect both of you. After all, you don’t want to receive the final manuscript only to discover it’s nothing like what you envisioned. You and your ghostwriter need to make sure you’re on the same page so neither of you feels bamboozled at the end.

The good news is that your ghostwriter will likely have their own contract template where they can change certain details, such as the type of book, delivery deadlines, and length. Thus, all that’s left for the two of you is to discuss these matters. We’ll cover eight basic things that a ghostwriting contract should include so you can hire with confidence.

Are you trying to write a memoir? Looking for help? Reach out to our ghostwriting team, and we’ll support you through the entire journey, from preparing an outline to publishing and promoting your book.

Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice. Please contact a lawyer if you have concerns about a contract.

Basics to cover in any ghostwriting contract

1. Scope of work

A ghostwriting contract should include a project description that details all services the ghostwriter will provide. Will they conduct interviews and other research, or will you, the client, do so? Will they offer writing services only or other services as well, for example, formatting or proofreading? How many rounds of revision will the manuscript go through? How frequent will your face-to-face meetings be? These and other details regarding the services on offer should be clearly stipulated in the contract.

If you agree to have your ghost conduct some research, keep in mind that it must be limited to fact-checking or minor details. The ideas and content must be your own—you can’t have the ghostwriter do everything and then slap your name on the finished product.

2. End product

A ghostwriting contract should state what the end product will be, specifying the type of manuscript to be created, the format, and the word count. These are your decisions, and the ghostwriter will adjust their rate or turnaround time accordingly. This, of course, means that you’ll have to carefully consider these aspects before approaching a ghostwriter. A solid contract will also detail individual milestones (for example, the outline, the first section, the completed first draft, and the final version) and the deadlines for each of them.

3. Costs and payments

The ghostwriting fees and associated costs need to be broken down. The contract will state whether the ghostwriter will charge a flat fee, by the hour, or per word. Be warned, though: You nearly always want to opt for a flat fee. An hourly or per-word rate incentivizes the ghostwriter to take longer or fill your book with meaningless fluff, so you generally want to avoid those types of remuneration unless you’re certain the ghostwriter will not abuse your trust.

The contract should also state whether there’s a deposit or partial payments due for each milestone, as well as what expenses the client will cover (for example, travel costs) and what the budget is for those. When and how payment is to be made should also be specified in the contract.

4. Termination

Sadly, not every business relationship works out, so there should be a procedure in place in case the contract needs to be terminated. Under what circumstances will it be terminated (for example, if a payment or a deadline is missed)? Normally, a contract will call for a written notice to terminate and stipulate the length of advance notice required. You’ll also need to include what rights each party retains, such as what remuneration the ghostwriter is still entitled to and what you can do with the content written up to the point of termination.

5. Warranties 

A standard ghostwriting contract will contain a warranty so the client can be sure the ghostwriter is delivering original work. You don’t want to be held accountable for any unlawful or unethical action by your ghostwriter (e.g., plagiarism or lack of permission to use copyrighted material), nor would you want such transgressions to sully your book. 

Be sure to also include a clause on subcontracting—some unscrupulous ghostwriters will get inexperienced writers to pen the book for them. You want to make sure the ghostwriter you’ve vetted and the one you’re talking to are the same person.

6. Confidentiality

A confidentiality agreement is not necessary in all ghostwriting contracts, but sometimes there are details the client may want to be kept private, at least until the book comes out. Before engaging in contract negotiations, think carefully about whether you have any information that falls into this category so you’re ready when the conversation begins.

7. Writing credit

In most cases, the ghostwriter will not receive writing credit, but that doesn’t mean they can't have it. There may be various reasons why they want it—for example, some may seek exposure and agree to reduce their fee in exchange for attribution. Either way, the matter of writing credit should be addressed in the contract. It’s entirely your choice as the author, and you’re never obligated to give your ghostwriter credit. If you’re concerned about ethics, don’t be—it’s your story and your ideas, and your ghost is merely helping you organize your thoughts and find the right words to express them effectively.

8. Copyright

The client (you) should own the copyright on the work. This is one of those things that goes without saying, but we’re saying it anyway because it can be easily overlooked. The client needs to have the right to edit, reproduce, publish, or sell the rights to the book. You definitely want to own your story.

Trust your intuition

As with any other legal document, you need to read a ghostwriting contract carefully and make sure it follows standard practices for a ghostwriting service, as outlined above. While the value of a good contract is obvious, a factor that isn’t always considered is your own intuition. Your gut feeling about a potential ghostwriter is worth just as much as your opinion of the contract. You will have to work closely with this person, sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings with them, so make sure you two have a great connection on top of a great contract.

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