Negotiating a Book Contract with a Ghostwriter: A Guide for CEOs

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Talk With a Ghostwriter

CEOs and entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to ghostwriters for help with their books and memoirs to ensure a professional standard without the massive time commitment and creative effort it requires. And it’s paying off. By outsourcing the writing of their books or memoirs to skilled ghostwriters, they reap the innumerable benefits of being a published author without typing a single word. A CEO who publishes a book under their name can raise their visibility and that of their company in the media and further their position as an industry leader. But writing a book isn’t something anyone can do, which is when ghostwriters come into the picture. 

As a CEO, you’re used to negotiating contracts with associates, employees, and competitors, but are you prepared to negotiate a contract with a ghostwriter? If you would rather avoid managing yet another employee, check out our ghostwriting services for successful CEOs to get a free quote. We’ll take care of all the bureaucratic necessities—all you have to do is tell us what you’re looking for, and we’ll match you up with the most suitable ghostwriter on our roster. If you’re considering hiring a writer on your own, let’s go over some of the basics. 

Please keep in mind this is not legal advice, and you should consult with a lawyer if you have any legal questions or doubts regarding your contract.

How does a ghostwriter get paid? 

Most ghostwriters charge a flat fee per project, which depends on the complexity and length of the book. Each ghost has their own rates, too, of course, often depending on their skill, experience, and specialties. If you’re in talks with a ghostwriter who wants to charge you by the word or by the hour, consider this your warning to run. You don’t want to give someone free range to pack your book with filler or work slowly just so they can charge you more.

But keep in mind that quotes are usually calculated according to the word count you’re expecting. On average, commercial books range from 50,000 to 110,000 words. However, the price and word count should always be negotiated beforehand and not after the book’s been written. There should also be a clause in the contract about what is considered overtime—extra charges for time or word count that goes over the preestablished amount. This overtime pay should apply only if the extra words or time are directly related to what you want; for example, if a section you really want pushes the word count up. Essentially, just make sure the ghostwriter can’t intentionally overstep the predetermined limits to charge you extra. 

Once you’ve agreed on length and price, you must negotiate the payment method. Usually, a writer will ask for installments to be paid when certain benchmarks are reached, starting with a nonrefundable up-front fee to retain their services. You can then negotiate subsequent installments based on deliverables, such as the chapter outline, the first draft, the second draft, and so on. Each writer has their own milestones, which is why it’s important to set clear expectations within your contract. This section will likely differ every time you work with a different ghostwriter—like any contract, what’s important is finding a solution that works for both parties.

What work is included in the contract? 

Most independent ghostwriters produce only a manuscript, which you must then have edited and published on your own. That means you’ll also have to scout out a literary agent and publisher on your own, once the manuscript has been finished. 

Generally, the writer starts with an interview to get a well-rounded idea of who you are, what you want from your book, and the information, knowledge, and anecdotes you want to include. This also allows them to pin down your voice and tone. This is a collaborative process, so the interview stage will help both you and your ghost to focus your message and narrative style. Be open and communicative with your ghost—they can write a manuscript only as good as the material you provide them with. To ensure a positive working relationship, be sure you connect well with your ghostwriter before signing a contract. Keep in mind that several separate interviews or follow-ups might be necessary throughout the process. 

You will have the opportunity to give your writer feedback and offer suggestions and changes, though how many times you can do that will depend on how many revisions or drafts you’ve negotiated in the contract. Of course, since it’s your name on the cover, you never have to sign off on content you’re not fully behind, but you may incur extra charges if you overstep the number of revisions outlined in the contract.

Once the manuscript is complete, it’s your responsibility to contact agents and publishers, or self-publish your book, and then do all the marketing and promotion yourself. Unlike freelancers, we can use our connections and experience to find you the best agents and publishers and help you promote your book once it’s published so you can stay focused on growing your business. The ability to purchase a comprehensive ghostwriting and publishing package is one of the biggest advantages of working with a company rather than an individual freelancer.

What else should be included in your ghostwriting contract? 

The ownership of your book’s rights and royalties will depend on what is stipulated in your contract, so be careful about the terms and conditions that you agree to. You want to retain 100% of the rights to your book and the copyright, print license, and any adaptation rights for film or TV. After all, even if the ghostwriter is typing the words, all the thoughts and ideas are entirely your own.

Who will get the writing credit—whose name will appear on the cover of your book—must also be stipulated in your contract. You will have to determine whether both your names will be credited or only yours and whether the writer can claim credit even if their name is kept off the cover. If you want full anonymity from your writer, you will need an NDA and possibly have to pay an extra fee. Don’t worry about ethics: most ghostwriters never get credit, and they’re perfectly fine with it because they’re receiving handsome monetary compensation.

You should also be very clear about subcontracting to avoid disappointment and legal issues down the line. Make sure your contract does not allow the writer to subcontract anyone else to write the book for them. If you’re hiring them, it’s because you want them to write it, not an unvetted, and probably inexperienced, writer.  

Ghostwriting is a valuable resource and solution for busy CEOs and entrepreneurs who want to publish a book but don’t have the time or creative energy to do it themselves. Yet outsourcing your own ghostwriter can feel like a demanding job in and of itself. If you want to enjoy the benefits of our end-to-end ghostwriting services, reach out to our team of ghostwriters today.

Talk With a Ghostwriter