How Does the Money Part Work with a Ghostwriter?

By Laura Schaefer

I recently updated my website and asked a friend for her feedback. She said this:

“It easy to understand the value you bring to the project of writing a book. What I don’t understand is how much potential money I would make if I wrote a book, and what percentage of that would go to you?”

It’s a fair question and one we ghostwriters get a lot. The quick answer:

Generally, none – ZERO – of the profits/royalties our author clients receive from publishing their books goes to us, the ghostwriters.

Instead, nearly every ghost is paid upfront directly by their client (or, more often, the client’s company) on a work-for-hire agreement. As the author client, then, you retain all rights and all future profits from your book.

To further clarify “the money part,” here are some additional FAQs on this matter.

What is the average cost of a ghostwriter?

An experienced ghostwriter offering a specialized level of service charges clients or publishers a flat fee in the mid six figures. Top ghosts such as J.R. Moehringer earn seven figures. It is possible to hire a good writer for less; my fee is $120,000 and paid over time via a monthly retainer. Most ghosts start their careers earning $40,000 to $60,000 per book.

Is it worth the cost to work with a ghostwriter?

There is a reason many authors hire ghostwriting partners. We save time and make the process of writing a book fun. A skilled and experienced ghostwriter brings talent and empathy to the table. We are on your side and have the same goal you do: to create a high-quality, high impact book with a strong hook.

How common are ghostwriters?

So common that now there are ghostwriters who specialize in niches like LinkedIn posts. More than 50% of the nonfiction books published recently were written by ghostwriters and some industry people in the publishing world say it’s even more than that.

The funny thing is that a person who hires a ghostwriter is probably already a good writer themselves. They just choose to work with a collaborator because two brains are better than one and because it is more enjoyable (and faster) to write a book with another person than it is to write one alone.

What happens if I cannot afford to pay a ghostwriter?

Once in a while, I get inquiries via my website that begin with, “I can’t pay you, but I have a great story.”

Ghostwriters receive these messages a lot.

“I think many first-time authors don’t understand royalties and how they work, or the average number of books sold,” says AOG founder Marcia Layton Turner.

She’s right. That’s why it’s important to do some research on the book publishing industry (Jane Friedman’s website is helpful) to learn common terms and familiarize yourself with what to expect. A great story is a wonderful and necessary starting point. But it’s not quite enough to bring a book to fruition.

If I see an opportunity to be helpful or provide some education when I get these messages, I usually try to do so (depending on the situation and the tone of the email). I may suggest working with a writing coach, for example, which often costs less than a ghostwriter.

The short answer to this question, however, is that I cannot work with an author client if they don’t have an appropriate budget. Writing is my profession, and one that I’ve devoted over twenty years to honing.

Do ghostwriters enjoy ghostwriting?

Yes! I prefer writing books in collaboration with my author clients to writing my own books. So many people have something unique and fascinating to say, but feel intimidated about the prospect of writing a quality book. That’s understandable, and it happens to be a problem I like to solve.

As a ghostwriter, I take the fear away so we can both focus together on the richness of the stories and the takeaways for the person who ultimately matters the most: the reader. I love my job and learn something from every one of my remarkable clients. Perhaps you’ll be one of them!

Laura Schaefer is an Orlando, Florida-based ghostwriter who specializes in writing Life Lessons books. If you’ve recently given a commencement address and would like to turn it into a book, she’s your ghostwriter!

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Marcia Layton Turner

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