The secret to getting paid what you’re worth as a ghostwriter
Charging a fair price for ghostwriting work – or writing work in general – has become far more difficult now that we have to compete with overseas writers willing to accept $.01/word or less for their work. Granted, the finished work product is rarely of the same quality as that of a professional writer, but having to convince a client that $1/word is closer to the minimum rate is certainly more challenging given the many lower-cost alternatives.
Faced with accepting $.50/word or not getting a project at all, some writers are willing to reduce their rates. That’s understandable. But be careful not to cut your rates too much or you’ll be working twice as hard for half as much money.
A colleague of mine recently approached me for some advice about a long-time client. When the two had started working together years ago, he told her to be fair in her price quotes but not to underprice herself; he wanted to be sure she earned a decent fee. Then, whenever she quoted jobs for him, he always pushed back, asking for a lower price. On her most recent project, the work to be done was going to take weeks, she told him, and she estimated accordingly. He responded that he was sure it wouldn’t take that long and gave her a budget that was a fraction of what the work was worth. So her question to me was, “Should I take it to keep him as a satisfied client, even though I know I’ll lose money on it?”
Can you guess what my response was? “NO!”
Ok, I didn’t scream it in all caps, but I did give her a number of reasons why she should politely turn the work down. These are reasons we all need to keep in mind as we’re asked to do more work for less money:
- Once you’ve completed a project for a client, just as when you finished your first article for The New York Times or your first book for McGraw-Hill, you will always be able to claim them as a client. You don’t need an ongoing relationship unless the work is interesting and well-paying. Get a testimonial from prestigious but cheap clients and move on.
- If you were hoping for referrals from this client, think about the type of referrals you might get, even if you agree to keep working together. You’ve shown you are willing to accept below market rates, so it is likely your client is going to promote you to others as a terrific-but-cheap ghostwriter. Is that the kind of marketing support you want or need? I think not.
- Finally, by accepting lower rates, you are devaluing yourself and your work.
Of course, you have to decide for yourself how important each individual project is to your career and your bank account. There are always good reasons for accepting less money than you would normally charge – you have no other work, you like the topic, you like the client, you know it will be fairly easy, and/or you think it may lead to other better-paying projects down the road.
However, just as we have been trained to believe that more expensive equals better quality, it would be in your best interest to position yourself as a well-paid ghostwriter. That means charging rates higher than you’re currently charging and turning down opportunities that pay far below your minimum. Because if you accept a lower-paying gig to fill the time in between better-paying projects, odds are very good that something better will come along and then you’ll be working extra hard to do a good job for both clients.
What suggestions do you have for asking to be paid what you’re worth?