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The ghostwriting industry has exploded in the last few years, with rising demand for content, the ubiquity of social media, and increased awareness of ghostwriting services being major drivers.

As more experts and leaders have realized how useful it is to hand off writing responsibility to a professional writer, ghostwriters have gotten busier.

The good ones have also gotten more expensive. As ghostwriting has emerged as a legitimate occupation, rates for ghostwriting services have increased. No longer is ghostwriting a cottage industry or an underground service kept under wraps — more authors and experts are proclaiming how essential their ghostwriter was to their success. That has helped make people aware of the value a ghostwriter brings to the table.

Ghostwriters have also proven their worth to aspiring authors looking for help in bringing their ideas and stories to the market. A well-written book can yield new business opportunities, speaking gigs, consulting engagements, media attention, and more. The stronger the book, the more valuable it is to the author.

Among ghostwriters, there are also strata, with the more experienced and successful ghostwriters charging higher fees. These ghostwriters have demonstrated their skill and ability to help clients complete writing tasks, often with awards, bestseller honors, and commercial success as results. They also charge a premium for that credibility.

Likewise, newer or less experienced ghosts are more willing to accept lower fees as a way to gain valuable experience. They may not have a track record, so they charge less in exchange for the chance to gain more experience. But “less” is still a decent fee.

Even among lower-priced ghostwriters, people who start to explore what’s involved in hiring and working with a ghostwriter are sometimes surprised by the fees charged.

What is the market rate for ghostwriting?

The truth is that most ghostwriters don’t charge enough for their work. Although there is no agreement on what a “market rate” is for ghostwriters, nonfiction ghosts often use $1/word as a gauge. For some ghostwriters $1/word is what they aim for and for others, it’s the bare minimum they’re willing to accept.

Yes, there are posted rates on some websites, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), but those rates are extremely low. They do not reflect what professional ghostwriters are charging today. It is suspected that EFA members who completed the rate survey are primarily editors, not writers, who typically charge less for their services, and consequently have driven the recommended rates for ghostwriters down.

The problem generally with setting rates for writing services is that many people think writing is easy. They don’t attach much value to quality writing and editing and are shocked to hear that professional writers sometimes charge as much as attorneys.

To get a sense of why ghostwriters charge fees in the thousands of dollars for articles and blog posts, and tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for book projects, consider the work involved:

Number of hours

Depending on the size of a writing project, ghostwriters are likely to spend many hours planning, researching, maybe interviewing, drafting, and editing their deliverables. When they’re working on a book, the number of hours required will typically go into the hundreds. And even when they’re not tapping away at their keyboard or on Zoom interviewing clients and experts, they’re thinking about the project — strategizing what the best opening line will be, what statistic might drive the point home, or what example would really highlight the message.

Which is to say that the time invested in a ghostwriting project goes well beyond the physical research and typing of words.

Length of project

While the total number of hours to be invested in an assignment is one factor impacting the fee quoted, how many weeks or months the ghostwriter needs to set aside to complete the work is another.

An article or blog post might take a week or two to complete. A white paper or case study might take up to a month, and a book could take more than a year. That’s a long time to be committed to creating and polishing a finished product — time during which the ghostwriter can’t take on other projects. So, on top of paying a ghostwriter for their time and attention, you’re also paying for space in their brain and on their schedule.

Familiarity with format

A decent percentage of professional writers are gravitating to ghostwriting because of the higher fees. However, not all writers can automatically be ghostwriters.

For one, as a ghost, the writer should have demonstrated experience writing the types of finished products the client requires. That is, if the client is looking for a ghostblogger, the writer should have plenty of experience blogging. If the client wants to hand off newsletter article writing, the ghostwriter should have crafted dozens of newsletter articles.

And if the client wants a book, the ghostwriter should, at a minimum, have written a few books. Because writing a magazine article and a book-length work are two different skill sets.

Ability to mimic voice

The one skill that differentiates ghostwriters from all other types of writers is mimicry, or the ability to write in someone else’s voice. It’s that specialized talent that sets ghostwriters apart.

Many professional writers develop their own writing style and tone, which is their “voice.” Being able to shift and adapt and write in a way that is different and that sounds like someone else is challenging. Not all writers can do it.

Expertise required

Finally, in addition to being a top writer, with skills honed over years of work, many of the best ghostwriters also bring publishing expertise to each project. Not only can they guide clients regarding what strong writing looks like, but they can also advise them regarding their publishing options and the pros and cons of each.

Most clients want to be sure that once a written product has been created, it will get published. That’s true whether the document is a blog, an op-ed, or a speech.

Why make the investment?

So, are ghostwriters expensive? Yes, they are. They’re also an investment, not an expense.

Hiring a ghostwriter is a lot like building a new home, especially if you’re writing a book. The cost of that home will depend on where you’re planning to build, whether the architect you’re hiring has built homes like the one you want to be designed, whether the construction crew is experienced, and whether the interior designer is clear on your aesthetic.

If you’ve selected a desirable lot (or topic) and hired a talented team, your home is going to come in on time, on budget, and be worth more than what you paid for it from Day One. Over time it will appreciate faster than other homes in your subdivision.

With books, a well-written title will attract attention and admiration. It will bolster your claims that you’re an expert. And it will make it easier for you to uncover and pursue new opportunities. It will also cost you more than you might have expected to pay.