Like most professional services, such as attorneys, accountants, and management consultants, ghostwriters vary widely in cost. Some ghostwriters charge a few hundred dollars to write a book while others charge $200,000 or more.
Between those two extremes, however, you can find many talented ghostwriters. Granted, there will be differences between them and how they work, including:
- Number of books ghostwritten
- Number of books ghostwritten in your industry or topic
- Number and type of bestsellers (New York Times vs Amazon, for example)
- Commercial success of previous ghostwritten books
- Years of experience
- Education level and background
- Number of books published by traditional publishing houses
- Number of books published by hybrid and independent presses
- Experience working with clients who are like you
- Speed of writing process (meaning how fast you want the book written)
Those ghostwriters who are at the very low end of the fee spectrum are often based in lower-cost-of-living countries or have less experience and are willing to work for less to build up their credits. Hiring someone who charges less is not wrong, but it’s important for you, the author, to realize the impact.
If your writer is less experienced, you may receive less guidance regarding the writing and publishing process. Or the quality of the writing may not be the same if English is not your ghostwriter’s native language. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you pay less for a ghostwriter up front, you may want to build in the cost of an editor at the end to polish the writing.
On the other hand, ghostwriters who charge $200,000 and up are often celebrities in their own right, with well-known bestsellers to their names. Having their name associated with your project may have a positive impact on book sales and your reputation. Ghostwriters at this level can charge multiple six-figure fees for their ghostwriting services and get them.
Let your budget be guided by how much you can afford as well as how much publishing consulting you want. The more experience a ghostwriter brings to the project, which can include writing, publishing, and marketing, the more you should expect to pay.
No one fee is considered fair or correct — only you can decide what that number is for you.
How is the price quoted?
Many ghostwriters prefer quoting a flat or project fee to write a book.
When you can clearly define how many words the book will be, when it will be completed, and how many rounds of edits will be done, the writer can come up with a proposed fee based on their years of experience.
A flat fee for the work is more advantageous to you, the author because there is less chance of nickel and diming for small changes here and there. As long as the length of the book and schedule remain the same, you won’t be surprised by extra bills or upcharges.
From the ghostwriter’s perspective, they often prefer flat fees so that they are paid for their skill and expertise rather than their speed, as is the case when they’re being paid on an hourly basis. They know what the project is worth and can better plan their schedule and cash flow.
Quoting the work on an hourly basis may be fair if the work to be completed is unclear or if you, the author, want to talk through structure and strategy at the outset. If writing isn’t necessarily the end product, it makes sense to pay for consulting time on an hourly basis.
Other ghostwriters quote based on a per-page rate of $250 or more. This is harder to manage, however, and it’s important to stipulate the typeface, size, and line spacing up front. There is a big difference between single-spaced pages typed in 12-point Calibri and double-spaced pages typed in 14-point Arial, for example.
What is the current market rate?
As of 2024, many ghostwriters are quoting $1/word to $2/word for business and thought leadership projects, depending on the length of the book. Meaning, the longer the manuscript, sometimes the lower the per-word rate.
For a book that is 50,000 to 60,000 words long, authors should expect to pay at least $40,000 for a high-quality manuscript, with bestselling ghostwriters (including me) charging at least $70,000 to more than $100,000.
In terms of page length, such books average 250 pages. However, a skilled graphic designer is capable of fitting more words on the page, to reduce the production cost, or adding white space and wider margins to make a shorter book appear longer. For this reason, it’s better to think in terms of word count than page count.
What do ghostwriting agencies charge?
Some authors opt to pay ghostwriting agencies to find a ghostwriter and then assist in getting their book published. It’s more of a one-stop-shop approach with those agencies or organizations subcontracting the ghostwriting to professional writers.
The fees that some agencies pay indicate what you should expect to pay a ghostwriter who has been fully vetted and brings years of experience to your project.
Gotham Ghostwriters specializes in nonfiction books and has stated that ghostwriters in the firm’s massive database charge anywhere from $30,000 to $300,000 for the writing alone, with most well above $30,000.
Kevin Anderson & Associates (KAA), which partners with agents and traditional publishers, pays ghostwriters anywhere from $20,000 and up, according to its 2020 rate sheet. The more experienced the ghostwriter, the higher the fee they are paid.
There is no standard rate for ghostwriting services, although the writer’s fee is likely to be higher with more experience.
Will a ghostwriter accept a percentage of royalties as payment?
Usually not, no.
Most ghostwriters expect to be paid for their services as the work is completed, much like an accountant or therapist. Offering a percentage of royalties as a bonus on top of their fee for service is certainly appreciated, however.
Ghostwriters generally find a percentage of royalties, or a “royalty split,” not interesting for several reasons.
First, royalties are earned when the book sells and a ghostwriter has no involvement in the promotion or sale of the book. The ghostwriter can help produce a top-quality book but has no control over how well it is marketed. That’s why splitting royalties is very risky for the writer. There is significant downside risk and little upside potential.
Second, most books sell an average of 100 copies. With the typical traditionally published book earning an average of $1/book, that means that even if they are offered a 50/50 split, they will have earned all of $50 for several months of effort.
Third, if the author receives a large advance, that means it is likely to take many months, or even years before royalties are paid (since the advance is an advance against royalties — essentially a credit to be earned out). Many ghostwriters are unwilling to wait years to be paid for their work.
Fourth, many ghostwriters prefer to be paid as the work is done, based on drafts they deliver to the client. This helps ensure an even cash flow, which is generally preferable to the potential of someday, maybe, receiving a royalty payment.
One of the few exceptions to this rule is clients who approach a ghostwriter for help when they have a publishing contract in hand or through an agent who believes the book will sell well. These authors may be able to negotiate a fee that is based in part on a percentage of the advance the book earns. In that case, some ghostwriters may ask for a minimum of $X plus a percentage of the advance.
Does the ghostwriting fee have to be paid upfront?
No. it is rare that a legitimate ghostwriter would ask to be paid in full before any work is completed. (Read this article on ghostwriting scams to be able to recognize red flags.)
Some ghostwriters break their fee up into three or four payments over the course of the project. Others break it up into six or even 10 payments tied to the delivery of sections of the book.
Billing on a monthly basis is becoming much more common, however. With monthly billing, you and your ghostwriter agree on a timetable and the total cost is divided up by how many months will be devoted to the work. If the project takes longer through no fault of the author or ghostwriter, the total fee doesn’t change. However, if the client does not provide timely input or feedback and causes the ghostwriter to have to pause their work, the monthly fee may need to continue beyond the original timetable.
Because this happens fairly regularly, where the client gets caught up in other work or ends up having to travel more frequently, for example, but wants the ghostwriter to remain committed to their book, monthly billing is one potential solution.
Otherwise, the ghostwriter is at a disadvantage. If they get caught having to wait for the client to respond they can’t take on more work because they don’t know when their author is going to want to pick up where they left off, which can negatively impact their cash flow. Billing monthly ensures that the ghostwriter remains available to work on the client’s project whenever the client is ready.
Another new tactic to keep projects on track is an expiration date, which is a date after which the project is considered finished. If the author decides to pause the work and then come back to it after the expiration date, there is often a restart fee.
You and your ghostwriter can certainly address this and many other aspects of your working relationship in your agreement.
What should be in your ghostwriting contract?
Once you’ve decided which ghostwriter to hire, it’s important to prepare an agreement – a contract – that outlines how you two will work together. (I am not an attorney, so this isn’t legal advice, just common sense suggestions.)
Being clear at the outset regarding responsibilities, deadlines, work process, conflict resolution, payment terms, and timing is not only important, it’s essential. (And you don’t want to work with a ghostwriter who’s willing to skip this step.)
It’s a good idea to have an attorney review any agreement before signing it, too.
Details to address include:
- If this is a work-made-for-hire, which means that you, the author, own what is created
- Whether the ghostwriter can disclose their involvement
- If your ghostwriter can outsource any of the work
- Target word count (and what happens if the length ends up longer or shorter )
- Agreed-upon completion date
- Payment due dates
- What happens if either party wants to end the relationship
- Who has final say on the manuscript and corresponding liability implications
You might include other specifics, but regardless, you need a contract.
Be aware that most ghostwriters require a nonrefundable deposit to hold their time for your project. It also demonstrates that you’re serious about proceeding. (Not everybody is!)
Why are ghostwriters so expensive?
After considering some of the numbers shared here, you may be left wondering why people are willing to pay so much for ghostwriters.
The reality is that publishing a high-quality book with your name on it offers much greater value than what you’ll pay a ghostwriter to help create it.
In addition, by handing over responsibility for producing your book to someone else, you’re able to continue earning a living at your day job. Writing the book won’t interfere with your ability to continue to earn a good income.
That said, don’t expect to earn a lot of money from the sale of your book directly. Unless you have a large audience who has been asking you to publish a book or a schedule filled with speaking gigs, most of the revenue potential from your book will likely come through new business opportunities rather than from individual sales of your book.
Once you’re an author with a book to your name, you can leverage the credibility and authority your book provides to boost your career and/or your business. Many of my clients send copies of their books out to clients and prospects as evidence of their mastery of the business. In many cases, that alone can result in new business.
On top of attracting business, you also qualify for new marketing opportunities. As an author, you are more likely to be quoted in articles and to be invited to be interviewed on podcasts. With a book to your name, you may also qualify for paid speaking opportunities.
And since ghostwriters are the professionals who have the ability to craft these revenue-generating tools, they charge according to their experience and track record.
Few authors express regret at turning over the responsibility for writing to a skilled ghostwriter, but you need to be sure your choice matches your budget.
If you’d like to chat about your book, feel free to reach out via email: marcia at associationofghostwriters dot org.