Ghostwriters: When Do You Bring up Money with a Potential Client?
The question of pricing comes up a lot in conversations with ghostwriters. Not only what to charge, but when to quote a fee, is frequently asked.
Throw out a number that is beyond someone’s budget and you may knock yourself out of contention for a desirable project. Or delay mentioning pricing and you may end up investing hours in reading background materials and time on phone calls talking about the project and only to discover that your client expected to pay a fraction of your standard rate.
There are pros and cons to addressing the question of cost at various stages of the exploratory process. Generally, the sooner the issue is surfaced, the more quickly both parties can assess fit (aka affordability).
There’s no one right time or situation during which your fee should be mentioned, as long as it’s before you begin work and everyone agrees to it. However, the earlier the topic arises, the easier it is to avoid spending time with prospects who are unlikely to ever hire you. Here are examples of how some experienced ghostwriters communicate the fees for their services.
Rates on Website
Some ghostwriters have established standard fees for certain writing-related tasks and post them on their website. On one hand, this is very helpful for pre-qualifying potential clients. If they ask for a quote from you, or want to schedule a meeting after visiting your site, you can be fairly certain that they viewed your rates and were satisfied.
Of course, you’ll want to confirm this, perhaps by including a link to your rates page during early email discussions.
The major downside of plastering rates online is that every project is different and there are several factors to consider when quoting a fee. A rush project, for example, should justify a higher fee. Or an extra long manuscript, such as over 100,000 words, could also qualify as a reason to ask for more. But once you’ve stated your fees, it becomes harder to negotiate for more.
Ghostwriter Liz Green recently began posting her rates on her website and “it’s worked really well,” she says. “I signed three clients since November (one who I signed in April to start in September) and I’ve turned down two serious prospects.”
“All of these people saw my rate on my site and commented on it (without flinching and without my needing to bring it up) on our initial call,” Green says.
Green says that it’s easier to proactively offer a flat rate for a book because “my projects are all quite similar (business and self-help books, around 50k words),” she says, “and my clients are pretty similar in demographics, so there’s not a lot of variation on the scope of work.”
Similarly, Jen Singer, who ghostwrites memoirs, speeches, and articles, among other things, says, “I have fees on my site to weed out people who can’t afford my work.” But she also understands that sometimes clients don’t know yet what they need. So Singer meets with them “on Zoom to determine what they’ll need: ghosting, editing, writing coaching, or a combination thereof.” Then she writes up a proposal.
In Early Conversations
Whether your discussion with a prospect begins online, such as on LinkedIn or through email, or via a phone call, if pricing is brought up, you can more quickly determine if the potential client is prepared to pay your going rate. That’s the advantage of quoting your standard starting fees early. You’ll know right away if the client wants to pay it or not, saving you time spent in further conversation.
Nonfiction ghostwriter Melanie Votaw usually quotes “during the exploratory phone call, but sometimes I tell them in a first email response—especially if I don’t want to waste time on a call.” Most of her clients come by referral, so pricing is less of an issue than when they find her through other means. In those cases, they don’t always know how much a ghostwriter costs or how much work is involved, she says.
Some ghostwriters might argue that it’s better to wait, however, so that you can demonstrate your experience, track record, and expertise before stating your fees. That extra time, some find, allows the client to adjust their expectations and decide if a higher fee for higher quality makes sense.
After Asking Questions
Jeni Fred, who primarily ghostwrites fiction, prefers to gather information before throwing out a number. “I ask enough questions about the work to know what I want to charge and then I’m pretty up front about it when I have the information,” she explains.
Point to Market Rates
When memoir ghostwriter Allen Smith starts talking with a potential client, he shares rate information cited by Jane Friedman, a respected publishing guru, in an article she wrote on hiring a ghostwriter. The range she shares for fees is from $22,800 to $100,000 for a book. Smith shares the article in an effort to educate potential clients about what they can expect to pay.
Smith says he is also flexible and tries to shape a project to meet a client’s set budget. For example, “My last client wanted to write a book, but couldn’t afford my full rate, so we agreed to write a smaller ‘half’ book,” he says.
Negotiate a Rate
Christine Adamec, who specializes in medical and health ghostwriting, prefers to have the prospect throw out a number first. “I try to get the customer to make me an offer. In bargaining, the first person who gives a number loses. I don’t like to lose. If the offer is too low, then I will tell them I need more and move them toward what I need. (If I can.)”
Sometimes she discovers that clients can’t afford her, and “that’s okay,” she says. “They can hire someone else.”
That’s smart advice. Each client has their own expectations, preferences, and budget. That likely means you won’t be a good fit for every project that lands in your inbox, or every prospect who wants to chat with you about their writing needs. That’s also okay.
Adapt and Adjust According to Your Availability
And it’s okay to adjust your rates according to how busy you are. Have some time to fill? Then taking a project at a lower rate may be better than doing nothing for the next couple of months. Likewise, if you’re booked solid for several weeks, quote a higher rate to your next prospect. (You have little to lose since you’re already busy anyway.) Then let them know when you can start.
Money is always a touchy subject, and the sooner ghostwriters know what potential clients are looking to spend, and clients know what ghostwriters charge, the sooner agreement can be reached and writing work can start.
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