In the past two or so years, since December 2010, I have found a lot of my writing income comes not from web content and marketing pieces or even from my own ‘recreational’ writing (novels, short stories etc). No, it has come from a growing client base of people who want me to ghostwrite books for them. First of all I will make it very clear I will never disclose who they are unless they have given me express permission to do so. Even then, I would not mention them online by name or title of book, my choice.
Ghostwriting – Is It Honest?
I was asked this the other day and not for the first time. What did they mean, honest? I write a good book and get paid for it, what is dishonest about that? Of course the questioner wants to make the point that the person whose name appears on the front as the author did not write the book. OK, and your point is? The word ‘author’ is is derived from ‘authority’, as in the author is the authority on the subject matter within the pages. If the book is about Mr Celebrity and how he made it to the top and he supplied me with all the details, who is the authority? He is. I might become an authority on Mr Celebrity by studying the information and writing the book but that is beside the point.
When Mr Celebrity does an appearance to promote the book and the host says “Mr Celebrity, who has just written his latest book, ‘Celebrity Says’, is here in the studio this morning…” While the final draft wasn’t written by Mr C, all the emails and other bits of info he sent me from which I collated and created the final version were written by him. He also had to write his comments and suggestions for changes, corrections, adjustments and so on. I were merely the medium, a bit like without pen and paper or keyboard and computer every ‘book’ would be little more than someone speaking the story.
Making A Living
Of course I see it this way because I make my living ghostwriting. If I were a celebrity who took the time and trouble to write my own book, perhaps I would see things differently. The truth is, more celebrities and business success stories have their books ghostwritten than you might ever imagine. Why? Because they are good at being a celebrity or selling widgets, helping to save the world or whatever it is they do they feel is worth writing a book about. I am the one who can write. I am the one with the D.Lit., MA(Writing) (and backed up with a Dip. Business, CertIV Small Business Management and CertIV Training and Assessing) and the nifty iMac and MacBook Air writing machines. Writing books is what I do best because I love doing it. Maybe one day I can write a book about writing books but meanwhile I am writing them about all sorts of topics. From credit card traps in California to leadership in Sierra Leone’s diamond mines and even a few about some very nice and very successful public figures.
What Does It Pay?
It depends. I usually work on a rate per word. The secret is to ensure the rate accounts for the time you spend not writing. That can be more hours than it takes to do the actual writing. Consider there are the hours spent prospecting and marketing, promoting my services and networking. Then when I get a nibble, I have to meet and discuss things with the client and that takes time. If they agree to go ahead I send them a simple agreement by way of contract and we begin. I take a commencement fee of $1000 to get some commitment from the client. This always ensures they send me the information they promised when we met or exchanged emails to agree to start the project.
I need as much direction at this stage as they can offer and some clients send me emails, links to web sites, lists of other books that need to be at least glanced at and even hours of voice recordings, home movies and sometimes photos. They all need to be looked at and sorted, collated and made sense of where they fit in the big picture. Some clients know precisely the format they want the book to follow and lay that out. Others want me to devise something I call a framework or scaffold and they agree, adjust or discard. Sooner or later we hit on the formula they are happy with but of course, the book may end up looking nothing like that. Mid-way through the client may turn 180 degrees and that happens.
I prefer to write the book, then send it as a first draft. If they prefer, I send it chapter by chapter the client then checks and comments and I correct and apply their changes and then we have the final manuscript draft. They read the whole thing over and I fix any typos detected and the manuscript is ready to go. Many clients, however, make changes to the changes they made as the chapters progressed and that adds to the time it takes to write as well as some frustration, especially when the changes affect the readability of the book. Ghostwriters have to remember it is the client’s book and the client’s name is on the cover, not yours so they get the book they want. If they want a really rubbish book I will tell them so and explain why I believe it is rubbish if they insist I do X. Never forget though they are the client, the person writing the cheque and if that is how they want it, well the publisher’s editor can fight with them over it.
Writing Isn’t Publishing
Clients must be made aware that writing a book and having it published are two entirely separate events. I write books and I publish books but I don’t write and publish a book for a few cents a word, no matter how many words. Publishing takes a lot of time and expertise. It includes getting a cover created and that should be left to those people who are good with their crayons. I’m not. I can have a first class cover designed by a former Random House art director for $1,000, normally he charges three times that. Clients are welcome to create their own covers but there is more to cover creation than just putting the title and author’s name on a photo and saying that’s the cover. Suffice to say here it is an art you should respect and pay for if you want a top book.
Layout and formatting, proof reading and editing are all skills that need to be paid for, too. You should never proof read your own material unless there is no-one else. You will not spot the glaring error no matter how many times you read the manuscript but a fresh pair of eyes will see it in a heart beat. You will see it when the manuscript goes to the printers and comes back as a book. Then it will leap off the page at your throat. Getting it edited and proofed, formatted etc is usually the publisher’s job. If the client wants me to publish then I charge for that process as I use other professionals to help me. Finally there are the printed ‘author’s copies’ and I usually insist they take 500, preferably 1,000 to get some economy of scale savings but with POD (print on demand) solutions like Lulu.com and CreateSpace.com, among others, there is no reason to get more than a handful run off for galley proofs and review copies.
So What Will It Cost Me?
Basically a 50,000 word book will be $5,000 to write, charged out at $0.10/word. That takes into account a work rate of 1000 words per hour which allows for the 3:1 or worse ratio of reading to writing time. For each hour spent actually writing there has been at least an hour beforehand reading the information from the client and then an hour afterwards making sure the writing is written well! If I publish the book too, usually between $2,000 and $5,000 more. The lower figure covers all the publishing chores and the supply of ten author’s copies. The larger number adds 500 author’s copies to the package. Someone using the book to make extra income and to promote themselves by selling them at their seminars and workshops need only sell those 500 copies for $20 each, a very reasonable ask, and they have recovered their investment. At a modest $22.95 they clear $1,495 in profit. Selling at a more realistic $29.99 price point brings in $4,995! Now you can see the value of having a book to sell! If you haven’t got the time to sit down and write one, or the writing skill to write a book you can ask thirty bucks for, then I am the solution. After the first 500 sell out, you can order as many or as few as you want and quite probably never pay more than $10 a copy delivered to your door or wherever your next seminar is being held (no need to carry them on the plane with you, just drop ship to the seminar venue in advance, straight from the printer). Imagine the next 500 copies costing ten bucks and selling for $29.99. That’s $9,975 on top of seminar fee income. If you have two or more books and bundle them, you can make more money. You can sell them on your web site and make audio book versions and sell as MP3 downloads. Books are a great tool for entrepreneurs and speakers who want to enhance the experience and add value for their clients.
Even giving the book away can be great for business. Instead of spending however much chasing new business, you invest $10 on existing clients and send them a copy of your new book with your compliments, along with an invitation to attend your next seminar. Cost of book, $10. Seminar attendance fee profit, say $790*. If you get just 3% response from a 500 book mail out, that’s $11,850, $1,850 more than you paid for the book and stock. Never forget, the next mail out only costs the price of the book printing and postage as you have recouped what it cost to write it. This time you get the same response, maybe better (hint: mail out to the referrals you got from the people who attended the last seminar). Imagine the power of sending out an invitation to a wealth seminar in the form of your own paperback book! You could even have the invitation and seminar dates printed inside the book or on the back cover, think of the WOW! factor!
Be Selling Your eBook Sooner For Less
If you want an eBook to give away as an ‘opt-in’ value added item to build a list of clients or interested followers, then 10,000-15,000 well chosen and well crafted words will do it. I write eBooks on the same cost per word basis then supply you with the eBook in .pdf, .mobi (Amazon’s Kindle), .epub (iPad, Nook etc) and Word.doc formats. You can upload them to your web site right away, or even sell them via Amazon and iTunes if you wish. I even offer advice and consultancy services to help you get started. For as little as $1,000 you can have a professionally written eBook you can give away or sell and make income from as soon as it is finished. You need to allow about a week for every 5,000 words of final text as a general guide. As the man said, you can have a good job, a quick job or a cheap job. In fact you can have any two, but not all three.
Who Doesn’t Believe In Ghosts Now?
Having a book out is a great tool for lots of people in business and public life. It can raise your profile and give you some great marketing and promotion opportunities. If you are still a little dubious, think of it this way. If you were throwing a big party or major promotional event that included a full bar and silver service catering, do you really think your guests expect you to make the canapes personally? Pour all the drinks? Whip up the entrees and mains in between introducing the guest speakers and handing out awards or whatever? No, of course not. What is more important about your book, the information it contains or who actually typed it out?
Ghostwriting is a collaborative affair. You can get as involved in the process and content as you like, or not as you prefer. In fact, the best idea is to give great direction and a ton of info, be available for quick checks and what have you, then get out of my way and let me write your book. After we agree on the framework and structure I send you the first chapter to see if you are happy. If I am too far away then either you have changed your mind as to what you want or one of us didn’t communicate as well as the other and that could just as easily be me as you. If we can’t fix it I return your original material and you keep the framework and draft first chapter, I keep the $100 of the commencement fee. You now have a running start to brief my replacement with but so far with 18 ghostwritten titles under my belt at time of writing this I have not yet lost a client. If I do ever miss your mark, I have colleagues with very different writing styles to mine who just might be the ghostwriter for you and I would happily pass on their details. Sometimes things don’t work as intended, despite the best efforts of both parties so why not part amicably like professionals.
If you are thinking of having a book ghostwritten, by all means drop me a line and we can discuss your project and whether I am the best ‘Boo’ for your book!
*$790 profit based on survey of corporate training seminars in the $1,000-$1,500 per attendee range