Why 1 Ghostwriting Project is Expensive


Proof that ghostwriting is expensive: I remember speaking about ghostwriting at a networking event. Afterwards, a member came up and asked just one question: “How much?”

What I wanted to say was, If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Instead, I responded, “It depends on several factors, but if you want quality ghostwriting, you can expect to pay between $15,000 and $50,000.”

His facial reaction told me that was too expensive.

In the following months, I secured commitments for two projects in that range, telling me that not everyone shops by price alone.

But the question remains: Why should people pay that much (or more) for ghostwriting?

The short answer is that you get what you pay for. You can get somebody from Bangladesh to ghostwrite your 30,000-word ebook in 12 days for as little as $750 (found on upwork.com), but is that what you really want? Will there be a language barrier between the ghostwriter’s native Bengali and your English? Will there be any cultural or religious barriers that make it difficult? Is 30,000 words enough to tell your story when most memoirs run at least 75,000 words and most business books average between 50,000 and 60,000 words? What value will you get?

It is better to invest the time and money toward making the book the very best it can be, which leads me to the longer answer for why ghostwriting is as pricey as it is: Time is money.

Not only are you paying a ghostwriter to write your story, you’re paying a ghostwriter for the time it will take to write the book. And there are a lot of steps in any ghostwriter’s writing process. That can be expensive.

First comes the before work: The ghostwriter has to meet with the prospect and learn what is the story, why it’s important to the prospect, why the prospect can’t write it, and the prospect’s ultimate goals for the book. The ghostwriter needs to feel compelled enough to work on the story, and both sides must understand that this could take a year or more to complete. There also needs to be at least one conversation about what expectations the prospect has about the ghostwriter and vice versa.

Then comes the contract work. The sides have to hammer out the agreement that will set forth the details of the project that will bind the sides to each other: the scope of the work, the fee (which can be expensive), the process by which the ghostwriter will compile the information to tell the story, how the client will receive the work, how to terminate the contract, who owns the work; any indemnifications, assignments, notices, and waivers to be included; the venue where the sides can seek justice, and anything else the two sides agree to.

Next comes the actual work, starting with the outline, which requires the ghostwriter’s tremendous organizational skills. Most clients have bits and pieces to give the ghostwriter; the rest the ghostwriter has to research, find, verify; maybe interview, record, and transcribe; and write.

Speaking of writing, the ghostwriter has to learn how to write in the client’s voice, tone, and style. That takes time. And the client might change the focus of the project midway, or they might want to add in things they previously forgot. Ghostwriting is never done in a straight line from beginning to end. It always detours, often unexpectedly.

Finally, the two sides have to work together. That means their schedules have to match up; or at the very least, the ghostwriter needs to accommodate the client. I tell clients, “Life gets in the way, and I understand, but we both need to view this project as the high priority it is.”

Knowing all of this, I subscribe to what ghostwriter Michael Levin suggests: “Make your proposed fee a number that’s so high that you cannot say it without feeling weak in the knees…and then add 20% to that number!”

It will be worth it.

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