Freelance Writers: How To Charge For Ghostwriting Jobs

by Alicia Sparks on September 20, 2011

Will write for MONEY.

I’ve mentioned before (and plenty of other established freelancer writers will tell you the same thing) that I can’t tell you what to charge for your freelance writing services. I can help you figure out how to determine your freelance writing rates, but that’s about it.

Each week, I gobble up Angela Hoy’s WritersWeekly.com newsletter (go ahead – sign up). Among several other fantastic features, Hoy’s website and newsletter provide expert advice, success stories, and listings for paying writing markets and freelance jobs.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, one of Hoy’s readers wrote in to ask for her advice on how much to charge for ghostwriting a non-fiction book and, for the first time – ever, I think – I disagreed with Hoy, who advised the writer to charge by the hour:

These types of projects can go in all different directions and, if you’re not charging them by the hour, you may find, in the end, that you were earning pennies per hour. Whenever a lengthy project is being directed primarily by the client instead of the writer, you should charge by the hour.

Actually, I don’t entirely disagree; rather, I think the answer could be fleshed out a bit.

You see, to me, telling a client you charge by the hour for something as large and involved as a book is kind of like asking that client to write a blank check.

Don’t YOU feel more comfortable hiring contractors who give you a flat fee up front?

Of course, coming up with that flat fee can be challenging. Below are five steps I use to determine ghostwriting rates (and you can even use your regular hourly rates).

1. Get ALL The Ghostwriting Job Details

I’m serious: Find out EVERYTHING you possibly can about the project. For example:

  • What IS the project? Not all ghostwriters write books. For example, some do article ghostwriting, and others provide ghostwriting services for businesses that need to send out regular newsletters to customers. Since those kinds of projects are a bit easier to set ghostwriting fees for, though, we’ll focus on the book ghostwriter for now.
  • How much of the research will be in your hands? All? Some? None? Understanding this part of the job upfront will help you determine both how long the job might take and how much effort it will involve.
  • How familiar is the topic? For instance, if you typically write about home improvement and the project is about the various methods for refinishing floors, you’ll probably be in your element; however, if it’s about the latest scientific research regarding the brain’s production of oxytocin, you might find the project requires more effort.
  • Do you have to work with anyone else? Is there an illustrator you need to meet with periodically, or a researcher you need to hear from on a weekly basis? What about an editor? Find out whether your schedule will reflect interaction with others, too.
  • What is the client’s deadline? (HINT: For big ghostwriting jobs like books, it’s unlikely you’ll complete and present the project in its entirety; you’ll most likely work on it in chunks and provide those chunks for approval at various intervals. The client might prefer this, or his editor might require it. Whatever the reason, if this is the case be sure to find out each of those deadlines, as well.)

Don’t forget to take a look at YOUR schedule. While it might not help you determine your ghostwriting fees, it can help you figure out whether taking on certain writing jobs is even possible – or worth your while.

2. Think About Your Regular Hourly Rate

Here’s where you can consider your hourly freelance writing rates.

Use the information you gathered above to determine (read: estimate) how many hours a day, week, or month (however you want to do it) you will need to complete the project to the client’s specifications and within the deadline. Tally up those hours and come up with a flat fee.

NOTE: That sounds ridiculously simple. It’s not always. Take your time on this. When I first started working as a freelance writer, a client advised me to “measure twice and cut once.” He saved me from charging a week’s worth of pay for what turned out to take a month to complete.

Thus, this is invaluable advice. Heed it.

3. Determine The CYA Fine Print

Now’s the time to work out the details that could, at some point during the project, cover (and save) your ass – both financially and work-wise. Think about factors like:

  • The number of free revisions you’re willing to do before the client must pay extra.
  • How involved those revisions can be.
  • How much extra the client will have to pay.

Your flat fee can include the [X Number] of free revisions, and your contract can include the additional costs, should they arise.

Keep in mind these are just a few suggestions. Depending on the type of ghostwriting services you’re dealing with, you might have other CYA details in mind.

4. Create A Scope Of Work

If you aren’t sure what a scope of work is, don’t worry; I’m going to explain it next week. For now, note that a scope of work is document that outlines and explains:

  • The project’s purpose and intended outcome.
  • Your responsibilities.
  • Your client’s responsibilities.
  • Individual deadlines.
  • Overall duration of the project.

Note: Some people use “scope of work” and “statement of work” interchangeably; that’s fine, if everyone within ear shot knows what they’re talking about, but typically a statement of work is much more involved (and actually includes a scope of work).

5. Write And Sign The Contract

Ewwww, contracts. The only things that ensure we get paid (most of the time), but they’re a bitch to write, yes?

Well, in the beginning. Eventually you’ll get the hang of it and probably develop your own file of various contracts for various projects that require only a little tweaking here and there.

In addition to the agreements set forth in the scope of work, your ghostwriter contract also will cover issues like:

  • Ownership, copyright, and credit.
  • Confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements.
  • Payment (include methods and schedules) and royalties.
  • Termination terms and an escape clause.

Need help drafting a contract? I recommend checking out:

There you have it :) Of course, this method won’t work for ALL ghostwriting jobs, but it will work for most. Too, there are times when charging straight up hourly rates IS best (say, you’re a full-time freelancer for a Web development company who dumps about eight hours of work a day in your lap, would rather pay you by the hour, and quotes you a high hourly rate before you can even think about an awkward negotiation period – it happens, trust me).

How have you determined what to charge for ghostwriting jobs?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ada Hildago September 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm

I personally wouldn’t want to hire someone that charges by the hour. I know what an article was worth to me. Whether a writer can whip it out in 30 min. or spread it out over two days, I don’t care. Hourly rates scare me away.

Amrita July 15, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Thank you so much for this… I’m just breaking in to the field of ghostwriting, and I’m seeking just this kind of information. I really appreciate your sharing it!

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