Ghostwriting is a business partnership between the writer and their clients. Ghostwriters get paid for the time and effort they put into the research, development, and writing needed for a project. As the name indicates, they also get paid for being "anonymous".
Ghostwriters get paid for their skills, experience, acclaim, and kind of writing work they are tasked with. They usually get paid a flat fee, per page, or a portion of the royalty money the work generates. If per word, the pay can be 10 cents or lower and up to $4 a word or more.
Keep reading to learn the kind of writing work ghostwriters usually get hired for and the things that determine their pay.
Who is a Ghostwriter?
A writer who gets paid to write reports, articles, books, website material, stories, academic papers, etc. but doesn't get credited for the work is a ghostwriter. There are also ghostwriters who write songs for their clients.
The speech a political leader gives could have been written by a ghostwriter. Top-tier executives who lack the time or writing skills to draft a business report invariably hire a ghostwriter to do it for them.
A ghostwriter is typically hired to work from scratch. However, there are times when the writer may be taken on board to contribute to an existing piece of work or become part of an ongoing project. For instance, the ghostwriter might edit and polish a rough version or work on an almost finished manuscript.
In certain other cases, the ghostwriter might do the majority of the writing, incorporating stories and concepts furnished to them by the attributed author into the piece. A ghostwriter is seldom tasked with completing a project without any inputs or direction from the acknowledged author. The publishing author would at least provide a blueprint or a general framework to start with and/or heavily review the final draft.
How Much Do Ghostwriters Get Paid?
A ghostwriter gets paid in different ways and which varies with the project or kind of writing required. All the research, writing, and editing that goes into ghostwriting are considered when ascertaining a ghostwriter's pay.
A project fee is usually set for full-length memoirs, novels, business books, scripts, etc. The pay is ascertained taking into account the ghostwriter's areas of expertise, credentials, the research work needed for the project, project deadline, and whether the ghostwriter would be all by himself/herself or the client would chip in every now and again with inputs or perhaps contribute to the writing as well in some capacity.
If the client is huge, such as a celebrity, a ghostwriter can make around $50,000 per project. While the number may sound massive, this is writing money that very few ghostwriters make. And those seemingly are the best in the business. Typically, for a book or a similar project, an experienced and established ghostwriter will make around $20,000. Beginner ghostwriters would average close to $5,000.
Such book projects usually have a timeframe of several months – usually five to six months. The payment schedules are typically flexible too. Generally, the ghostwriter gets paid half the project's remuneration at the beginning after having signed the contract. The balance amount is paid after project completion.
Per Page Payment
College students, consumer magazines, and trade journals employ ghostwriters to write their articles, term papers, thesis projects, business columns, etc. Ghostwriters are given a specific set of parameters – which includes formatting requirements – and are typically paid per page. The payment also includes remuneration for the research work needed.
The pay is usually $10 to $65 per page. The average, however, is $12. Some inexperienced ghostwriters may even get paid a lot lesser than the average pay per page. The money usually goes up based on the writer's experience, the complexity of the work, the turnaround time, and also the willingness of the client to pay well for quality work.
The turnaround time for these projects is usually in days and at times weeks. If an assignment needs to be completed within 24 hours, the pay is likely to be high. The payment is usually made after assignment completion. There are no partial payments made beforehand since the writing tasks are less complex or not as time- and research-intensive as writing a book.
Pay Per Word
Ghostwriting assignments around newsletters, brochures, press kits, press releases, short booklets, advertorials, etc. are paid for by the word. The payment could be $.03 to up to $5 per word. There are some who get paid lesser than $.03 per word, however. And $5 per word or anywhere close to that is reserved for a selected few. The payment is typically made after project completion.
By the Hour
Hourly payment arrangements usually work out well if the client and the writer are considering a long-term working relationship. Clients usually pay ghostwriters by the hour for creating syndicated columns, speeches, blogs and articles, and promotional texts for advertising campaigns.
See Also: Writers: Improve Your Time Management
The pay typically falls in the $35 to $120 range, for an hour. The billing is done monthly, and the payments are made every month after work completion. Ghostwriters who get paid for by the hour usually invoice their clients for consultation services as well.
At times, the ghostwriter gets partial credit for their work, in addition to payment. This credit could be offered as a note of thanks in a book's introduction or foreword. Sometimes, ghostwriters of nonfiction texts would get credit as a "contributor" or "research assistant".
Ghostwriters and the Music Industry
Ghostwriters also write songs. They could pen songs for classical music, popular music such as hip-hop, film music, etc. So, how much do ghostwriters make for writing songs and who are their clients?
Right from the most elite artists to up-and-coming rappers, pretty much all have hired song ghostwriting services. The majority may not have had all their songs ghostwritten, but they would have hired help and not given credit to the original songwriter at some point in time at least during their careers.
In addition to upfront payments, song cowriters get credited as writers and also receive a portion of the royalties the established musician gets. The attribution, however, is not publicized enough or common knowledge to garner the kind of attention a more popular writer of a song gets. Not to mention, such attributions are extremely rare occurrences.
The money ghostwriters make to write songs is usually in the thousands for a song. The writing task could entail creating multiple verses, choruses, and at times complete songs. To write a song, the ghostwriter must credibly incorporate their client's voice. That could entail combing through their discography or finding out what they have already done and said before. Needless to say, the topics and themes covered in the in-the-making song should be fresh and unique.
Circling back to the money part, the typical range is $10,000 and $20,000. Big-label projects could fetch a writer lots more than $20,000. To a novice, that may sound a significant chunk of money.
But it's not that much when you consider the more than $50,000 fee that popular rappers usually charge for each verse. Seasoned song ghostwriters making more than $100,000 is not an anomaly. And there are also ghostwriters who charge $250,000 per song on the regular.
Back in the day, particularly during the '70s and '80s, ghostwriters were not given royalties, and that is predominantly how things work in the industry to date. The unfortunate thing, however, is the multiple instances when writers, who were promised credits at the time of writing the song, ended up not finding their names on the label. There have also been cases where songs have been released without proper reimbursement to the ghostwriter.
The money is great in song ghostwriting. And, though rare, the royalty money could be more than an added bonus. However, unlike writing an article, press release, or even creating a rough draft for a 25,000-word book, penning songs is not for everyone. If you can write an article, you could possibly learn to write a proper book within a few years of practice and honing of your skills.
Writing songs, on the other hand, is a completely different ball game. The pay is great not just because the songs potentially rake in money in the millions, but also because writing songs is a relatively difficult task. It's a more modern or rhythmic version of a poem if one could say so.
Also, a songwriting project is hard to come by compared to other types of ghostwriting. Typically, a seasoned song ghostwriter or co-writer gets to do not more than 10 or 15 records a year.
Ghostwriting is a pretty lucrative career choice. And ghostwriters, quite understandably, get paid more for their work than writers who get a byline to boot. However, there is no standard or exact thumb rule for how much ghostwriters get paid.
If you are looking to hire a ghostwriter for a project, expect to pay at least 15 to 20 percent more than you would pay a regular freelancer for the same job. And if you are a ghostwriter, do not undersell your services as it doesn't bode well for the ghostwriting industry on the whole.
Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.