10 reasons why ghost writers are (often) so expensive

When it comes to hiring a writer to write a book that you don’t have the time or skill to write yourself, how hard could that writing job actually be? The writer doesn’t even have to come up with anything original, since it’s somebody else’s content. Why should that be expensive?

Well, consider a few reasons that the task of ghost writing non-fiction might be harder for a writer than writing their own original non-fiction. (In what follows, remember, “author” means the client, while “writer” means the ghostwriter.)

  1. The writer needs to take time to understand the perspective of the author before doing anything.
  2. The writer needs to vet the author’s ideas and see if they’re worth writing — and if they’re not up to snuff, the writer needs to work with the author to improve those ideas.
  3. The source material is probably a random collection of bits and pieces, or a poorly organized conversational ramble by the author, recorded and transcribed. Organizing that into a book that makes sense is a lot of intellectual work.
  4. There are always holes: missing proof points, gaps in narratives, graphics or photos to track down. Researching that is time-consuming.
  5. The writer needs to understand and take on the author’s voice. (For example, in a piece I’m working on now, the author has an aversion to giving advice with the word “you,” or referring to employees as “staff,” so I’ve had to figure out ways to describe their points that don’t fit my usual style.) This is the prose version of acting: taking on someone else’s persona.
  6. Authors lie. Usually not on purpose, but they get facts wrong and misremember things. As the writer, you must take on the job of verifying names, facts, dates, and events to make sure the text isn’t full of inaccuracies.
  7. Writers need to track down sources and add links and footnotes to verify them. If you don’t think that’s work, you probably haven’t wasted a bunch of afternoons on it, as so many writers have.
  8. Authors change their minds partway through the project. They ask their spouses to review things and then come back and suggest surprising shifts in emphasis or language. They remember things they forgot on the first go-round. So it’s never a straightforward drafting process from beginning to end.
  9. Authors have lots of ways to make money from books, from public speaking to consulting to lead generation. Writers have only one sure way: getting paid directly. Sure, writers can potentially share in advances or royalties, but those are uncertain forms of compensation for the actual work put in.
  10. Authors tend to do book tasks on their own schedules — at odd hours, on weekends, or sometimes, with gaps of availability that go on for weeks or months. Writers need to be available when when the author is available. That wreaks havoc with writers’ schedules. The writer needs to slot ghost writing in among other work and sometimes shift other projects out of the way when the author has an immediate concern.

I’m not whining, honest

I know, this sounds like a bunch of complaints. It’s not. All those experiences and requirements are part of the job of ghost writing. If you do the job, you need to manage those challenges.

But they are challenges. They generate intellectual work. They make demands on time. And they demand expertise.

Intellectual work, time, and expertise have a price. If you want a quality job under those conditions, you’re going to have to pay for it.

And that’s why ghost writing is (often) so expensive.

A final piece of advice. If you’re a writer pricing a project and you haven’t accounted for these challenges, you’re going to be doing a lot more work than you expected. And it’s your own fault. Unless you enjoy working for slave wages when someone else gets the credit, price your projects with these challenges in mind. Because writers deserve to get paid.

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  1. Excellent post. I’ve been a ghostwriter for 20 years and sometimes struggle to explain why we charge what we do. I charge one dollar per word and know my time and expertise is well worth it. I’d also add to the list that we often coach the client through the process and act as a task master to make sure the book gets completed. Without us the book would be half-written on the client’s hard drive.