“Seeking a ghostwriter or coauthor,” the email subject line read.
Make up your mind, I thought. Because those are two very different roles. A coauthor works with you, while a ghostwriter works for you.
How to decide if you want a coauthor or a ghostwriter
I get it. You think you need writing help. But before you go forward with that plan, you’d better figure out what kind of relationship you want, not just during the writing, but afterwards.
- A coauthor is your partner in creating the vision for your book and executing that vision. A ghostwriter writes to your vision.
- You and a coauthor need to agree on every bit of the content. If you hire a ghostwriter, you alone are the final arbiter, although you’d be wise to consider the ghostwriter’s opinion.
- You and a coauthor will share ownership of the book’s ideas and the copyright. If you hire a ghostwriter, you have full ownership of the result, and the ghostwriter generally has no rights to it. (In legal language, it’s “a work made for hire.”)
- You and a coauthor share billing as the book’s authors. Your ghostwriter may receive no billing or, if you agree on it ahead of time, may be credited as “with” after your name as the author.
- You and a coauthor share the financial side of a book — you share the advance and royalties, and if you’re working with a hybrid publisher, you share the costs. You negotiate that financial agreement ahead of time. If you hire a ghostwriter, you generally pay them a fee. They may get a share of royalties if that is part of what you negotiate. If you are very famous and have guaranteed sales, they may agree to work only for a share of royalties, but that is unusual.
You can’t have it both ways
You may be thinking, “Why don’t I find a coauthor to write a book according to my vision?”
You are deluded. Because what you are really thinking is, “How can I get someone to write this book without paying them?”
I get pitched for this from time to time. My response is always to laugh. As a writing professional, there are so many ways to spend my time. They include working on my own books and getting paid to edit or ghostwrite books for others. That’s how I make my living.
Why would I spend time writing a book for you, with an uncertain payoff? Even it takes off, you’re the one who benefits.
If you don’t want to pay and you don’t have an intellectual partner to work with, you could always try writing the book yourself. What are you really afraid of?