When you work as a ghostwriter, you provide writing services for a named author without expectation of recognition for your work. Ghostwriting services are usually governed by a contract, and your rights depend on what you negotiate.
Types of Works
Work for ghostwriters can include any and all types of works. Some examples include:
- Novels, novellas, and short stories
- Biographies and autobiographies
- How-to books
- Magazine and internet articles
- White papers
- Non-fiction works
- Scripts and plays
As a ghostwriter, your name and authorship typically will not appear on the work. In some cases, a ghostwriter may receive credit from the named author in acknowledgements or in the title line using a byline such as:
- By named author with ghostwriter
- By named author as told to ghostwriter
On the rare occasions that a ghostwriter's name does appear in the byline, this is usually specified in the contract.
Financial Arrangements for Ghostwriters
How and what you are paid as a ghostwriter is also outlined in the contract, which you sign with the named author and/or publisher before you begin the work. In general, ghostwriters are independent contractors. In rare cases, an employee relationship may be structured into the work agreement.
For contractors, there may be various payment structures:
In many cases, ghostwriters agree to a flat fee for any works produced at the outset of the project. For example, the contract might specify that for a flat fee of $7,500, the ghostwriter will produce a 38,000 word document with two rounds of editorial revisions.
Per Word or Per Page Rate
Alternatively, the contract may specify a per-word or per page rate based on the length and word count of the final manuscript. The contract outlines these fees. Generally, per-word and per-page rates factor in revisions, and the contract will specify how payment will be handled for any revisions.
Ghostwriters sometimes charge an hourly rate for any work relating to the book or other work. In these cases, the contract outlines the activities that are factored into hourly rates, and it specifies how hourly tracking is to be accomplished.
Occasionally, a ghostwriter may earn a percentage of the author's royalties. The rate varies, and the contract will outline specific terms.
Some ghostwriters incur expenses, such as for travel, communication, and research. If reimbursement for expenses is to occur, the contract will outline allowable expenses, how they are to be recorded and tracked, and payment terms.
Copyright/Work for Hire
When a writer produces a work, he or she owns the copyright to that work unless there is an agreement to the contrary. Such an agreement will be in place for ghostwriting arrangements.
The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 created a provision called "work made for hire" to address services such as ghostwriting. This provision allows work made for hire to revert copyright status to a named author or publisher specified in the contract, and the ghostwriter will have no or limited rights associated with that work.
Ghostwriters seldom own any copyright to the works produced. Any rights of copy, distribution, print runs, or other rights for reproduction or derivative works typically belong to the named author and/or publisher, depending on the contractual agreement.
Many ghostwriters wonder if they can legally tell people they were a ghostwriter on a project for the purposes of writing clips or resumes. The contract will specify if this is allowed and to what extent.
Some named authors or publishers do not allow the ghostwriter to claim their work on the project at all for any reason. Others may contractually allow the ghostwriter to reproduce a certain percentage of the work for the purpose of clips or list their work for hire on a resume.
This is something you will need to negotiate with your contract. If you do not receive contractual permission to list the work, you may be able to mention something on your resume in general terms, such as, 'Ghostwriter for a blog for a celebrity nutritionist' without offering any specifics.
Pros and Cons of Ghostwriting
Being a ghostwriter can be a humbling experience for a writer, particularly if you are contractually unable to take any ownership of your end product or share with others you have done it.
Ghostwriting has several benefits. For example:
- You may meet interesting people and get to share information and stories you wouldn't usually tell.
- You won't have to do any promotional work or marketing associated with the end product.
- Your pay is not dependent on sales numbers.
Ghostwriting also has some drawbacks. Examples include:
- You may not be able to share clips in your portfolio or list the work on your resume.
- Sometimes it's difficult to not claim ownership of work you're really proud of.
- Named authors may have unrealistic expectations you'll need to manage.
Mind Your Contract
The best way to make ghostwriting a positive experience is to negotiate the contract you want at the outset because it will govern important aspects like rights, payments, time requirements, and more. If you can't settle on terms agreeable to you, then it may be best to move on to a different project where the terms are more favorable.