Ghostwriting Isn’t Spooky (Part 2)

Before you sign a ghostwriting contract, get three questions answered.

What is the deadline?
If you have a year to write the book, you can work at a leisurely pace and take other assignments. Thus, a 50 percent advance and 50 percent upon delivery isn’t a bad deal. However, if you only have three months, it will consume your time, so it’s reasonable to ask for 75 percent up front so you’ll have money to live on.

Is there an expense account?
If your source person is in California and you live in Kentucky, who will pay for the interview trip? What about photocopying expenses, mailing costs, and other fees? Find out how much will come out of your pocket or your expenses could eat your payment.

What recognition will you receive?
Get it in writing. Will you get none? An “as told to” byline on the cover? Will the publisher list you as a coauthor? Laud you on the acknowledgments page?

Breaking in

  • Hitch your wagon to a star: If you know someone famous or an expert in some area, persuade that person to allow you to write his or her story.
  • Write direct: Not all ghostwritten books are written for a publisher. Some people can afford to hire you themselves. One summer I placed an ad in a business magazine offering my services and gained three deals.
  • Network: Have other writers refer you to their agents or publishers. Go to writing conferences and give your business card, résumé, and samples to editors.
  • Become an expert: If you have extensive knowledge in a field, contact publishers who specialize in books for those fields. I once wrote a lot of articles about the insurance industry. Because of that, I ghosted books for insurance agents and later wrote four insurance-related books under my own name.

Ghostwriting is a valid avenue of revenue. After one experience you’ll know whether you have, um, a ghost of a chance of surviving another.

Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D., is director of the Department of Professional Writing at Taylor University and the author of more than 50 books, including How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House).Visit him online.


  1. Sharon Joseph says

    I really like your article. I am a new writer who wants to enter into the world of ghostwriting. I didn’t read the first part of your article but those recommendations were very wise. This information will help me when I start my own business. Thanks. Sharon Joseph

  2. says

    Very good advice.

    I am just beginning my career as a ghost writer. Therefore, I am still “learning the ropes”. Your information is a great inspiration and guidance for us “newbies”.

    Nevertheless, I am yet to find someone who will provide a sample of the clause that must be included in an “as told to” ghost writing agreement, including securing the name on the cover (or, at least an acknowledgement) regardless of the publisher’s preferences.

    I am negotiating a very low paying ghost writing project in exchange for byline credit on the cover. I would like to know how to include this in the standard agreement since I think it is not the same as co-authorship. The client wants to pay the lowest possible without sharing any percentage of the revenues, royalties, and any other proceeds that this novel might produce.

    Therefore, I need more specifics about what is included and excluded from an “as told to” ghost writing agreement. I hope that you can either send me an e-mail with the information or write another article specifically addressing this issue.
    Thank you so much. :)

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