Do you need a ghostwriting contract?
Having one is simply good business (even if you’re working with someone you know).
It helps both parties understand exactly what’s expected and prevents all kinds of issues down the road.
But figuring out what a ghostwriting agreement needs to contain is tricky (especially without the help of a lawyer).
As someone who had a HORRIBLE first experience with a ghostwriter, I can attest to this firsthand.
That’s why we always use ghostwriting contracts at Best Seller Publishing.
And they aren’t incredibly difficult to put together once you know what you’re dealing with.
That’s what I’ll help you navigate in this post.
Important Note: this is by no means legal advice. It is best to consult a lawyer before getting into any type of agreement.
The 9 Things ALL Ghostwriting Contracts Need to Include
This is what the ghostwriter will actually deliver to you. It’s the final manuscript of your book.
Your ghostwriting agreement must outline the specifics of what this final deliverable needs to look like.
For example, it should clearly state your expectations on:
- The length of the manuscript (in words) – a good rule of thumb to follow is that there are ~250 words per page, so a 240-word manuscript should be about 60,000 words
- Your goals for the project – i.e. what type of book you want to be created and what you hope it accomplishes for readers (a working title and description of the book are helpful)
- Ancillary materials – any illustrations, research, or other materials you expect the ghostwriter to deliver along with the manuscript
You want there to be no doubt about what your expectations are. And by signing the agreement, the ghostwriter acknowledges those expectations.
This is a list of all the services the ghostwriter will be providing. They obviously will ghostwrite your manuscript, but you want to also clearly indicate any other activities you expect them to do.
This includes (but isn’t limited to):
- Interviews (either with you or someone else)
- Publishing help
- Book Launch and marketing
Don’t simply assume the ghostwriter will do these things for you. Spell it out clearly in the agreement.
3. Payment Terms
This section of the ghostwriting agreement outlines:
- How you’ll pay them
- When you’ll pay them
- How much you’ll pay
It’s important to be as specific as possible here so that there’s no confusion later on.
This is where you need to decide what route you want to take when it comes to payment structure. I have an entire post dedicated to ghostwriting fees, but as a quick overview, you have 3 main options at your disposal:
- Per word – rates tend to be $.30 – $2 per word
- Per hour – rates tend to be $50 – $250 per hour (this is pretty uncommon)
- Per project – expect to pay $25,000 – $100,000 for a good ghostwriter to write a nonfiction book
#3 is usually the best route to go in my experience, and I recommend avoiding ghostwriters who want hourly pay because it incentivizes them to take a long time writing your manuscript (rather than focusing on quality).
Once you’ve decided on the proper payment structure with the ghostwriter you’ve chosen, outline the specific rate, payment schedule, and payment method in your contract.
Specify when payments will be due (e.g., upon completion of each deliverable, at the end of each month, etc.) and how they will be made (e.g., by check, PayPal, bank transfer, etc.).
Most ghostwriters want to be paid by milestone or monthly payments
For example, they may request a percentage of the fee upfront, a percentage per completed chapter, a percentage for a completed V1, and a percentage for a completed project or a percentage upfront and monthly payments as the project progresses.
Be sure to figure out how your ghostwriter prefers to be paid, then outline a mutually beneficial payment schedule in your ghostwriting agreement.
This outlines when the ghostwriter will be expected to deliver each piece of the project.
Adding a timeline to your contract is critical because these projects can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more depending on the scope of work.
So, make sure that both you and the ghostwriter agree as to how long the project will take and what kind of schedule you’ll be working with.
In some cases, you can add specific dates for milestones and you can tie them to a payment schedule.
This leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about when deliverables are expected.
5. Ownership and Rights
This is probably the most important part of the agreement.
It determines who ultimately owns the work and what kind of rights each party has to the work.
You want to make sure the contract clearly indicates you own ALL rights to the final product and any files or assets created during the process.
This won’t come as a surprise to the ghostwriter because that’s what you’re paying them to do, but make sure you spell it out in detail in your contract to provide you with additional protection.
- All materials and files
- The content
- Ideas and notes
- Writings by the ghostwriter and all work associated with the manuscript
This isn’t being stingy, it’s being smart.
6. Confidentiality (Optional)
Most people assume you should have your ghostwriter sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
But that’s usually unnecessary because of the nature of the work–which is why we don’t do NDAs at Best Seller Publishing.
You are more than welcome to include one in your ghostwriting contract, though, if you so choose.
This clause outlines what will happen if either party wants to terminate the agreement prematurely.
This should include details on what will happen in the event that:
- You prematurely cancel the agreement
- The ghostwriter prematurely cancels the agreement
- Or either side breaches the agreement
What details should you include?
- The amount the ghostwriter will receive for services rendered at the time of cancellation
- The amount (if any) the ghostwriter will receive for services rendered in the event of a breach of contract
- What happens in the event the scope of the project changes
Again, this creates a roadmap that leaves no room for doubt in the event that things don’t go as planned.
8. Dispute Resolution
This clause outlines what will happen if a dispute arises between you and the ghostwriter.
In most cases, you can include a simple statement in your agreement that says both parties will be submitted to binding and confidential arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association in your particular state if you can’t reach an agreement by a good faith negotiation.
It’s important to include this even if you don’t foresee any sort of dispute between you and your ghostwriter.
What Can Go Wrong When Working with a Ghostwriter (And How Does a Ghostwriting Agreement Help)?
Even if you’re working with a reputable, experienced ghostwriter, problems can still arise. It’s impossible to predict how a project will go.
That’s why it’s important to have a ghostwriting agreement in place that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties.
This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page from the start and there’s a mutual understanding of what can and can’t be done during the project.
Some of the most common problems that can arise when working with a ghostwriter include:
- The ghostwriter doesn’t deliver what was promised
- The ghostwriter doesn’t meet the agreed-upon deadline
- The ghostwriter doesn’t adhere to the agreed-upon scope of work
- The ghostwriter wants to change the terms of the agreement after the project has already begun
- The ghostwriter doesn’t hand over the final product when the project is completed.
These aren’t necessarily common, but they do arise from time to time despite both parties’ best intentions.
That’s why it’s so important to have a Ghostwriting Agreement in place.
Now that you know how to create a simple ghostwriter contract, it’s time to put one together for your next project.
Keep the tips outlined in this post in mind as you do so and be sure to have your lawyer review the agreement before you sign it.
Once everything is in order, you can move forward with confidence, knowing that both you and the ghostwriter are protected if something goes wrong.
This is an outline of what should be included in a ghostwriting contract.
For more information on how to create a contract that best protects your interests, please consult with an experienced ghostwriting attorney.
And if you’re looking for a ghostwriter, we provide these services.