Introducing Gotham GHOSTMASTERS

Straight Talk for New Authors: What To Expect About The Cost of Hiring a Ghostwriter

Welcome back to Ghostwriting Confidential, a series we launched in 2021 to educate prospective authors about what it is that ghostwriters do (and don’t do) and define, demystify, and, to the extent possible, de-risk-ify the process and ultimately maximize the payoff from working with a ghostwriter. 

Since then, it’s become clear to us that there remains a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about some of the key aspects of hiring and collaborating with a ghost. So we thought it was time to revive the series to better set author expectations under the banner of Straight Talk for New Authors. First up is the topic on the top of everyone’s minds when they enter this process: money — specifically, what to expect about the cost of hiring a ghostwriter.

Most potential clients come to us with a lot of questions about the ghostwriting process. That makes sense — as much as Gotham is working to bring the ghostwriting profession out of the shadows, this industry has operated like a black box throughout its history. Questions about cost are generally foremost on first-time authors’ minds, and because of the aforementioned opaqueness of the inner-workings of this industry, the answer often surprises them.

To be blunt, most people significantly underestimate the cost of hiring a proven, professional ghostwriter. In many cases, that’s because they’ve perused platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, which are flooded with low-cost freelancers (often from developing countries) who may market themselves as ghostwriters but, in actuality, don’t have serious credentials or experience in this space. Or maybe they’ve looked at bargain bin self-publishing companies that offer too-good-to-be-true pricing for ghostwriting work. 

Then there are the growing number of aspiring authors who are exploring AI for writing help — tantalized by the prospect of a free ghost. But most who do find out this is the ultimate expression of you get what you pay for. Indeed, it’s one thing to ask a machine to spit out a grammatically correct summary of information inputs and quite another to ask it to conceptualize, organize, and produce a compelling, insightful book. The latter is something a skilled human writing partner can provide and ChatGPT can’t come close to doing.

So here is an objective dose of reality. Our agency has brokered hundreds of collaborations over the last decade, so we have an acute understanding of the market. And, based on our experience, if you’re looking to engage a professional collaborator to produce a quality, standard-length business book, memoir, or self-help guide, you should expect to pay at least $30,000 to $40,000. And if you’re seeking a writer with multiple New York Times bestsellers, especially for business and thought leadership projects, be prepared to invest at least $100,000.

What drives that cost? Two key drivers: talent and time.

First off, writing a book of 50,000 words or more is challenging in its own right. But developing a story that will captivate an audience and/or catapult a thought leader into the elite ether is something few can do. An even more rare skill – finding that killer hook for a book and building it into a killer proposal that will convince a top trade publisher to pay a sizable advance. Then there is the fine art most top ghosts have mastered of convincing a reluctant author to make themselves vulnerable and share their most intimate thoughts and stories. 

Take that all together, and it’s no secret why professional ghosts are in such demand – and, as such, can command fees in the high five and low six figures.

Then factor in the substantial amount of time that ghosts typically commit to producing a quality book. Now, some first-time authors have done a lot of advanced thinking, honed an outline, assembled source material, and may have even produced some rough chapter drafts. But the clear majority are starting mostly from scratch. And, in those cases, it will fall on the ghost to facilitate, if not outright perform, most of the prep work, which often can take a few months before a word is ever written. Then there is the time-intensive work of producing first drafts, multiple rounds of revisions, and fact-checking sensitive information. 

The result? On average, a writer is devoting at least half of their available work life – if not more – to a given project over the course of six to nine months. 

Now, in the spirit of straight talk, you’ll notice we have added several qualifiers, and that is purposeful. First off, there is no standardization in our opaque marketplace. Not only do different ghosts with different credentials charge differently, but you’ll often see writers with very similar credentials bill at wildly different rates. Second, the scope and schedule of projects that engage collaborators varies greatly, depending on how much research is needed, if the author wants a proposal done first, how much revising will be involved, if there is a rush component due to an external deadline, etc.

But based on our experience, we can share some established pricing tiers that authors can expect to pay to engage an established ghost. 

  • Basic: The average price to hire a competent, professional, but perhaps less experienced ghost to do a straightforward memoir, business, or prescriptive book is $40,000 to $60,000.
  • Mid-Market: Hiring a ghost who has written books for major publishers to produce a more time-intensive work costs between $75,000 to $150,000.
  • Elite: A collaborator who has written multiple New York Times bestsellers can charge anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000.

How ghosts get paid also varies to some degree. But for the most part, authors can expect to pay a flat project fee, usually broken down into between two to four installments, the final of which is usually paid upon their delivery and acceptance of the completed manuscript to the author — not publication. One way that most ghosts DON’T get paid is through profit-sharing. We have had many prospective authors come to us saying they want their partner to “have some skin in the game” and propose to split the book’s sales revenue as partners. We inevitably have to explain to them that unless you are a big brand-name author like Prince Harry or Jack Welch, there won’t be any profits to split – and as such, no ghost worth their salt would work without a guaranteed fee.

At the end of the day, most of our clients understand the value of investing in quality services in other areas of their lives. Investing in telling the story of their lives, businesses, or expertise is a quality service. Most successful business leaders or experts don’t scrimp when it comes to paying for other important services — hiring a ghostwriter is no different.

Stay tuned for upcoming installments of Ghostwriting Confidential: Straight Talk for New Authors to learn more about what to expect from this process. 


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