How to save on the cost of hiring a ghostwriter

How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter to write your book? Here is your complete guide to getting the best bang for your buck.

There is no question that ghostwriting is expensive. Hiring a ghostwrite costs money. It is a highly skilled, labor-intensive job. But there is a very wide range of pricing. I have known people to pay upwards of $50,000 to have a book ghostwritten. That is not good.

I have also known people to pay very, very little…and that is not good, either.

How to save on ghostwriting

Choose a ghostwriting service wisely

Ideally, you want to to get the best ghostwriting for the least cost. Good news: the most expensive ghostwriting agency is not necessarily the best ghostwriting service. Just because somebody ghostwrote the autobiography of a former head of state or Hollywood celebrity doesn’t mean they are better than many ghostwriters who have not.

But they can charge two, three or even four times what another ghostwriter might charge. And they usually do. They get away with it because people are fooled into thinking they are getting something better.

Newsflash: being a celebrity doesn’t make somebody better. If you want to hire a company spokesperson, sure, get a celebrity. The name recognition will rub off on your company. If you want to hire a ghostwriter, the name doesn’t matter. They are ghosts. Nobody will see their name.

Go for quality not for fame.

On the other hand, be wary of any agency that wants to charge way below the going rate. There must be a reason their services are in so little demand that they are willing to work for peanuts. If somebody is ready to write your 50,000 word book for just $4,000, you should have really loud alarm bells reverberating in your head. Run!

If you are willing to sacrifice quality for price, you should not be hiring a ghostwriter at all. Just write it yourself. That’s how to save the most money. Presumably, you want to hire a ghostwriter who can write better than you can, right? So hire one who actually can.

TIP: Hire by the project, not by the hour. That way, you minimize the administrative costs. We hate keeping track of hours. It’s tedious. We charge by the project, so you don’t have to pay for all that administrative work.

 

Avoid extra fees

This is the top tip to keep ghostwriting costs under control. Ghostwriting is a pretty straightforward service. It is custom work, but it is pretty straightforward. But if you want extra work done, it will obviously cost extra money. Here are five ways to avoid extra costs:

  • Know what you want.
  • Get organized.
  • Don’t pay a babysitter.
  • Avoid travel costs.
  • Don’t rush.

Know what you want

Do you know who your audience is? Do you know what style of writing you want? The more you know before contacting the ghostwriter, the less time she will have to spend helping you decide. After all, time is money.

You might want the ghostwriter’s help to make decisions. If so, that’s fine. You won’t mind paying for it.

Get your material organized

You are paying a ghostwriter to write. If you dump a box of documents on her kitchen table, you will also have to pay her to organize your material. That can be a very long and tedious (labor-intensive) task. You don’t need to pay a skilled writer to do this for you.

It can get even more costly if you want the writer to do your research for you. At very least, you could save money by hiring a student to gather the information together.

You can avoid paying extra fees to organize your material by handing the ghostwriter most of your information already organized. Most often that means:

  • a list of topics and subtopics
  • information sorted by person/character
  • lists of players, locations, documents, etc.
  • a timeline for fiction, biography and true stories

Each writing project is different. The bottom line is this: if the writer doesn’t have to spend countless hours organizing your material, we don’t need to charge you extra to do it.

Don’t pay a babysitter

I said it before: you are paying a ghostwriter to write. If you want her to babysit, that will cost extra. We get these requests a lot for biographies, especially for elderly parents, and sometimes for small business books:

  • “I would like you to sit with my grandmother while she tells you her stories.”
  • “Mr. Heatherington would like you to come and interview him at his office.”

Let’s do some math.

Let’s suppose it takes about two days for your grandmother or Mr. Heatherington to articulate the information for the book. As they articulate it, they can put the information in order, so that it is organized. It then takes about two hours for the ghostwriter to read it and get herself ready to write, or at least create a structure for the manuscript.

Now let’s suppose the ghostwriter comes to interview your grandmother or Mr. Heatherington. It will still take them two days to articulate the information. But now it takes the ghostwriter two days to collect it live, instead of just two hours to read it.

But wait, there’s more.  All the information is in audio recording and/or scribbled notes. The audio can’t be scanned or searched, so it needs to be transcribed. That will cost you extra.

TIP: The more you write down, the better. If you have snippets you want included, write them down. Even if it doesn’t save you a penny, you’ll get the manuscript you truly want.

But wait, there’s even more. After two days of interviews, duly transcribed, the ghostwriter has all the information in an unorganized state. She still has to organize it. Unlike your grandmother or Mr. Heatherington, she is only partly familiar with the material, having been exposed to it in what can best be described as a crash course. This will take a while, perhaps another day.

If you have money to burn, why not burn it? Hire a ghostwriter as a babysitter. But if you want to save on ghostwriter costs, don’t pay for an extra three days of labor, plus transcription fees.

Avoid travel costs

There are times when you simply cannot get all the information down, or when it is worth the cost to have the writer interview people.  So you might ask the ghostwriter to travel to meet you or the people you want interviewed. Travel costs include:

  • meals while away
  • air fare or mileage
  • any other incidental costs
  • a per diem that accounts for the writer being away from home overnight

Avoid the costs of travel by using the telephone or videoconferencing like Zoom or Skype.

Of course, the inevitable request is then to “get me a writer in my city”. Stop for a moment and think about the logistics. Do some math if you like. Think about how many cities there are around the world.

Just a few weeks ago, a gentleman in Brisbane, Australia, demanded a local writer. Hmm. We have a strong team of a dozen top-quality writers. Guess how many of them, all based in the USA and Canada, were local to Brisbane?

With a dozen writers across the USA and Canada, guess what the odds are that one of them lives in your city or town? Or even in your province or state?

In the unlikely event that we have a writer within an hour’s drive of your house, what are the chances that it’s the best writer for your project?

If you want a fantasy novel written, I won’t assign a writer who works only in non-fiction just because she lives close to you.

If you are a business, I will assign only a writer comfortable working with business, who understands how businesses function.

My single-focused job is to get you the best writer for what you want written. Location is not a factor. Some of my best friends are maps, but this is business; geography is not my goal.

If you have money to burn, why not? Pay the travel costs. But if you want to save money on ghostwriting, never mind geography; just communicate by phone, email or videoconferencing.

Don’t rush

Ideally, you want to give the writer enough time to do a proper job without rushing. For books of 50,000 to 60,000 words, this is typically 4-6 months.

A shorter deadline could be more expensive (if it is a “rush” job) and might even compromise the quality of the manuscript. Most writers charge more for a rush job, because:

  • they have to push other projects aside
  • it becomes harder to juggle other client projects
  • they might have to work longer days, for a prolonged period

Do some of the writing yourself

This can be a great way to save money on ghostwriting fees. You need help, because you are not a professional writer. But do you need complete help? Here are some options that could cut the ghostwriting cost dramatically.

Outsource just the structure

If your big problem is structuring your manuscript, working through plots, developing character arcs or plotting out the clues and hints for the reader, you could outsource just that portion of the work. Professional writers are used to creating structures. If you are a fairly good writer, that might be all you need.

Write, then ask us to edit or rewrite

If you can write reasonably well, you might try writing it yourself, then ask for an edit. We sometimes help clients who come to us with a draft manuscript, but need very specific help:

  • “Can you add some spark to the dialogue?”
  • “I feel like it sounds too formal.”
  • “The descriptions aren’t vivid enough. Could you add some color to them?”

We can edit or rewrite your manuscript. Depending on how well it is written and how limited the edit or rewrite that’s needed, you could reduce ghostwriter costs a lot or just a little.

Reality check: if needs rewriting, you will likely have saved only $1,000-$2,000. But, that is still a significant saving. Plus you have hands-on control of the manuscript and a more-intense joy of creating.

Get a high-level review

We do a few of these each year. If you are confident in your writing abilities, but want us to help you take your manuscript to a superior level, this is for you. We can read the manuscript and provide a page or two (or three or four or …) of notes and observations for you to implement.

In some cases, clients have taken those notes and improved their manuscripts themselves. In other cases, they have asked us to do it for them.

You could combine these options. For example, you could ask us for the book’s structure, then write it yourself, then ask us to edit. It will still cost less than fully outsourcing, and you would be more hands-on creative.

Make your manuscript shorter

This should be obvious. If you ask us to ghostwrite 300,000 words, it will cost more than writing 50,000 words. It won’t be exactly six times as much, but it won’t be far off.

There are times when you know exactly how long the book needs to be. You might not want to shorten it. That’s fine. Just remember that writing is a labor-intensive task. The longer the manuscript, the more it will cost to write.

Ask for the best price

This is also pretty obvious. If you ask for the best price, you might get a discount. We have sometimes lowered the price.

You might already be getting the best price possible, as we sometimes quote low (foolish me!), but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

If a ghostwriter is able to give you a better price, you’ll know right away. Ghostwriters don’t haggle. If she says the quote is final, don’t become a pest; the price won’t change. If the price is really too high for your budget, the writer might suggest reviewing some of the items on this list.

If the issue is cash flow, we might suggest breaking the fee into smaller increments and spreading the project over a longer period. That has helped many of our clients get the manuscript they want over a slightly longer timeframe.

So many ways to cut ghostwriting costs

There are actually several ways to keep the costs of ghostwriting reasonable. They won’t all work for everybody. And you might decide that it’s worth it to pay more. Or you might decide to abandon the project. I have seen both extremes. The path you choose will depend on:

  • what you can afford to pay
  • how important the project is to you
  • how much of the writing you can do yourself

How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter to write your book? That depends on you.

About David Leonhardt

David Leonhardt is President of The Happy Guy Marketing, a published author, a "Distinguished Toastmaster", a former consumer advocate, a social media addict and experienced with media relations and government reports.

Read more about David Leonhardt



Comments

  1. That depends on the ghostwriter. As with any other profession, fees vary widely. I know of competent ghosts who will write a full-length book for as little as $15,000; I know others who live in expensive areas like New York or San Francisco who won’t work for less than $80,000. I personally charge $60,000.

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