Some people assume that hiring a good ghostwriter only costs $10,000. Others think it costs at least $100,000. In reality, the monetary fee you pay to work with a good ghostwriter will be somewhere between $25,000 and $250,000.
But the cost you incur to produce and publish your book is more than what you pay the ghostwriter (I’ll explain more about that in a minute).
Can you pay less than $25,000 to hire someone to ghostwrite your book? Sure. But paying the ghostwriter who offers the lowest rate will almost certainly result in a bad book.
People will judge you based on the quality of your book. Choosing the cheapest ghostwriter might save you some money in the short term, but it could cost you your reputation in the long term.
Beyond rates, there are other ghostwriting costs that many first-time Authors tend to overlook in the process.
To get specific, there’s the time and energy you’ll spend trying to hire ghostwriters. Then, there’s the expenses associated with managing them, and with other aspects of the book process, like publishing.
In this post, I’m going to detail every penny you must account for when hiring a ghostwriter. I’ll also cover the steps involved when it comes to hiring one. You’ll learn:
- The current market rates of most ghostwriters
- How they charge for their ghostwriting services
- The indirect costs involved with hiring a ghostwriter
- How to negotiate working terms with a ghostwriter
At Scribe, we have a roster of talented ghostwriters ready to start working on your book. Click here to check out Scribe Pro and save hours on your search for the right writer. We offer a money-back guarantee.
Today’s Ghostwriter Costs and Rates
I know some people who are shocked to learn that a good ghostwriter costs more than $10,000. I also know other people who are excited that they don’t have to pay more than $100,000.
At minimum, you need to budget five figures. If you can’t afford that, then you shouldn’t hire a ghostwriter.
From bad to great, below is a breakdown of the current market prices that ghostwriters command. These are rates based on writing anywhere from a 100 to 300 page nonfiction book.
Low Quality: $1,000 to $24,000
Hiring anyone under $24,000 is almost guaranteed to be a terrible decision. There are some good writers in this range who are new to ghostwriting and are trying to build up their portfolio. But professional writers who are actually decent and have established track records are few and far between.
Many of the ghostwriters in this range with good credentials are subcontracting their work to content mills. The worst of them just plagiarize other people’s work. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anyone who quotes you in this range.
Good Quality: $25,000 to $75,000
It’s wide, but this range is where you’ll find a reliable ghostwriter. You can find good ghostwriters from $25,000 to $40,000, but expect them to either be desperate for a gig or relatively inexperienced. The sweet spot for good ones with credentials is usually within $40,000 to $75,000.
The pricing here varies based on 3 factors:
- The writer’s level of expertise.
- The amount of writing you need.
- How much work you provide them with to get started.
Generally speaking, a higher price in this range doesn’t guarantee better quality. You may find some ghostwriters who charge more but aren’t as good as writers who charge less.
Best Quality: $100,000 to $250,000+
There aren’t many ghostwriters charging between $75,000 and $100,000 (after all, if you’ll pay them $80k, you’re likely to pay $100k, so there’s no incentive to charge less).
But when you start meeting writers who charge in the six-figures, you’re talking to professionals who have one or both of the following qualities:
- A track record of ghostwriting bestsellers.
- Authored well-respected books under their own names.
There are only about 100 ghostwriters in the world who can command these prices. They usually work with Authors who have traditional publishing deals already lined up. Think famous actors, musicians, politicians, and people like that.
Some of these ghostwriters demand a share of an Author’s advance and royalties. For example, my friend Nils Parker, often charges up to 50% of an advance. He also negotiates to take a percentage of a book’s profits.
These ghostwriters are easier to find since they’re known by most book agents and editors. But they’re selective about who they write for and tend to take on Authors on a referral basis only.
Nils, for example, often has a two-year backlog of potential clients waiting to work with him.
How Ghostwriters Handle Payment
The most common way ghostwriters charge is a flat fee. The smartest ghostwriters will ask for their fees to be broken into installments.
These ghostwriters will ask for a big chunk upfront, usually non-refundable. Then, they’ll ask for portions of the rest as they hit certain benchmarks. Some examples of common milestones include the delivery of:
- Rough first draft
- Quarter of the book
- Second draft
- Hitting specific word counts
Most ghostwriters will set a maximum of either hours worked or word count for their flat fee, then charge a set rate for anything over that amount. This is widely practiced and a sign of an experienced ghostwriter. Paying extra for work that goes over and above the initial scope isn’t a red flag, that’s just good business.
But you know what is a red flag? A ghostwriter who charges by the word for the whole book.
Paying a ghostwriter a by-the-word fee creates the wrong kind of incentives. They’re motivated to write more than they should instead of being concise. Your book could end up wordy, difficult to read, full of asides, boring, or all of the above.
I’ve never heard of a good ghostwriter who charges by the word. Run as fast as you can from anyone that proposes these terms. At Scribe, we don’t charge by the word because the best books are short, simple, and direct. In fact, we try to help clients write the shortest books possible, and this saves money on fees.
There are also ghostwriters who charge by the hour. Most ghostwriters who insist on only charging by the hour are likely bad at estimating how long it will take to write your book.
Working at an hourly rate also creates the wrong incentives. The more hours they work, the more they get paid, which encourages them to take their time. While you can find a good ghostwriter who charges hourly, you should vet them very carefully before working with them.
Should You Ever Pay Up Front?
It isn’t a red flag to work with ghostwriters who ask for an upfront payment.
You have to understand that freelance writers take on significant risk. Because of that, they need some insurance to protect themselves in case the working relationship goes bad.
For example, let’s say they draft half the book when they’ve only received a quarter payment, and the client just stops responding to them. They’ll have spent weeks on unpaid work.
There’s really no way for them to get the rest of what they’re owed (besides taking the client to court, but that can be more trouble than it’s worth).
Upfront payment incentivizes the client to stay involved in the book writing process and protects the freelancer from financial trouble.
The Indirect Costs of Hiring a Professional Ghostwriter
Sticker price isn’t the only cost to consider when hiring a ghostwriter. You need to consider the opportunity costs as well as your publishing expenses.
Hiring a ghostwriter involves finding, vetting, and negotiating with a pool of qualified candidates:
- You’ll have to evaluate the portfolio of dozens, possibly hundreds, of ghostwriters.
- Out of those candidates, you’ll interview maybe 6 to 12 of them.
- Then, you’ll need to check their references.
Depending on how lucky and thorough you are in your process, expect to spend anywhere between 25 to 50+ hours hiring. These are hours worked over the course of weeks, not days, because you and your candidates will go back and forth over emails and calls.
God forbid you find the wrong ghostwriter. Because if you do, you’ll have lost whatever time and money you’ve spent and have to go through the whole process again.
Granted, you can always go back to other candidates you considered, so you won’t be starting from scratch. But it’s still added time and energy you’ll have to spend.
If you’re going to invest in a ghostwriter to write your book, chances are you actually want to publish it too.
But ghostwriters are only responsible for your manuscript. They aren’t involved with the publishing of your book.
If you choose to self-publish, there will be costs that you can’t avoid, which include:
- Content editing: You’ll need this after writing a rough draft of your manuscript. This can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000+ depending on the quality of your book editor.
- Copy editing: People will think that you are stupid when they find bad grammar or mispelled words in your book. To avoid this, you’ll need a copy editor to handle proofreading. Copy editing can cost you anywhere from $300 on the low end to $750 on the high-end for a 35,000-word book.
- Copywriting: A well-written book description is important for getting people to actually buy and read your book. This can cost anywhere from $5-$25 on the low end to $150-$300 on the high end.
- Author Photo: We’ve broken down the importance of this in another post. But it’s important to get this right because people will judge you based on your appearance. Photos can range from free (probably not quality, though) to a cost of $1,500 or more.
- Book Cover: This is usually the biggest publishing expense. But a good book cover is well worth the expense because people will judge your book by its cover. Prices can range anywhere from $100 to $2,000+.
- Book Interior: No one notices this when you get it right, but everyone notices when you get it wrong. Paying $750 to $1,000 is an acceptable range for a book interior. The higher end will cost you around $1,500 or more.
- Book Printing: To print books, you have 2 options: print-on-demand (PoD) or offset printing. The cost of PoD is a small upfront fee (eg. $50) plus a set price per copy that doesn’t change when you order more books (eg. $5). Offset printing costs more upfront, because you have to order in large batches. But the price per copy goes down as you order more books. For example, 1,000 books at $5, or 10,000 at $2. This is best for when you want hardcover books.
- ISBN: This is the 13-digit number above the barcode found on the back of your book. It gives bookstores and libraries all of its important details. This can range from free to a cost of $125.
In total, these costs can range from $2,000 to $18,000. To learn more about how much it costs to self-publish a book, read this post.
Traditional Publishing Costs
For certain people (like celebrities or politicians), traditional publishing companies are the book publishing option that makes the most sense. Unlike self-publishing, you’ll get paid upfront with an advance to write your book. You’ll also be more likely to receive traditional media coverage.
But for most Authors, going this route is more expensive. Aside from losing ownership of future royalties, it costs more because you’ll also need a proposal.
Think of your book proposal like a business plan. It’s your pitch to persuade traditional publishers to give you a deal to write your book. Your proposal needs to make a compelling case to the publisher that your book project will become a commercial success.
Your manuscript doesn’t come with a proposal. You’ll have to negotiate that separately with your ghostwriter. Expect to pay an extra $5,000 to $15,000 on top of their ghostwriting fee.
You’ll also have to think about the time you’ll need to spend finding a literary agent.
Even with an agent, you’re not guaranteed to get a publishing deal. And if you do get a publishing deal, the publishing house will retain the rights to your book and only pay you a small percentage of revenue from its sale.
All of these issues contribute to the hidden cost of traditional publishing. But whether you go that route or self-publish, your total budget must account for both the money and time you can afford to spend.
How to Negotiate a Contract with a Ghostwriter
Once you’ve identified the right ghostwriter you want to work with, you need to set up an agreement that will protect both you and the ghostwriter throughout your collaboration.
We recommend taking these 7 steps (and having a lawyer review the ghostwriting contract before it’s signed):
Step 1: Set Your Payment Terms
Be clear about how much you’re paying and when those payments are due.
Remember that it’s common to pay a ghostwriter a flat fee plus installments. But be careful with anyone who charges by the hour, and run away as fast as you can from someone who charges by the word.
Step 2: Set Deliverables
Expect to discuss limits on length and number of revisions. The ghostwriters who charge over six figures will be loose with these conditions. You’re paying them to handle everything and for that price, they will.
Step 3: Determine Rights and Royalties
Always retain 100% of the rights to your book. Not only the copyright, but also the print license, film, TV, foreign, and adaptation rights. Remember that the best ghostwriters may want a percentage of the bottom line if they believe they can write a best-seller, and in some cases, that will be necessary to hire them.
Step 4: Protect Yourself from Plagiarism
Make sure you’re protected against your ghostwriter stealing someone else’s work. Good ghostwriters should have no problem putting this in your contract.
Step 5: Include Language About Subcontracting
Don’t allow your ghostwriter to pass work off to another writer. There are many agencies and ghostwriters who’ll bait you with their credentials, only to pawn you off to another writer when it’s time to start work. The person you hire should be the person writing your book.
Step 6: Set Termination Rights
Maybe you or the writer decide midway through the process that things just aren’t working out. If you decide to cancel the contract for any reason (except for payment), make sure you retain the rights to whatever they wrote so far.
Step 7: Decide on Anonymity
Will your ghostwriter be able to claim credit for working on your book? If you don’t want them declaring to the world that they helped you, you’ll need an NDA. If you want anonymity, expect to pay your ghostwriter a little bit more.
The Easiest Way to Work with a Great Ghostwriter
When searching for a ghostwriter, it takes time to find someone who delivers high quality at a reasonable price. Settling for an inexpensive writer ends up costing you in the long run.
The Authors we work with at Scribe are high-level professionals with busy careers. They have reputations they want to maintain and improve, but they don’t want to spend 50+ hours finding and vetting a good ghostwriter, or having to worry about how to manage them or negotiate with them. That’s why they chose Scribe.
When you work with us, we charge $48,000 for our ghostwriting package—Scribe Professional—which covers up to 50,000 words of a finished rough draft of your manuscript. We write as concisely as possible without omitting key details, because the best books are often the shortest books.
Working with us guarantees that you’re paired with a proven, responsible ghostwriter. And it also reduces the extra costs of time and money related to publishing that we mentioned earlier. Why?
We handle every aspect of publishing, including cover design and layout. We tackle distribution through all major online retailers and take none of the royalties from sales.
Finally, we’ll promote your book in the first week of its release to ensure it receives enough early reviews to become an Amazon best seller.
You don’t have to worry about getting ripped off because we offer a money back guarantee.
We have a proven process that’s worked for 2,000 published Authors from David Goggins to Tiffany Haddish. They trusted us to produce a book that would delight them—and we did.
You can spend 50 hours hiring a ghostwriter yourself, or you can turn to Scribe to do it for you.