My professional website, Buttontapper.com, contains a contact form that allows potential clients to email me with questions, queries and requests for my rates. Unfortunately, I also get all manner of tire-kickers wasting my time with emails that have clearly not been well thought out before pressing “Send.” For instance, the latest was from a chap looking for a ghostwriter, who sent me an email something like this:
I would like you to read my 7,000-word manuscript, which mainly consists of gobbledygook, stock dialog, flat characters, and an incomprehensible plot line, and tell me whether it will be a surefire bestseller. Based on this assessment, I will then expect you to write an entire novel, as well as mail it out to the list of agents I have included in this email. In exchange, I will pay you absolutely nothing for either your writing or editing expertise, and then bristle when you politely inform me that writing is your business, and you expect payment for it. My writing friends tell me I should never pay anything until the novel is finished, so obviously they are right and you are wrong, because why would I pay a writer to write?
I have written about this before, and I will doubtless write about it again, but here’s the essential part of hiring a writer: you have to pay them money to get them to write something.
I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. You pay someone to baby-sit your kids, you pay someone to do your dry cleaning, you pay someone to mow your lawn … these are all tasks you could do yourself (with the possible exception of the dry cleaning—how do you clean something without soap and water?), but you choose to pay someone else to do them instead. While I believe that writing is certainly a more difficult task than mowing the lawn, and therefore ought to command a higher salary than getting the kid next door to do it for $5, the fact remains that you would never expect to have anyone provide these valuable, timely services to you for free. Right?
Now, in the case of Hopelessly Clueless, I believe the problem actually lies in the misconceptions about what constitutes ghostwriting, and what kinds of services the ghostwriter performs. For instance, HC wanted me to write a book for him for free because his “writer friends” had told him never to pay any money during the publishing process. Which is totally legit advice, except for the fact that HC doesn’t seem to understand that hiring a ghostwriter is NOT a normal part of the publishing process.
You see, the typical track to publishing a book involves you, the writer, sitting down and writing a book. Upon completion of said book, you shop around for an agent. Once you find an agent willing to read your manuscript, you send it to them and they read it (for free!), and let you know whether they want to represent you or not. If the agent likes your book and chooses to represent you, the two of you will sign a contract that lays out the fees the agent will take upon the sale of your book. So if you have a so-called agent telling you that you need to pay them to read your work, you actually have a scammer on the line, and should run like the wind.
The ghostwriting track to publication, however, is much different. Instead of a book that YOU have written, you are actually hiring a writer to do the writing for you. That’s where I come into the equation. I’m the writer, and therefore you need to pay me for my work, because that’s what you’re hiring me to do. It’s a job—my job. If you balk at this fact, you are not looking for a ghostwriter at all, you are looking for a slave.
Hear me now, believe me later: I don’t do windows, I don’t lick boots, and I don’t write for free, period.
If you do have money to spend on hiring a writer, then by all means contact one to ask how much they would charge for your project. Keep in mind that ghostwriting doesn’t come cheap, despite what you may have surmised from online hiring services like oDesk. Typical figures for professional writers, as presented in Kelly James-Enger’s 2010 ghostwriting book Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks, are $5,000 to $10,000 for a book proposal alone; $10,000 to $50,000 (and up) for a book of 50,000 to 75,000 words; and editing/rewriting at a rate of $50 to $100 per hour.
Don’t be hopelessly clueless. If you’re really and truly looking for a ghostwriter, come with cash in hand—or better yet, a blank check. Come to the table prepared to talk about money in a business-like manner, and the whole transaction will run much more smoothly.
If, on the other hand, you are just looking for writing coaching or someone to provide editing for a manuscript, check out WriteByNight’s services and order à la carte. It’s much cheaper than hiring a ghostwriter to do it all for you (services start at just $35/hour), and in the end it will be much more valuable to know that you wrote it yourself.
Laura Roberts is the editor of the rebellious literary magazine Black Heart, and a writing coach & manuscript consultant at WriteByNight. You can follow her on Twitter @originaloflaura, or check out her personal website.