What does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?
Here are the numbers.
By- Michael McKown
It’s not cheap and if you want cheap, you’re likely to be unhappy with the work. Small projects, such as magazine or website articles, don’t require large amounts of a writer’s time, and so they are not expensive. Large projects, however, such as book manuscripts or screenplays or two-hour speeches, require a long period of development by the writer and are charged accordingly.
Let’s talk about that cost. Ghostwriters Central, Inc., charges by the page, plus hourly billing for activities related to the project but not directly involved with writing. By this, I mean reading or watching your source material, interviewing, researching, organizing, and travel time (if applicable).
A typical book manuscript runs 250 double-spaced pages. At the time of this writing (November, 2023), the per-page cost if USD $60. A longer book, more pages, higher cost. A shorter book, fewer pages, lower cost. The hourly billing is $40 per hour, and normally the number of hours is about 10, however estimated hourly charges are provided by the writer, not by me. If we’re talking about that 250-page manuscript and 10 billable hours, you’re looking at a total cost of $15,000 for the writing and $400 for the hourly billing. We can slice that fee into payments. In this example, we can work out four payments of $3,850. The first payment is due up front, and the final payment is due at the end of the project. Pay points for the intermediate payments are to be negotiated between you and the writer. The non-disclosure agreement, the contract, billing and payments are handled by my company.
Screenplays and TV pilots are, as of this writing, also charged at USD $60 per page, although screenplays and manuscripts are formatted entirely differently. There is an industry rule of thumb that says one script page works out to about one minute of screen time. Assuming that is correct for your film or TV pilot idea, a two-hour script will run about 120 pages. The $40 per hour fee also applies for ancillary activities related to your project, such as reading, interview, researching, organizing, travel, etc. As an example, that 120-page script will cost $7,200, and 10 billable hours adds $400. In a two-payment scenario, you’re looking at $3,800 each.
Pricing for hiring a ghostwriter ranges from extremely expensive to dirt cheap. We are a mid-priced service. Writers upon whom fortune has smiled (e.g., they made the best-seller list) will capitalize on the bragging rights so conferred and will command a higher price. If you’re seeking a best-selling author to ghostwrite your book, expect to be shocked. And possibly outraged.
It’s the same with screenwriters who have written hit movies, or upon whom producers depend for original scripts, adaptations from books, and/or rewrites and script doctoring. The fee for whatever time they have to spend on your project will be immense.
But here’s the thing. With very few exceptions (think celebrity memoirs, high-profile politicians, well-known novelists, or Oprah’s Book Club nominees), there is absolutely no way to predict which book will become a best seller, or which screenplay will become a hit movie. That a writer has achieved literary or cinematic notoriety is no guarantee the work you hire them to do for you will be at all successful. This means there is no point to overpaying a celebrity writer.
The fact is, there are excellent writers all over the United States. Whether they’ve written a best seller personally or for someone else is unimportant. What matters is their storytelling skill. I avoid putting celebrity writers under contract. There’s no point. Nobody wants to pay, say, $50,000 to have a book written when you can get the same (or maybe even better) quality for $15,000. My business responsibilities include identifying excellent, reliable, highly-qualified writers who possess an excellent client-service attitude.
Should you be wary of a writer because he or she hasn’t written a best seller? No. When a book becomes a best seller, it’s not normally about the story or how well it’s written. It’s mostly due to a publisher’s marketing muscle, combined with a subject currently in the news (at this moment, that would be the civil and criminal trials of ex-president Donald Trump, and wars in Ukraine and Israel), celebrity endorsements, exposure via critics and the media, and so on. When I scroll through the search results for ghostwriting services and I see a writer bragging that they’ve written a Number 1 best seller, my first thought it: “Congratulations on having a publisher with muscle.” My advice? Don’t worry about it.
Qualified writers charge a fair price for their work. If you wish to hire a ghostwriter for a book or film project, you will be tying up that writer’s time for months. You should expect to have to pay for it.
Some questions and some answers
Q: Can we partner with you so that you get paid a percentage of the sale when the book is released?
A: No. I cannot ask a writer to work for months in hopes that your book will sell at some point down the line. That writer needs to put food on the table. I have to pay them, so you have to pay me.
Q: Where can I find a cheap writer?
A: Not here. You can put an ad on Craigslist (Gigs > Writers) or maybe on one of those freelancer websites that offer a large number of writers eager for your business, each trying to undercut the others. I suggest you exercise caution and get references.
Q: What about cheap writers from outside the country, perhaps such as India or Pakistan or Germany?
A: Don’t. It’s not worth it. The odds are, whatever they produce will need to be rewritten. Those who did not grow up in the United States are unlikely to write smoothly, clearly, and understand as well as write heavily idiomatic American English.
Q: How do you find your writers?
A: This business was founded in 2002, so I hear from a lot of writers. Some find us because a fellow writer recommended us. A major consideration is the quality of the work. I want to see what they’ve done. Do they have command of the English language? Can they deliver grammatically correct work, on deadline? Can they collaborate with the client? I reject far more writers than I accept.
Q: Is the writer an expert on this industry or genre?
A: It’s unlikely that you will find a writer who has intimate familiarity with your topic, however you can expect to find a writer with sufficient familiarity with your, or a related, topic. Examples: Memoir writing, technical writing, religious topics, and medical topics. Also bear in mind that an excellent writer can adapt to the subject, and write in your “voice.”
Q: What if I’m not satisfied with your work?
A: I find writers who have the necessary writing and collaborative skills. You will be approving the work in stages as it progresses. This assures the work gets completed in the manner you want. The contract does allow for some revisions following completion, but a revision is not a rewrite.
Q: What is the turnaround time?
A: We specify that in the contract. For a typical manuscript, sixteen weeks is common.
Q: Can you write my 300-page book manuscript in three weeks?
A: Been there, done that. And the price doubles for rush projects.
Q: Will I need to hire an editor when the project is done?
A: The writing includes editing.
Q: I have an idea for a movie, but it’s still all in my head.
A: We can interview you in person (if possible), by phone, FaceTime, Zoom or Skype for as long as necessary to obtain all the information we require. We do charge an hourly fee for interview, research, reading, organizing and any travel time.
Q: What does it cost to speak with a writer?
A: Your first consultation with the writer is free. During this consultation, you and the writer will discuss your project in detail, work out the procedure, and agree upon payment terms. If you wish to proceed with us, the writer will inform me and I will draw up the contract and send it over for approval. However, I will ascertain whether you are ready to move forward, and whether you can afford to pay for the work, before I hand you off to the writer.
Q: Will you sign a non-disclosure agreement?
Q: How do I pay?
A: Billing is by PayPal. If you pay using that service, a small surcharge will be added to offset their processing fees. You can also pay by bank check or money order, direct deposit into our business bank account, bank transfer or Zelle (this is a free way to instantly move cash between accounts or banks. Login into your bank; they probably offer this service.)
Q: Once you’re finished with my book or screenplay, who owns the work?
A: You do. When all payments have been completed, we issue a transfer of copyright for your signature. We fully surrender any and all claims to the work.
Q: Do I have to credit the writer?
A: Only if you want to.
Q: Will my work end up in somebody’s portfolio?
A: That’s prohibited in the non-disclosure agreement.
Q: What’s the next step after your work is done?
A: If it’s a book manuscript and you’re seeking a traditional publisher, we recommend you do a search for a literary agent. These people can save you a lot of time and effort. They know who publishes what and they have existing relationships with publishers. And publishers like agents because they bring them quality work. Agents take a small percentage of whatever deal they get you. If it’s a screenplay, you must use an agent. Unless you have your own industry contacts, nobody in the film business will talk with you without one for legal reasons.
Q: The work exceeded my expectations. Can I offer the writer a gratuity?
A: You will find that option on the PayPal invoice.
Q: I can’t think of anything else to ask.
A: How about if I ask if you’d do something for us? If you like or love our work, tell me or the writer in an email. We may publish it on our Client Comments page, but we won’t reveal your name.
If our cost to hire a ghostwriter is acceptable and you’d like to get started, you can find multiple ways to reach us on our contact a ghostwriter page.