Everybody has a book inside them just screaming to get out. Some books are for personal pleasure, some are for business promotion, some are to sell as a product. Everybody has a book inside them, but not everybody knows how to set it free.
That’s where ghostwriters come in. But ghostwriters are expensive. Let’s face it, you are hiring a skilled professional for several months, and the costs can add up. But there are ways to keep costs from spiraling out of control, and below are 18 tips to save money without skimping on quality. In fact, some of these tips will virtually ensure a better quality manuscript, regardless of the quality of the writer.
Some ghostwriters charge by the hour, others by the project. We always provide a project price (and you will soon discover why that makes more sense for ghostwriting clients) but the list below covers tips that help lower hourly ghostwriting costs.
Be prepared to save on ghostwriter fees
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: Know what type of audience you’re aiming for; this helps to shape the material and save time on discussions beforehand or rewrites later on. If this is something you can’t do yourself, that’s OK; that might be one of the reasons to hire a ghostwriter in the first place, so make sure this is one of the first things you discuss with her.
GET A STYLE: Have an idea of the genre and style you want to use. There are just so many to choose from, and it really pays to get this right from the start. This is especially true if you are paying by the hour; you don’t want the writer to have to needlessly rewrite whole chapters because you had not carefully thought it through.
DON’T RUSH: You will have to decide when you want the manuscript to be completed. Ideally, you want to give the writer enough time to do a proper job without rushing. For books of 50,000 to 100,000 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.
DO YOUR RESEARCH: Have all the details ready. This is especially crucial for non-fiction, where facts must be accurate. You can always ask the writer to do the research for you, but that can really sink you in the hole. I mentioned before that we charge on a project basis, but we make an exception for the research. This can be a bottomless pit of work for the writer, so we charge by the hour; don’t let is become a bottomless pit of costs for you.
BE ORGANIZED: This is the single most important factor in keeping down the costs of ghostwriting. It’s one thing to have done all the research, but if you provide a box of papers and news clippings, even with information highlighted or underlined, the writer still has hours of sorting and weeding to do – hours that will cost you money. Yes, we take that into account when finalizing the project price. Best to organize information by date (especially for biographies and true stories, by character (especially for fiction), by location, etc. If using research or interviews, double-check and correctly cite your sources so the writer doesn’t have to. This can get expensive if you are paying by the hour, and if paying by the project, the writer might leave it up to you to do anyway (and that information might have been useful to include in the text itself.
WRITE IT DOWN: What is in writing can be easily reviewed, saving countless hours of work. Nevertheless, lots of people offer us video or audio recordings. Can you imagine the pure torture a writer would have to go through, spending hours winding, rewinding, searching for a certain reference? Well, ghostwriters can imagine it, and if you provide audio or video information, we will tell you what the transcription fees will be. To avoid those fees, provide written notes.
GO ELECTRONIC: Electronic (Microsoft Word is the standard in the publishing industry) offers two major benefits over sending paper notes. The writer can easily search the documents much faster than by flipping pages. And often there is material that can be cut and pasted, such as quotations, long names of places or documents or diseases or Latin names of animals or…well, you get the idea. That saves time writing and it also saves time editing. Electronic is also instantaneous and easily shared, cutting down on distracting delays that ultimately can affect the quality of the writing.
GIVE CLEAR OBJECTIVES: If you make it very clear from the outset what you want, the writer won’t have to keep asking questions. Fewer questions, less back-and-forth and the less-frustrated, more-inspired writer (hint, hint – higher quality manuscript) will charge fewer hours. And for companies like us that charge by the project, we can tell pretty quickly if we need to factor teeth pulling hours into our price.
KICKSTART THE PROCESS:Create an outline or do a draft (if you can). This is a great way to make sure that not just your information is organized. It can save a few hours of back-and-forth with the writer. If this is something you can’t do yourself, that’s OK; that might be one of the reasons to hire a ghostwriter in the first place, in which case the money for this is well-spent.
Negotiating the ghostwriter contract
HIRE ON A PROJECT BASIS:That is the only way we operate. There are two benefits to hiring on a project basis, and both have to do with the tedious and time-consuming process of accounting. If a writer has to spend time and effort keeping track of hours, you pay first for the time she spend on “accounting” matters and then in the inevitably lower quality manuscript from a writer distracted. When we negotiate a contract with a client, all the accounting for hours is removed from the equation. Our writers focus on writers. They don’t have to spend their time accounting. Or marketing. Or networking. They focus on writing, and that’s what you want them to focus on.
ASK FOR THE BEST PRICE:This is pretty obvious, and you may already be getting the quoted price, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If a ghostwriter is able to give you a better price, you’ll know right away. 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.
SHORTEN UP:The single most effective way to reduce the price is to reduce the word count. In some instances, this makes sense. In others, it does not. Ultimately, there is an ideal size for almost every book, and you don’t want to skimp. However, I have seen times when reducing the length of the book by as much as a third from the original intentions could save money without compromising effectiveness.
GET A FINAL EDIT: Make sure to ask if the manuscript will be in publishable form or will it still need to be edited. We always deliver publish-quality manuscripts. One big caveat: any editor will be able to take any manuscript, no matter how polished, and edit it further. And most publishing houses will want to edit whatever you present them to meet their own criteria. So “final” edits don’t really exist. But you don’t want to end up with a manuscript that still needs serious editing.
ASK FOR A BONUS: We are happy to provide free synopsis and query letter for any book-length manuscript. This saves time, headaches and costs for our clients who decide to approach publishers and agents. Obviously, this won’t work when hiring on an hourly basis, nor for clients who plan to self-publish, but many of our clients appreciate it. If you plan to self publish, you might ask for back-cover text as a bonus.
NEGOTIATE A FLEXIBLE PAYMENT PLAN:I should not that this won’t reduce your overall costs, and in some cases it might increase costs (like leasing a car costs more than buying it, even though monthly payments are less). But if cash flow is an issue, if you have only a certain amount of funds available each month, this might be for you. We usually request payment in thirds, but we have put clients on a monthly payment plan when asked. Our golden rule is that until we receive payment, the writer does not begin work. So when payment comes in monthly, it means the work flow follows the same schedule. I personally believe this is disruptive to the creative process, as the writer must stop and hold back at times when she is on a roll. But if your cash flow is limited, this might make sense.
Communicating with your ghostwriter
BE EMAIL ACCESSIBLE:Ghostwriters frequently have questions for clients. It saves a lot of disruptions if the writer can fire off a quick email and have it answered in a timely manner. Email saves a lot of time , because phone calls inevitably take longer and they often take time to set up, not to mention the distraction of trying to set up phone meetings. There is a cost to using the phone, and that cost is paid in both time (money) and distraction (manuscript quality).
BE PHONE ACCESSABLE: Yes, this contradicts what I said in the point above. Except that some question just are not simple enough to answer by email; sometimes the writer will have to probe. If you are easy to access by phone, you can cut down on telephone tag (and if you are email accessible, it is much easier to set up phone meetings).
LISTEN: Listen to your ghostwriter when she suggests a new story direction…it may cost you less in revision in the long run! You might have a good reason to go in another direction, but a professional ghostwriter also has a pretty good pulse on what publishers are looking for.
Many thanks to Debra, Heather, Kristin and Kathryn, four of our senior writers, for their assistance in putting this list together.