Before you sign a Ghostwriter contract

You have found a ghostwriter that you want to work with.  You are ready to sign a contract.  But does the contract cover everything? Here is a quick guide to what you need to know…


The most important thing to make sure is covered in a contract is rights.

(NOTE: Nothing in this blog posts constitutes legal advice; for that you must contact a duly recognized attorney.)

International copyright conventions recognize the writer as owner of his or her own words.  So it important to make sure that any contract between you and your ghostwriter assigns all rights, including foreign rights, film rights, etc.  So important are rights, that I would say this is the main reason we work with contracts when writing books rather than just a hand shake, as we do mwith most other projects.


Price is the most obvious item to include in a contract.  You want to know how much you will pay and when it is due, and it should be clearly stated.  Some ghostwriting agencies will include a calendar schedule for payment, others (like us) base it on milestones.  We typically divide payment into thirds, but we are flexible on that.


This might also be obvious, but be careful.  All our contracts specify a range of words rather than an exact count, and there is a reason for that.

Word count is important, because it defines the quantity of work you will receive.  If you pay $12,000, you don’t want to wind up with just 10,000 words.  On the other hand, if you pay $12,000, the writer does not want to be stuck writing 120,000 words.

But – and this is critical – you do not want to identify a specific number of words that the writer is compelled to write.  If a writer has to write exactly 60,000 words, she will be far too focused on reaching that word count – at the expense of the quality of the manuscript.  Added fluff or cut corners is not to your advantage.

Our contracts always specify a range of words, such as 55,000 – 65,000 words.


This might or might not be important to you.  If it is, make sure it is included.


If you are expecting the writer to do research for you, best outline that in detail.  Our default contracts specify no research.  Our writers typically do some research, such as small fact-checking or details about a location, but if there is anything specific you need, that will need to be specified and paid for.

If you are dealing with a high-priced agency, one that charges something like $25,000 for a 75,000 word book, you should expect unlimited research (in my opinion), but don’t try telling them that I said so.  Just make sure that it is clearly stated in the contract.


You might want to specify what type of contact you will have with the ghostwriter.  For a few people, face-to-face meetings are important, although they obviously lead to higher costs.  Some clients want frequent contact with the writer; others want to let the writer run with the topic.

Our default contract makes it clear that it is the client’s responsibility to make sure he is satisfied with the content as it is being produced, which means there is a chapter-by-chapter contact built in.  It also offers a default price for face-to-face meetings, should the client wish to do that after signing the contract. Of course, we have the ability to be flexible in areas like this.


This is the trickiest element.  Often a client wants to specify a timeline, so that the writer does not drag on too long.  Understandably, you are eager to see your book published.

But the writer is a professional who pretty much sticks to a rigorous schedule.  The client, on the other hand, has a life.  And the client does not always have the time to review each chapter as it comes back from the writer.  A busy person might take a month to get back to the writer with an “OK” or a list of changes required.  A six-month job sometimes takes 12 months, as a result.

Ironically, the few times a client has insisted on specific dates, they have inevitably failed to provide timely information required for the project.  Not even close.

Our contracts all specify an expected end date.  It is important to have mutual expectations, but nobody benefits from rushing either the writer or the client.  We once had a client disappear – phone, email, mailing address – for nine months, then return to complete his book.


The bottom line is that you want a contract to address the legal matters and perhaps also to set parameters.  But you do not want contracts to cramp the creative process.  Keep one eye on the legal aspects (specific) and the other on the creative process (flexible) and you have the basis for an effective ghostwriting contract.

Just remember that no contract will ensure a successful ghostwriting project.  For that, you need to decide if the ghostwriter is easy to work with, whether she knows her craft and if the writer and the agency are accommodating in their approach.


GD Star Rating
GD Star Rating

6 thoughts on “Before you sign a Ghostwriter contract

  1. I always wondered about this whole profession… what it would take, why some do it with no public mention, doesn’t personal chemistry make a difference…
    Thanks for filling in the business side of the equation.

    GD Star Rating
    GD Star Rating
  2. From the pov of one who’s been hired as a ghostwriter, I’d agree that rights are paramount in this agreement. Yes, the author (the one who hires the ghost and whose name will be on the cover) can specify that he owns all rights and future rights — that’s fine. But with this ownership the final responsibility for any copyright liability must also remain with the copyright holder — the author. I’ve seen author/ghost agreements fall apart because of this detail.

    GD Star Rating
    GD Star Rating

Comments are closed.