Ghostwriters from the Inside Out by Michael Rasmussen and Jason Tarasi - HTML preview

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Getting Started With Your Ghostwriter

Now that you’ve identified your project, ploughed through a stack of submissions from writers and have selected someone to work with – how do you get started?

First you want to have either an understanding or an actual agreement in place before you do much, including make the first payment (most writers expect an up-front payment to get started, see below). There aren’t too many ways a ghostwriting relationship can go wrong, other than just not working out, but you should be aware of them:

Avoiding Potential Problems

There are three basic “bad things” that can happen when you hire a ghostwriter. They’re probably fairly obvious but we still think they’re worth spending a few minutes thinking about:

1. The writer is not good
2. The writer is too slow
3. The writer is submitting plagiarized materials

Two out of three of these are more or less “gut” issues but there is a proviso for the time issue – and some serious potential problems with number three.

If, in the course of the project, it becomes clear that the writer is different than you thought, doesn’t understand what you’re trying to achieve, is not a fit from a management or personality point of view, you should have already made an understanding of some kind about what happens if the project is stopped midstream.

Generally speaking you should be prepared to forfeit your deposit if there has been good faith work done by the writer, as well as be able legally own whatever materials have been written so far. If you feel a project is getting a little off track, such as in the tone or style of the writing not matching your expectations, we’d recommend a phone call rather than emails to try to resolve it.

Why? Remember, you hired a ghostwriter because your writing skills are not absolutely perfect! So pick up the phone and tell the writer what’s concerning you before calling the whole thing off.
The most common problem is a buyer’s perception that the writer “doesn’t get it.” This may be a function of the writer actually not getting it, of course. It may also be a function of the buyer not explaining “it” quite clearly enough or in a way that the particular writer fully understands. Have a few a conversations at the start and anytime things seems to be heading in the wrong direction.

Speed is another issue. Half of ghostwriting projects have real deadlines. But half don’t. If for example you have promised an article for publication to someone that you are actually having ghostwritten, you are working against an external deadline.

You should not keep that deadline from your writer! In fact you should make it a basic aspect of the way the project is framed up from the beginning.


On the other hand, you shouldn’t create artificial deadlines, and you have to keep in mind that you contribute to the speed of a project yourself.

Be responsive. We knew of one situation where a writer presented a client with a couple of dozen pages within a few days of starting a one-month project. The client did not respond with comments for three weeks. The changes requested were significant and could not possibly be finished in a day or two – the project was “late” but whose fault was that?

If a writer is truly taking forever, or continually misses deadlines, then yes, you need to find a new writer. Whether it’s appropriate to ask for any partial payments back will depend on the situation.

On the other hand, being given plagiarized materials is not merely a nuisance. It can cause you serious problems, especially if you are planning on publishing these materials under your own byline and asserting copyright in them.

Most writers – and all reputable writers – will strive never to even accidentally infringe on someone’s existing copyright.
Still, a surprising number of writers do cut corners, and in some cases, will lift material wholesale without attributing it properly. Research citations are one thing. Ripping off someone else’s work is something else.

To protect yourself we recommend you:

• Require all writers to state in writing (email or contract) that their work will be 100% original
• Ask writers who are willing to do so to sign an indemnification clause relating to originality of content – in other words, if someone later sues you for copyright violations, you can turn around and sue the writer or join the writer in your suit
• Invest the time to verify the originality of content if you have concerns. Again, it should be fairly obvious from interacting with a writer whether they are capable of writing, on their own or with approved resources from their team if they have one, what they are submitting to you. If you have doubts, or if you think you read something someplace before, there are online services that can help, among them and and others.

The Work For Hire Agreement


Almost always, when hiring a ghostwriter you will want to assert “work for hire” rights, which is most easily done with a simple agreement.

What “work for hire” means legally is simply that the producer of the materials assigns all the rights in that material to you – unlike for example when an author writes a book and Alfred Knopf publishes it, the copyright in that book is typically shared, sometimes in a fairly complicated way.

With “work for hire” rules, you pay for it, you own it. Simple as that.


You can find sample work for hire agreements all over the place, including, along with a lot of good legal advice and self-help products,

Bear in mind that ghostwriters are a form of freelancer which are a category of what legally known as “independent contractors” so much of the legal material that applies to these relationships will be listed under that term at your library, in a local bookstore, or of course, online.
If you aren’t comfortable preparing your own agreements, discuss how to hire an independent contractor with your attorney.

Setting Expectations


Writing is not like building a fence or mowing a yard. These things are done when they’re done, and more or less of objective quality.

Whether a piece of writing is “finished” and whether it is “good” are both subjective questions, and unless you and your writing resource have exactly the same point of view, there is a great deal of tension possible on these issues.

Part of the way to control for the tension and to avoid it, is to be very clear about what you want from the writer. If you are absolutely insistent on a certain length, a certain number of words, the inclusion of particular material, the exclusion of particular material, say so.

If on the other hand you are flexible in some areas, such as word count or page length, number of chapters, or other items, also say so. Many writers are quite literal, and others are more interpretive, personality wise. If you say “around” 50 pages, many writers will give you 50 – but some will give you 36 and others 84.

Imitation may be flattery but it also comes in degrees. If, as is often the case, you are interested in a book or article that “resembles” a certain established style, be as clear as you can about how specifically you mean that. A good writer can copy any tone/voice as well as more obvious things like organization of ideas and chapters and a general style. If by “I want it like Hemingway” you mean maleoriented, terse sentences, light on details, clarify this. If by “I want it like Hemingway” you really want it to read like Hemingway, down to pacing and vocabulary, say so.

Also allow your writer to express his or her point of view, which, if you are working with a seasoned professional, most ghostwriters will certainly have. The earlier you seek his opinion, the better off you and the project will be. If for example you want a 200 page book on a marketing topic, and your current favorite ghostwriter thinks the subject would be handled better with a 125 page book, consider why she thinks this, then decide if you want to rethink the length, or rethink your writing resource for the project.

Setting The (Actual) Price

Before having the above conversations, the pricing discussion will in many situations have been theoretical, particularly if it started off as a discussion about word counts, page counts, and so on.

If you’re going that way, you can skip this discussion for now. If instead you are, or would prefer, to work on a project basis as we suggest, you should come to a final meeting of the minds on price only when you have done the following:

• Discussed with the writer the exact style and purpose of the piece, and agree
• Discussed with the writer the exact length, or approximate length, you want
• Discussed with the writer any and all special requirements or exclusions
• Agreed upon a timeframe for the work

Consider that most writers will want more money to work faster.

Like any professional, the writer is juggling projects, and if she is good, she will have a number of things already happening when your project comes up (so always ask about availability early in your negotiations). If you have flexibility on time, you may be able to save some money – many writers we know will provide a discount for work you don’t need finished for a month or two, as well as charge a premium for work you want finished faster.

When you agree on a project price also agree on payment terms and tollgates and put it all in writing, either the Work For Hire agreement itself or another agreement. Again, if you are not comfortable with making the agreements, consult with your attorney about them.

There are a million ways to agree to reconcile contractor work but most writing deals operate one of three ways:


Payment in Halves or Thirds

This is the most common, traditional approach. Few skilled writers will start work for nothing, they will require a deposit, usually half on small to medium projects or a third on larger ones. In most cases this deposit will be nonrefundable unless the writer does little or no work, or misrepresented her qualifications for the work at hand.

The first payment is to start the project. The second payment is on completion if there are only two. The second payment is on some agreed-upon event – such as finishing X chapters – with the third payment on completion.

Payment In Advance

Some writers, for certain types of work, will request prepayment. The fact is that a lot of buyers of freelance services skip out on second and third payments – regardless of the quality of the work – and many writers are leery of this. Whether to agree to prepay is a matter of your cash flow and philosophy, and should take into account what you “read” about the writer. Do they seem likely to try and run off with your money? If not, go ahead and prepay but use a regulated payment system such as PayPal to do it. We don’t recommend prepaying with a check, or certainly, cash.

Payment on Completion

Fully shifting the risk to the writer, in this case, particularly for small ongoing work – such as a certain number of news articles per week – can make sense. If there is regular production and everyone knows what to expect, the writer can write, and on acceptance of each piece, gets paid. Some writers are willing to accept a single completion payment on short term projects, or those with very small budgets, such as $100 or $200.

However you agree to pay, please do remember to pay, and to pay in a timely fashion. Writers are generally self-employed so unlike corporate vendors who have terms like Net 30 or Net 45 and can carry some accounts receivable, ghostwriters appreciate when you pay fast – and will ultimately resent it if you don’t.