A Ghostwriting Market to Avoid
Every freelance writer has been tempted by a classified ad like
"I have a great idea for a book based on my real-life experiences.
People who have heard it say it has the potential to be a best-seller.
Im looking for a ghostwriter to help me get it on paper
in exchange for a percentage of the royalties."
Ah, yes, the eternal call for a ghostwriter. Everyone who needs
a ghostwriter has a book thats bound to be a best-seller,
and they always want to pay in a percentage of the future royalties
so that they dont have to shill out now. If their book does
indeed make it big, then any ghostwriter would be a fool to pass
up even 5% of $3 million for a mere lump sum of $2,000 or $5,000
But whats the likelihood of their book making it big?
Consider: Most manuscripts submitted to publishers arent
even accepted. Those few that are accepted rarely earn out their
advance for more than modest royalties, meaning that the author
doesnt make more than $2,000 or $5,000 or $10,000. The very,
very, very few that become best-sellers are the work of either a
talented writer with an imagination on firewhich rules out
anyone whos looking for a ghostwriteror a celebrity.
Celebrities dont trawl writing forums looking for a ghostwriter.
Their agents know someone who knows someone who knows someone.
So you have a set of outcomes to weigh. The first outcome is that
the book is never published, leaving you without a dime to show
for it. The second is that the book is sold for a modest advance
and small royalties, leaving you with half of a normal writers
already small wagesor less, depending on how well you negotiated
with the author. The third outcomethe book is
a smash hitcan make you roaringly rich, but what is the likelihood
that Mr. I Have A Great Idea For A Book has what it
takes to make a bestseller? In two of these three outcomes, youre
better off asking for a lump sum instead of a percentage of the
And if Mr. IHAGIFABs great idea does turn out to be one of
the 0.00003% that become bestsellers despite a lack of star appeal
or unifying vision
Well, whos going to be first in line
to write the sequel?
Ghostwriting isnt a bad job. If you have a knack for turning
other peoples ideas into glowing prose, then a steady stream
of ghostwriting clients can keep a chicken in your pot. You have
to be careful with your finances, though, because what your clients
like best is what will benefit you least. If Oprah comes to you
with a great idea, by all means, write for a percentage of the royalties.
From everyone else, demand cash up front.