How Much Do Ghostwriters Make: The Ultimate Breakdown
“How much do ghostwriters make?” That’s a question both aspiring ghostwriters and those with some experience should ask themselves. Particularly in the publishing industry, ghostwriting can sometimes be grossly undercharged. To help you set reasonable rates and grow your freelance business, regardless of whether you work with creative writing or nonfiction, here’s our breakdown of ghostwriting fees.
How much should you charge as a ghostwriter?
Every ghostwriting project is different — one might involve writing an article and another can be a crafting whole book. The scope of these tasks are very different, and the rates will vary with this. Ultimately, how much you charge should reflect how much research and writing you have to do, how much costs you will incur along the way, and the value of the service you produce. In other words, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rate that works for every ghostwriter under the sun.
That said, this long answer isn’t what clients want to hear when they ask about your service. They expect a quote that helps them compare freelancers and make a decision about who to hire. On top of that, you yourself may be wondering if you’re under or overcharging. In either case, you might find use in knowing an average range of ghostwriting rates. And we’ve put together some estimates here.
Generally, depending on the work you do, you can charge:
- by the word;
- by the hour;
- by the project.
❗ Note: The rates below are estimates — you should consider your own needs and skills, and negotiate with your client before setting a fee.
Range: $0.15 to $4 per word
Often applies to: articles and web content, manuscript rewrites, book descriptions
Charging per word is the most obvious sort of payment, since you get paid according to how much you write. However, it doesn’t account for resources spent on researching and outlining your writing, and so it’s more suitable for shorter projects. Ghostwriter Alex Foster, experienced in both fiction and nonfiction writing, shares that he charges per word only if the project is below the typical word count range for a book, in other words below 50,000.
For book-related projects, Reedsy's ghostwriters charge an average of 35 cents per word. If you work with marketing content, the rate is usually a little higher.
Range: $35-$140 per hour
Often applies to: consultation, editorial assessment
From nonfiction ghostwriter and editor Alice Sullivan’s experience in traditional publishing, while managing editors used to pay freelance ghostwriters on a per-project basis, all other types of editorial jobs were paid by hour. In indie publishing, hourly rates are also not very common for ghostwriting services. Clients are averted to collaborations charged this way because they’re wary of inefficiency.
So when can you still charge by the hour?
- If you’re working on a critique or review of a draft.
- If you’re acting as a publishing or marketing consultant, advising authors on voice and content.
These services may warrant the hourly wage, although you’ll notice that they don’t involve as much writing. And, as with other fee types, the more experienced you are, the higher you can quote.
Range: $2,000 to $70,000+ per project
Often applies to: manuscript writing, book proposal writing
If you’re ghostwriting a whole book, it’s best to settle on a flat fee that would cover the research, the writing, and several rounds of manuscript revision. Alice Sullivan says: “I aim for a six to seven months timeline, but [projects] can also stretch out to over a year.” As a result, a fixed rate steadily paid in instalments throughout the collaboration is necessary to your sustenance.
Beginner ghostwriters can expect to make anywhere between $2,000 and $9,000 per book. If you have a fair amount of experience under your belt, the average rises to around $30,000 to $60,000 per book. And if you've got several bestsellers in your writing portfolio, or if you're represented by agents, you're looking at six-figure fees. For book proposals, the typical price is about $5,000 and above.
How should you write a quote for book projects?
Book writing is almost always charged per project. But getting a book out there involve other actions as well, many of which the ghostwriter can also get involved in. As such, writing a good ghostwriting quote entails taking the whole publishing process into account. From writing to editing to submitting to publishers, here are important things to keep in mind when creating a ghostwriting quote for a book.
Consider basic factors
Alice explains that when coming up with her quote, she considers “the word count, timeline, whether there's any existing material (and if it's even usable), and whether I'll need to do any research for the project.”
Offer relevant services
If you have experience in the publishing industry, you’ll know that writing the manuscript is just one part of the process to get a book out into the world. An author’s going down the traditional route would likely have to:
- Write a query letter to be sent to literary agents, if they’re writing a fiction book;
- Prepare a book proposal even before completing a manuscript, if the book’s nonfiction.
And while indie authors won’t have to query or submit their work, they might want help with writing marketing materials, such as:
- A book description for the book's Amazon page;
- Content for their author website;
- Newsletters to their readers.
These are all services you can offer in addition to writing the manuscript. As the writer, you're probably the best person to introduce the book to publishers and readers.
These extra tasks can be grouped into a packaged deal with a higher quote. If you do decide to include them in your freelance proposal, remember to break things down. Let clients know exactly what they’re paying for, and give them a chance to decide whether they want the full deal.
Clarify your responsibility to revise
With seven years of experience, Alex Foster has worked with a range of clients, including those who would “push you to do half a dozen additional revision phases because they don't adhere to your instructions for the two revision phases. You need contractual ways to mitigate this and save time and headaches. I always try to be as specific as possible in my contracts.” Any revision beyond the agreement should be charged extra, perhaps with an hourly rate on an ad hoc basis.
An additional tip from Alex is to set payments according to project deliverables (e.g. a book outline, two sample chapters), “so if for any reason [you and your client] decide to stop working together, it's pretty simple to determine what the refund amount would be.”
Should you agree to get paid in royalties?
The quick answer is no, you should not agree to a ghostwriting project in exchange for a cut of the royalties. According to Alice Sullivan, this might be a viable option if you’re working via an agent. The agent can ensure you get a fair percentage, and that payments are made on time. But when you’re dealing with indie authors, income from royalties won’t be as stable. Negotiating for a fair division between author and ghost won’t be easy, and you’ll have to be ready to chase authors for payment.
You can still accept royalty payments as a bonus to the agreed payment, but don’t expect a lot of authors to offer that. That is, unless you’re...
Getting credit as a ghostwriter
Sometimes, the author agrees to name the ghost as a co-author, meaning the ghost gets their name on the cover! How much do ghostwriters make in this scenario? Ghosts can get from 8% to 50% of royalties, depending on how negotiations with the author go.
Most of the time, though, authors hire ghostwriters precisely because they need a ghost, a.k.a. someone readers won’t see. That doesn’t mean that they will ignore your efforts altogether. Some ways authors use to accredit ghostwriters are:
- Include the ghostwriter’s name on the copyright page underneath the author’s name;
- Thank the ghostwriter in the introduction/foreword or acknowledgements in the back;
- Writing a testimonial that ghosts can show future clients.
Even if an author is considerate and acknowledges you in their book, graciousness shouldn’t be used as a point of negotiation. In other words, if acknowledgement is their way to compensate you while only paying you in royalties, you shouldn’t accept it. Writing a book is hard work, and you should get paid what you’re worth!
With that final note, you’ve now got a solid grasp of how much ghostwriters make, and the different ways they get paid. Hopefully, this’ll help you determine your own rates so that you can go forth and conquer more ghostwriting jobs and projects!