To Write or To Hire

Typewriter

Just about everyone has a book percolating inside them. Some people might have more than one, but nearly everyone has at least one. Most often it’s their life story, but it could be a long reasoned argument on some topical issue – say, making a case for homeschooling. Or it might be about an earth-shattering relationship from the past, or some other life-altering experience. Whatever the book’s content, it’s bursting inside, dying to come out. Some people try to write it, but for various reasons they get stuck. Others don’t even attempt it.

How do I know all this? I know because the minute someone hears I’m a writer, they tell me.

Have I got a story for you!” they’ll say breathlessly, or, “I’ve always wanted to write a book about….” and then launch into all the juicy or boring details. Sometimes they confess they can’t write to save their lives, but that’s rare; more often, people claim they just don’t have the time.chattering

As a writer, I know that the issue of time is real, and that finding time to write can be frustratingly difficult. But I also know that books get written one page at a time. They get written in increments of fifteen minutes a day, or during two-week blitzes while the kids are away at camp. Books get scratched out during lunch breaks, or on the bus riding to work. If a person really wants to write, they’ll find the time. During the ten-plus years that I was raising two children alone, working two or three part-time jobs, “volunteering” at their school, and with a full social life, I somehow managed to write three novels.

Thus, when people tell me they have no time to write, I know the truth: deep down, they’re terrified of trying, afraid to confront that blank page or empty screen. And just what is it they’re so scared of? They’re scared to find out once and for all that they’re no good at it.

What people usually find out when they do take the plunge isn’t exactly that they’re “no good,” but that they simply don’t know how to do it. They might have been nurturing those first few sentences for decades, but beyond that, they’re clueless. All these years they were sure they could write—after all, it’s just like talking—yet here they are, speechless.writing

Listen up, writer wannabe’s: Writing is a skill. Nobody is born with innate knowledge of how to organize words into sentences into paragraphs into books. Writing is learned, just like plumbing or typing or painting. When a surgeon informed me he intended to write The Great American Novel just as soon as he found the time, I told him I was planning to perform brain surgery if I ever got a free day.

Further, to write prose that is not only coherent, but that captivates readers – prose that sings – requires at least a smidgeon of talent. Even then, it takes years of practice before most writers figure out how to harness that talent.

I heard somewhere that just two percent of the population actually knows how to write. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but judging by the stories and articles that have crossed my desk over the years, I’d say if the percentage is higher, it’s not by much.

People hire ghostwriters for many reasons. An entrepreneur, for instance, wants a book to fulfill specific business functions: to serve as a calling card, a publicity tool, and a walking advertisement. Someone with an interesting family history wants to create a permanent record of it for his kids.

Once upon a time the practice of hiring a ghostwriter might have been thought of as ‘cheating,’ but it’s become so acceptable that most readers automatically assume that the celebrity who’s listed as the author isn’t:  most celebrity bio’s are penned by hired ghosts. So if you’re worried about putting your name on a book you didn’t write, don’t be. Nobody cares.

The truth is, a ghostwriter doesn’t just grab the book from thin air: the material comes from the client, during interviews, or from notes and rough writing he or she provides. Think of the ghostwriter as a carpenter hired to build shelves according to your design. While the carpenter turns your vision into reality, it’s still shelvesyour vision. The same goes for a book: your ideas, your story, your philosophy, your business, are the raw materials. You plan your book just as you might plan shelves, and you hand the blueprints over to the writer, who will saw and sand and hammer the pieces into the final product.

What does a ghostwriter charge? There are no fixed industry standards, and fees are all over the map. A preliminary Google search turns up writers charging anywhere from $10,000 to $75,000 for an average-length book (300 printed pages or 60,000 words). Yet online job sites show writers accepting offers as low as $1000 a book. Some clueless employers propose paying even less; I’ve seen jobs paying $2.00 per 500-word article. That’s two dollars for approximately two hours of work!  Have they no conscience? Remember too that the ghostwriter has to pay taxes, maintain equipment, and sometimes pay a finder’s fee to a job site or agency.

Unfortunately for experienced writers, those just starting out are so gung-ho, they’ll often work for pennies. But it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that most fledgling writers won’t be as skilled as one with twenty years and several published books under her belt – and I’m not speaking of writing experience only. Someone who’s lived a few years is more likely to know at least a little bit about a lot of topics: I’ve had some level of knowledge about the subject of every single book I’ve ghosted. You do get what you pay for.

I’ve done online research into ghostwriters’ fees and a 200-300 page manuscript, to be completed in three to six months, costs anywhere from $10,000-$50,000, a ridiculously wide range; more logical would be $5000 to $20,000 for a typical book, and higher for major celebrity bio’s or books with heavy technical content. Other variables include the client’s level of assistance, timeline, manuscript length, research required, difficulty of the topic, whether or not the writer provides publishing assistance, and any unusual factors relating to the subject or circumstances. The more the client provides in the way of notes or even a rough draft, the lower the ghostwriter’s fee. money

In terms of how fees get paid, a common practice is one-third in advance, one-third at the midpoint of the project, and one-third upon completion. Some writers prefer to bill monthly. Whatever the agreement, the details should be spelled out in a contract signed by the client and the writer, who may have a standard copy she or he uses; if not, you can find one online or call a writer’s association.

In deciding who to hire, the best way to know if you like a writer’s work is to read it. A legitimate writer is glad to show you work samples.

Five Good Reasons To Hire A Ghostwriter

  1. Time is money / Money is time. While your ghostwriter is busy working on your book for three to sixteen hours a day, you’ll be working on aspects of your business that nobody but you can possibly do.
  2. Professionalism Shows. Your book is almost certain to be of higher quality if a professional writes it.
  3. Industry Know-How. Most experienced writers have some knowledge of the publishing industry, perhaps even connections they’re willing to share. Some market this as part of their services: they’ll help you find an agent or publisher, and guide you through the process. Those with extensive expertise in this area charge higher fees.
  4. Practice. The necessity of explaining your business to the writer forces you to learn how to articulate your services and/or products—excellent practice for public speaking, media, and other PR appearances.
  5. Future Teamwork. If you’re lucky enough to find someone with whom you work well, someone you like and trust who delivers a stellar product, then you’ve got a new professional on your team. He or she will become familiar with your business, grow to care about your success, and can take care of all your writing needs.

The Cons of Hiring

  1. money treeCost. The cost of hiring a ghostwriter can be, as I’ve shown, steep. If you have the money, but you’re just reluctant to spend it on a ghostwriter, I suggest you reconsider. If, on the other hand, you’re convinced it’s well worth the money and you understand the benefits, but you simply don’t have room in your budget…well, then, your decision is unhappily made. To put it bluntly: if you ain’t got the do-re-mi, you’d best get crackin’ on that computer.
  2. Moral Concerns. I hope I’ve dispelled the myth that hiring a ghostwriter is cheating, but if it still bothers you to claim authorship, you can always give a substantive mention to the ghostwriter on the acknowledgements page. You can even give full credit by making him or her a co-writer, as in The Yankee Years “by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.” Don’t do this as a favor to the ghostwriter, though – earning a living as a writer is extraordinarily difficult, and most ghosts prefer money to fame.

To be honest, I can’t think of any other drawbacks to hiring a ghostwriter. If you still have doubts, don’t take my word for it – go out and talk to people who’ve hired ghostwriters, as well as some who wrote their books themselves. Find out as much as you can about both experiences. Visit sites of writers’ associations, such as the Editorial Freelancers Association.

After you’ve confirmed the things I’ve said here, and you’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a splendid writer with fair prices, contact me at msheiner07@gmail.com!

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One Response to To Write or To Hire

  1. Roxie says:

    Great advice Marcy! I agree, there really aren’t any cons to hiring a professional ghostwriter as long as there’s a contract with everything listed clearly. I’ve been at it for a number of years and love every project that I’ve done, all very diverse indeed! 🙂

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