Why You Need to Pay Your Ghostwriter
by Jessica Dall
Nearly happy fourth of July to all my readers out there who celebrate it (I’ll do my best to get a post up tomorrow as well as I have the day off).
Now, as most of the people who read this (I believe) are writers themselves, this might not be relevant. I’ll do my best to write something more interesting for you very soon. For those who have ideas, but don’t necessarily feel like they’ve got what it takes to write a story, this might be a little more enlightening.
As it will say at the end of this post, my top suggestion is just to try. Your first novel might suck, it very likely will suck. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my first novel was awful. Writing is a skill. Some people are naturally better at it right off the bat than others, but you will get better when you actually sit down and force yourself to practice. You can always edit that novel within an inch of its life once you’ve finished. You can join writing groups, hire and editor, completely rewrite, it’s just important to actually start putting words down on paper.
That said, if you are still convinced that you have a story that needs to be written, but you aren’t the one to write it, it’s always possible to hire a ghostwriter.
Right off the bat, I’m a little conflicted about ghostwriting. On one side, it pays well, being a ghostwriter. I’ve done some work as one (generally for non-fiction) and I can’t say I don’t like getting a paycheck. Hiring a ghost writer for a work of fiction, however, doesn’t make sense to me. Perhaps your idea might turn into a best seller, but between paying a ghostwriter and getting the book edited, finding an agent, finding a publisher, and getting your book out there, it will be a while before you make your money back. If you ever do.
Of course, some people think they can get around that little problem by offering their ghostwriter a percentage of their sales. Often I come across these sorts of ads on Craigslist. Earlier, I touched on the idea of why you definitely shouldn’t look for an agent on Craigslist, today I’m going to answer this ad (edited [some] for punctuation/grammar):
“I have writers block, and I believe that the reason is because I am not a writer, but i have a good, actually a few good ideas (stories) and I believe they are good, and the people that I have shared the stories with believe so too. My problem is that I can tell you the whole story with details, but when it comes down to writing it I just don’t know where or how to begin. So here is the catch, I don’t have much money. How about if we in fill some paperwork before I share my stories, then I relate them to you… If you want to venture with me on this, then you will have 50% of whatever the book makes of it… If you are looking to get paid along the way while we write the manuscript then don’t reply to this ad .“
Some points to start:
1) “My friends think my story/story idea is good” is always a bad way of judging your writing/ideas. Non-writers/people not in publishing don’t generally know what sells/how original/good something is. My friends loved my first novel. Actual writers would rip it completely to shreds.
2) I’m not sure writer’s block describes not starting a story. I’ve always heard it meaning you’ve hit a point where you can’t continue writing a story. Anyone who has thoughts about how we should use that term, I’m happy to hear it.
Anyway, my response:
I don’t generally email people looking for a ghostwriter on commission, but as a writer/editor, I wanted to take the chance to explain a couple of things about the publishing world before you get started. You can feel free to ignore them or use them, it is up to you.
1) Ideas don’t sell books. Ideas are easy, and there are few original ideas out there. Tell someone who reads a lot/sees a lot of movies your idea, and they will most likely have something that sounds similar (It’s so common I wrote a blog post about it. You can also see many new writers complaining about this fact if you go to a writer’s board such as the NaNoWriMo forums [nanowrimo.org]).
2) As ideas don’t sell books, it’s the writing’s that important. Writing the book is the actual work. If someone weren’t paying me as a ghostwriter, I would maybe give them 5% for an idea. More than likely, they would just end up in the acknowledgements. I’m a writer, I can come up with my own ideas. Most of us have more than a few bouncing around in our own heads. Those who don’t can go look at writing prompts and figure something out without help. There are even entire story plots up for grabs places such as this for free. There is very little reason to fork over 50% of your profits to someone just to ghostwrite for them.
3) As that it’s the writing that’s important, you’re more than likely not going to make any money if you don’t get a good writer. More so, you more than likely aren’t going to find a good writer if you don’t pay them. Professionals don’t work on commission because we know that novels are hard to sell. Just because you have a book doesn’t mean that publishers are ever going to look at it. Having a good writer means you’re more likely to make it through the first cut, but part of getting published is really luck. A publisher has to be A) looking to fill a spot in their publishing line up B) Like the idea C) Like the writing D) Think they can make money off of it. They will also take a large cut. You will likely make 10-30% royalties off the book (depending on the publisher, that’s an estimate). So if your book is selling for $7.99, you are getting probably at most a couple of dollars each copy sold, if you’re then sharing that 50-50, each of you is getting about $1 a book sold. You likely won’t sell enough to make any sort of money off them unless you’re lucky again there/have a publisher who is willing to market the heck out of your book.
4) The only sure way of getting published is self-publishing or a vanity press. Of course, those royalties are based on actually getting published. You may never find a publisher, even with a great idea. In that case, to get the book even available for sale, you’re going to have to self publish or go through a vanity publisher. Self-publishing is a hard road, you probably won’t make a lot unless you have a lot of time to spend promoting it, especially because a lot of places you generally can rely on for some free publicity (like many book reviewers) won’t look at self-published books (as a reviewer, I understand that on some level. You can get really burned by self-published people who think their books are much better than they really are). If you go through a vanity publisher, you’re going to spend thousands out of pocket to get your book published and are truly not likely to make that money back.
Long story short, you aren’t likely to get a good ghostwriter on commission, meaning it’s unlikely your book will sell well, meaning neither of you are going to make money more than likely, if someone is willing to give you a cut for just the idea (I won’t say it’s completely impossible, just unlikely, as anything is possible, but it would be a 1 in 100 [if that] chance in my opinion). Either try writing yourself, then go to a writing group and work on it until it’s polished, offer to pay a ghostwriter, or write it and then hire an editor to polish it for you (again, not on commission, professionals who know what they’re doing won’t work on it for the same reasons listed above making any editing help much less helpful). That’s my advice at least.
As I said above, you can take that advice or leave it. Just wanted to share.