ghostwriting: championing serious money

Every time someone hears that I’m a writer, one of the first questions out of their mouths is, “How much money do I make?” Really? Out of all the things you ask, it’s about dollars? Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s usually the first question a fellow writer asks.

Nonwriters wonder what I’ve written, and sometimes, as in the case of relatives, I like to mess with their minds and say erotica. Drives them nuts to think that I’m corrupting generations. Some of you are saying, “Hey do you really write that?” To that I answer my standard, “I can’t talk about what I write because of the nondisclosure agreement.” Then I hear, “Well, sweetie, we’ll be on the lookout for your work, maybe you’ll make it someday.” 🙂

Same thought, different delivery about ghostwriting: don’t get in this business if you don’t have thick skin and aren’t ready to ride in the back seat of someone else’s car.

Queen – We Are The Champions 

I’ve paid my dues –
Time after time –
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime –
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face –
But I’ve come through

If you’re a writer, you recognize that often we don’t receive fair pay for the hours we pour into our work. Imagine a basketball player training and then performing in a stunning game, only to be told he’ll be receiving less than minimum wages once the math is worked out. Or worse yet, that since he’s not very well known, he’ll need to compete for the next few months without any pay, just to get a byline or bio. Ha! Wouldn’t happen.

Can you value your writing even if others don’t? How do you decide what your services are worth? What will the market support, or better yet, how do you support yourself? How do you determine what each project is worth? How can you insure that you aren’t screwed royally by a client? What’s the best way to keep up with your time, books, and taxes?

Welcome to this segment. I’ll answer those questions as honestly as possible. Remember, I’m pulling back the curtain, letting you peek, what you do with that revelation is not up to me, Dorothy. 😉

I’ve taken my bows
And my curtain calls –
You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it
I thank you all –

How do you decide what your services are worth?

What will the market support, or better yet, how do you support yourself?

How do you determine what each project is worth?

Very legit questions. Do your homework. Find out what others are charging and how they bill. For me, it is fairly standard, I charge by word count or page and that varies with assignments. Brace yourself, I have received as little as ½ cent/word and as much as $5/word. Depending on the type of product …and the page count is just as diverse, beginning at $15/page and going up to $800/page.

See previous article, ghostwriting the challenge is in the secret  to find task details. A great place to research what the market supports is Lynn Wasnak’s article, Beyond the Basics: How Much Should I Charge? Even though it is a few years old, it is thorough.

The more work you do, the better feel you will have for the time it takes to complete each assignment. One factor, besides writing, is energy spent on those non-sequiturs: bookkeeping, marketing, meetings, etc. Most of the freelancers and many writers I work with do their own everything. Let’s face it, if you’re starting a new profession, you should learn everything you can about the venture. Once you’re off to a great start, pass those responsibilities on to others. When you know the business, you can keep an eye on the way others handle it.

We are the champions – my [writer] friends
And we’ll keep on fighting – till the end –
We are the champions –
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions – of the world –

How can you insure that you aren’t screwed royally by a client?

In a word: CONTRACT…everything should be in writing, eh, no pun intended. Practice the CYA method (cover your arse) because no one else is thinking of your best interest. Communication is the key to a great relationship, even with someone you are wary of working with.

I have a very detailed agreement both for ghostwriting and editing, which does the trick. If someone nonchalantly says they want to hire me, we’ll talk about some of the peripherals, then the time will come when I drop, “I’ll send you my contract and we can go from there,” statement which will take it to the next level or cut it off cold.

Either way is fine, time is money, so I avoid spending it chatting about a venture that may never materializes. I suggest you figure out where your dialoguing limit is and respect it.

A contract should cover everything from outlining the job expectation: based on charge for word or page count, length of project, date expected for completion, to what will happen if they bounce a check or make a late payment.

I do not recommend, nor do I charge, by the hour. People grasp tangible work represented in words or pages.

The headings on my contract look like this: Goals, Delivery, Payment, Termination, Special Clauses, Property Rights, Confidentiality, Indemnity, Dispute Resolution, Applicable Laws, and Signature Section. Along with the two page contract (or more if special clauses and rights are longer), a client receives a two page detailed Options sheet, educating him/her on terms used in the contract.

For instance, does the client comprehend what first draft of original material means? Or if formatting, coding, indexing or tagging is included in the initiative? What about use of trademarks or rights, and permissions necessary to include in the piece? Will an editor be involved, as a final set of eyes, or is the ghostwriter to function as an editor? (IMHO not a good idea.)

Ann Wayman courtesy of Writing With Vision has a great sample of a letter of intent covering the basics. has a great definitions page, along with a short sample contract. The client may or may not have this pertinent information. It is my responsibility to share with a client what a job does and does not involve. (Editing sidenote: In this section I have used ‘contract’ seven times…there is a reason – it is extremely important! Got it?)

I thank you all –

But it’s been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise –
I consider it a challenge before the whole human race –
And I ain’t gonna lose –

We are the champions – my [writer] friends

What’s the best way to keep up with your time, books, and taxes?

My preferred method of bookkeeping is spreadsheets: I keep my time, expenses, income, and year-to-date totals on them. Spreadsheets are extraordinarily user-friendly, and the formulas keep me from making mistakes. Expenses each have a category, monthly subtotal, plus quarterly and year-to-date totals, and include: office supplies, books, memberships, conferences/workshops, travel, food/beverages, taxes, and other.

Each assignment is accounted for by a combination of letters and numbers, while it is tracked on an individual file. Those totals are transferred to the Yearly Financial Report, giving me a monthly accounting of income.

Individual project spread sheets contain these headings: date, hours, details, charge. This enables me to recall specifics about each assignment and keep an eye on my hours, adjusting my rate if necessary. I have learned how long it takes to research, write, and edit most jobs. What I cannot wholly foresee is how long I need to spend on the phone, in person or by Skype with a client. Plus I factor in all my email correspondence, another one of those incidentals to assess.

While I’m divulging my secrets, let me share a conversation I had with a companion at a bar the other day.

me: “Well, it’s been a tough week. The deadline for a piece was moved up and I needed to shift things around. So I guestimated how long this last phone call would be and readied my invoice.”

friend: “How’d you do that? I mean, you don’t really know how long it will take, do you?”

bartender walks up and begins wiping bar

me: “But I know it usually takes fifteen minutes, so I billed him a quarter of an hour.”

friend: “Oh, good plan, you can always adjust for the next meeting and charge more.”

bartender drops rag and bangs back of head on bar as he’s retrieving it… 😉

The hours are figured in quarters, not nearly as bad as a lawyer, but I learned to measure time and bill accordingly. Those total hours are then divided into the total dollars which gives me a comprehensive picture.

And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face –
But I’ve come through

We are the champions – my [writer] friends
And we’ll keep on fighting [writing] – till the end –
We are the champions –
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions – of the world –

Whether you’re new to writing or are just curious about ghostwriting, I thrilled that you’re hanging around, reading about the topic. I would love to hear from you: Am I answering questions you have about ghostwriting? Do you have ideas or concerns that I haven’t addressed yet?

Any thoughts and suggestions are most welcome: we’re all voyeurs at heart. You might as well admit it, or you wouldn’t be interested in peeking behind that curtain.


Ghostwriting 101: the Challenge is in the Secret         Ghostwriting: WTW

Next installment coming in August…Ghostwriting – Candy Networks




  1. Hi Roxie. I just write for pleasure and to keep me going. Without it I don’t think I could survive. But I’m not good enough to be paid to do it. Thank you for liking my Poem ‘The Disc’ It means a lot. Best Wishes, Malctg

  2. What a cool post, Roxie! I love how organized you are. I need to start keeping track of my writing expenses for taxes too. 🙂

    I hate it that the first thing people ask about writing is whether you make any money at it. Do artists and musicians have the same trouble we do?! Maybe so. But it’s really annoying.

    1. Thanks Erin, I try…and it’s all trial and error…
      Don’tcha hate it when you know by the face what the question will be? it is annoying 🙂

  3. Dear Roxie,
    Thanks for sharing your wealth of information about Ghostwriting with us. I love the way you’re organized and ready to write – all written in great detail in your contract. Good luck to you in all of your writing ventures.
    Celebrate you today.
    Joan Y. Edwards

  4. Roxie,

    Thanks for the links with samples and for all the ins and outs of the business that you’re sharing. What a fantastic mini-course. I’m taking EXCEL online and if I decide to follow this ghostwriting interest, I will be better able to track my finances. We have to wear many hats in this writing business. 🙂

    1. you’re very welcome, Linda, glad to help. Oh, yay! an online EXCEL course, good for you! Yes we do, we need to be familiar with so many aspects of business as writers, whether we traditionally publish or self-publish, or freelance in some aspect 🙂

  5. OMGosh Roxie – You wrote ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – – – so sorry, just couldn’t resist!
    Love all the information on Ghostwriting. It’s always fascinating ‘behind the curtain’ because we never know what’s there until someone like you is kind enough to share it.
    Also love how you allowed writers to become part of Queen’s ‘Champions’ – we’ll have to make it our battle cry!
    And of course, enjoyed lunching with you today. Looking forward to next time!
    Love Ya,

    1. Thankyouverymuch Claire! Yes, no, wait, what was the question? HEHEHE
      really appreciate you on this journey, yes, let’s make that our battle cry!
      loved lunching with the SCBWI group, fab fun 😉

  6. WOW you write erotica??? Me too …sorry couldn’t resist
    This was a really good post..very clear in details and answering
    questions I didn’t know how to ask(or what to ask)
    Thank you Roxie…I always enjoy catching up on your blog…
    Take Care…

    1. omgosh! Funneee miss Lady MaryRose! thanks, tried to clarify and presume questions, but welcome any you may have! appreciate you thoughts, namaste 😉

  7. After reading this segment on Ghostwriting I soooooo want to know more about it. Can’t wait till August.. I have one word for you Roxanne….AMAZING… Oh, I mean two words…ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!! You are a wealth of knowledge!!

    1. awe shucks Karen! gosh, I’m glad it’s helpful! thankyousomuch…and you are inspiring to me, love your column, what a great writer you are! glad to hang out with ya today, next time, come on to lunch it was a BLAST!

  8. Bravo! I’ve been freelancing & ghostwriting for 10 months now, and haven’t yet used an actual contract. Sure, I’ve laid out some expectations and boundaries in emails, but I’m doing a forehead-smacking “DUH” to myself right now… Any chance you’d be willing to share your standard (if there is such a thing) contract with those of us who are behind the curve on this one? 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing–this has been a journey with a helluva learning curve. 🙂

    1. Hey Kana, whoa…really, no contract? what would help with the contract info? It’s pretty standard, but I’d be happy to answer anything 🙂 really appreciate your visit!

  9. I think most of me is more comfortable in the realm of putting words together, figuring out how they fit and courting poetry to make them stick. I wish I had the head for the technical aspects you’ve laid out here about doing business with your own contract. Don’t get me started about the language of spreadsheets.

    I know we writers can make more money alone, but I’m in dire need of a business manager or perhaps just an agent for now. I thought I wanted summer to come, but it’s depleted me of most of my brain energy.

    Maybe if we were in a coffee shop, and you were explaining it all to me in “Dick and Jane” language … 🙂

    1. Oh, Sparks, we should do that. Next time I’m up that way I’ll buy ya a cup of java, we can chat about writing! thanks for your thoughts, I appreciate them! been a truly draining summer, things are bound to get better 🙂

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