by Jerry Payne
September 23, 2016
It would be nice to imagine you could do business with just a handshake, wouldn’t it? Alas, it doesn’t work that way in the real world. Not that people are necessarily dishonest. Most disputes over verbal contracts aren’t because somebody’s trying to take advantage of somebody else. Most disputes happen because of genuine misunderstandings or honest differings over what was said at the time of the agreement. Hence, the need to get things in writing. And when it comes to the standard ghostwriting agreement, here are some major elements that definitely should not be left out of your written contract.
First, the fee needs to be expressly spelled out. Now, some ghostwriters work on an hourly rate or on a per-page rate, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong or unethical with that. However, such open-ended arrangements on a large project, such as a book, carry some risk. The money can add up in a hurry. I’m a proponent of a flat per-project fee. However, if for whatever reason you have to engage in an arrangement that’s hourly or per-page, at least make sure there’s a cap. Put a maximum amount into the contract.
The terms of payment should be clear. Is payment to be made all at once? Fifty percent at the beginning and fifty percent upon completion? Split into several payments? I prefer the latter. The payments should be made at a pace commensurate with the pace of the work, in my opinion. I don’t think a client should have to pay fifty percent of the fee until fifty percent of the book is written.
Since it’s a ghostwriting contract, there needs to be a confidentiality clause. The ghostwriter should never be able to reveal his efforts in the work without permission from the client.
There should also be a clause stipulating that the work will belong entirely to the client. Just because a ghostwriter is writing the book, that doesn’t mean he or she has any legal interest in it. This seems obvious enough, but without this clause, it could be argued that working on the book implies some rights to it.
The client should also be protected by potential copyright infringement with a “hold harmless” clause that stipulates that the client will not be held liable for things like plagiarism. This would be just in case the ghostwriter gets a little lazy and “borrows” some ideas, maybe even whole sentences or paragraphs, from another book somewhere.
There should be a time estimate for completion. Deadlines aren’t always met, that’s just the nature of creative work, but there should at least be a projected finish date and a promise from the ghostwriter to make a “good faith effort” to hit that date.
Finally, there should be an “out” for both parties. If the client’s not happy with the work or the ghostwriter’s not happy with the client, there should be a provision that stipulates that the unhappy party can walk away and, further, stipulates what happens in that event. Typically, whatever monies have been paid stay with the writer (another good reason to split the payments) and the work, in whatever condition, is immediately forwarded to the client.
Naturally, as with any legal contract, it’s always advisable to consult with an attorney if there are any questions or concerns about the agreement you’re thinking of entering into.
Well-defined contracts mean fewer misunderstandings and, therefore, fewer disagreements.