Why is (Good) Ghostwriting so Expensive?

by Jerry Payne

October 7, 2015

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My profession comes with a little bit of sticker shock. People are surprised to learn that for a decent-sized book, a good ghostwriter’s fee can be upwards of $40,000 to $100,000. Or more. (There’s one guy I’ve seen out there charging $200,000 per book. Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean he’s getting that. He’s just charging that. Big difference.)

On the other hand, you can go to Freelancer.com and find somebody to write your book for a paltry five grand. Why the divergence? How can someone charge five grand and someone else charge fifty grand for the same job?

The short answer is this: the free market. Over time, pricing has a tendency to rise and fall based on perceived value. The price of something represents its worth in the marketplace. Or to put it more succinctly, you get what you pay for.

This is especially true with ghostwriting. A book is not a commodity item like, say, laundry detergent. Sure, there are probably some differences from one detergent to the next, but for the most part they’re all pretty similar and consequently similarly-priced. But book quality can range from something your seventh-grade English teacher would fail all the way up to Pulitzer-prize-winning literature.

So what is it—exactly—that makes the more expensive writers worth so much more than the lower-end guys? Well, quality of writing, to be sure. Good ghostwriters know how to write and have a career’s worth of experience that got them there. Writing isn’t something you learn to do well overnight.

But it’s more even than just experience. A good ghostwriter earns his fee by dedicating himself to the client. This means, first of all, really understanding the client and the client’s book material. It means taking time—a lot of time—to learn everything about the subject at hand. Typically that involves at least one face-to-face meeting, if not more, and multiple phone conferences. A good ghostwriter gets inside the head of the client so that when he’s writing the client’s book, he’s writing it in the client’s voice.

It’s a dedication to accuracy, too. A good ghostwriter is willing to keep tweaking the manuscript until it’s exactly the way the client wants it. Corrections, revisions, additions—they’re all included. It’s just part of the job.

Finally, it’s a serious time commitment. Good ghostwriters typically don’t take on more than two or three projects at a time. That way they can really focus. And a serious book-writing endeavor can take six or seven months or even longer. This is why ghostwriting isn’t for part-timers. Ghostwriters at the upper end of the pay scale are dedicated to their clients and they’re dedicated to their profession.

Save the frugality for the laundry detergent. For quality ghostwriting, be prepared to pay what quality ghostwriting is worth.

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