Freelance ghostwriting rates for a memoir

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freelance ghostwriting memoirDr. Freelance: A friend just asked me to help him expand his 20,000-word memoir summary into a full-blown book about his life. I’m a professional historian and feel I could provide detail and context to his experiences before, during, and after World War II, and I’d also add another 25,000 words to the existing manuscript. I’m projecting the job will take about six to eight months. What is the going rate for a job such as this?—CS

Sounds like an interesting project if you can make the numbers work. Freelance ghostwriting rates are all over the board—if you look at Writer’s Market, they indicate anywhere from 50 cents a word to $3 a word, or $50 to $100 an hour, which isn’t exactly a tight range. (I also imagine that $3 a word is for the high-end celebrity market!)

My recommendation would be to quantify, in great detail, the amount of work it will require you to complete or subcontract, including:

  • interviews and transcriptions
  • research
  • writing and revisions
  • meetings with the author
  • travel (if required)

Armed with those numbers, apply your hourly rate to calculate an estimated range. From your description, it sounds like this would be an interview- and research-intensive project as much as a writing one, so you will want to be conservative about how you calculate it. You didn’t indicate the quality of the existing 20,000 words, but you would want to include an estimate of time if there’s any rewriting involved, too. Ultimately, the author’s voice needs to be consistent through his original content and your additions.

You might also consider asking your friend what his budget is—because that could be a make-or-break situation, if he only has, say, $2,000 to spend. It’s a business decision for you, and it’s always trickier when there is also friendship involved. Even though he’s a friend, you’ll want a contract, and you should have the fees broken up into several payments along the way, including a deposit to get started. (Some authors might propose sharing in the revenues as payment, but I’d want to have the confidence that he’s going to sell a lot of these books—and the reality is that the vast majority of first-time authors don’t.)

Be careful against pricing too low on ghostwriting projects, since they tend to be much more involved than you may realize [tweetthis]Ghostwriting projects tend to be much more involved than you may realize.[/tweetthis] from initial discussions. Your bottom line may be different from mine, but you need to know what it is—and stick to it!

You only asked about pricing, but you should also check out this insightful blog post by Miranda Marquit, “Before You Ghostwrite a Memoir,” for a very interesting discussion of some of the other challenges specific to memoir ghostwriting.

Let me know how it goes—always interested to hear!

In the comments: Have you ever been involved in ghostwriting a memoir as a freelancer? What did you learn about pricing or process that you’d do differently the next time?

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  1. says

    I suggest getting as much in advance as possible, and also receiving payments at set intervals throughout the project.

    And another suggestion not related directly to the money: make sure you are both really clear on what’s expected of each of you. You don’t want this project to damage your friendship.