Dr. Freelance: I read with interest your recent article about “Getting started as a ghostwriter.” I’ve been asked to quote for ghostwriting/rewriting a 145-page non-fiction book, probably to make it 125 pages. The potential client says it’s written, I just need to get it into shape. He’s annoyed me and shown no client respect so far by canceling yesterday’s meeting at short notice, when I’d already traveled to the area — not that he knows that. He wasn’t particularly apologetic about it. He rescheduled for tonight at an odd time, 8 p.m. in a hotel lobby. We had a five-minute meeting, and he said he’s interested in me for the job.
I’m not famous, have written a screenplay and several novels, I’m very confident about my abilities as a writer and I work very fast. I told him I’d give him a time frame of 90 days but would expect to finish it much before. I am going to ask for half upfront, and I’d rather give him a loose projection of fees before I go to a second meeting. I don’t want to have more of my time wasted and frankly I feel like charging for the trip. Can I charge a consultancy fee? — L.
L: It’s a danger sign when you get no client respect — which represents a lot more risk beyond the fee structure or your ability to deliver. That said, I suspect you have seen the manuscript (or at least a few chapters) to calculate an accurate estimate. Another tactic to consider (and protect yourself) is giving him an estimated range and tell him that the actual fee will be calculated based on how the project goes. Make your lower end something you’d be comfortable with if the project goes really easily; the higher end should be if he turns out to be as high maintenance or disorganized as you’ve seen so far.
A deposit is a must in a no client respect circumstance. I’m guessing, however, that trying to negotiate a consultancy fee after the fact is a losing proposition. If you had made it clear from the outset that an introductory consultation is $250 (or whatever), and that he gets XYZ services for that rate, you’d be OK…but it would very likely sour the book deal to add that now.