Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What About the Money in Ghostwriting/Collaborating? (Part 2a of 5)

Covenants and Agreements

Because some have asked for a sample, this entry will focus on a book which I expect to sell and have believed royalty was the better way to go. My first was Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. I'm still earning royalties.

My next entry will focus on what we refer to as a flat-fee arrangement. That means writers receive a one-time payment. During my first days of collaborating, I did only flat-fee arrangements.

Royalty Covenant

This is a sample agreement I wrote a decade ago. I tried to outline everything the author could expect from me and what I, as the writer, could expect. This agreement is when I propose a shared royalty. (Because of my experience, I ask for 50 percent of the royalty.)


Dear XXX:

When we met for lunch yesterday, I outlined for you the basis for our working together to prepare a book proposal to send to my agent. I want to repeat those items in this letter so that it becomes our covenantal agreement.

1. I will write a book proposal for you, using the general format my agent requires. This includes two sample chapters, an overview of the book, information about you, explanation of the intended market, an annotated bibliography of competitive books, and a marketing plan. I will submit my writing to you in rough-draft form for your changes and approval before it goes into a final form for submission.

2. After you have approved the entire proposal, I will submit it to my literary agent, Deidre Knight of the Knight Agency.

3. From the time I have received adequate material from you for the book until the presentation of the final proposal, I anticipate a period of approximately two months.

4. For the work of this proposal, my fee is $xxxx. If you agree to the terms I’ve laid out in this letter, your check for $xxx will serve as a covenantal agreement. The remaining $xxx will be payable when you are satisfied with the final proposal. Please make check payable to: Omore Taya, Inc.

5. We have agreed that if my agent sells this book, she will take 15 percent commission first. You and I will then split the rest of the royalty 50 percent each. [Note: on foreign rights, if she uses a sub-agent, the commission runs 20-25 percent.]

6. If my agent sells this manuscript on the basis of the proposal, the advance of $xxx will be deducted from my portion of the royalties. If my portion of the advance does not exceed that amount, you will receive the entire advance and that will constitute the end of my repayment.

7. Assuming my agent sells the manuscript, the authorship of the book will read: by xxxx with Cecil Murphey.

8. If at any point you wish to withdraw from this agreement, a letter or verbal statement is sufficient.

Yours sincerely,

Friday, July 26, 2013

What About the Money in Ghostwriting/Collaborating? (Part 2 of 5)

If you move into writing books for others, here are my suggestions:

1. Charge what you think you are worth. This is an issue about your self-confidence. Some people can't bring themselves to ask for a large amount and you may need help with setting your fees.

2. Contact other collaborators and ask them what they charge. Some won't tell you, of course, but most of them are open enough to give you a price range.

3. Base your rates on your experience and background. That may be obvious, but a few first-time ghosts want to charge authors the upper-end rates. A given in the publishing industry is that you start low and as you build your resume, you increase your rates. That's the path I followed.

4. Once you decide on what you will charge, say it upfront and without apology. If you feel the amount you want to charge is fair, don't negotiate for a smaller amount.

5. Provide a contract, even if it's an informal agreement. (If you want a sample of a covenant, you may email me.)

6. When you write an article, you usually do it on speculation. You send a query letter to prospective editors, and if they say, "Send it," you have no guarantee that they'll buy the article. That's what we mean by speculation.

However, if you write books, don't write on speculation. It's too big a job and too much work. Write a book proposal and charge for writing it.

Think of it this way. The client (or author) needs to take as much risk as the writer. If someone wants you to write a book, that person needs to be able to pay you.

Writing for others involves being paid for your work.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What About the Money in Ghostwriting/Collaborating? (Part 1 of 5)

Money is an issue—and for some the issue. Whenever people ask me about going into the field of ghostwriting they may not bring up money at first, but the topic is in their minds and it's important.

Or to say it another way, whenever want-to-be-collaborators contact me, their burning question is usually, "I haven't done this before so how much do I charge?"

"If you write articles," I tell them, "you charge the person nothing. Your profit comes from the sale of the article—and the money is yours. The people about whom they write receive no money. They get the publicity, which is their reward."

I can earn money as a ghostwriter—
if I learn the craft and work hard.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Kind of Ghostwriter/Collaborator Do You Want to Be?

We all have different interests and some work better in one field than another. Sally Jenkins wrote the two memoirs of Lance Armstrong. I consider her the top ghostwriter in her field—which is sports.

1. Every good ghostwriter has a specialty. It may be business or education or health and fitness. I especially like underdog stories.

Ask yourself this question: What do I care about? Focus on those things about which you are or could become passionate. Never write only for the money. Seek work, but pass up projects about which you're not interested.

2. Don't work for people you don't instantly like. I've learned the hard way not to take on a project if I don't feel an immediate kinship with the prospective author. In some situations, the best day is the first day.

I've made it a policy (after one bad experience) not to sign a contract until I've met the client in person.

3. The last statement leads me to this: When you meet prospective authors, trust your instincts. If you don't get a good feeling about who they are within the first minutes of the meeting, you probably aren't going to make a successful ghostwriter for that person.

One of the qualities of a good ghost is the ability to intuit. You may not always be accurate on the interpretation of your feelings, but you'll know something inside you that whispers no.

I'm the only person who can know my passions and interests.
I listen to my instincts.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How Do I Get Started as a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 2 of 2)

Once you start to produce ghosted or as-told-to pieces, you find out the major areas in which people are interested. (And nobody is interested in everything.) You also discover the topics in which you excel. Both are excellent educational experiences.

Take careful notice of the articles or profiles that get the best responses from readers.

Join organizations in which you have an interest. Read your newspapers or be a news junkie on the Internet. Watch local newscasts and seek out people who interest you.

The opportunities are endless, but nothing will happen unless you think, I could write that story. Then you need to do something about it.

"I think I could do that."
That's an excellent place to start.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How Do I Get Started as a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 1 of 2)

If you've read the previous blogs on ghostwriting/collaborating you may say, "That's something I would like to do. How do I get started?"

First, think small. That is, think locally. I got started as a ghostwriter because a publisher contacted me and asked me to ghostwrite. That probably won't happen to most of you.

The experts say that most people have about 250 people with whom they network. That includes your family, your friends, business acquaintances, and neighbors. If you have 250 people, each of them probably has connections with at least the same number (or more).

Which leads to my second suggestion: Ask your contacts for help. Let them know what you want to do. Think of it as spreading the word that you're seeking a new job.

Most people in your network won't be able to give you practical help, but there are often sources out there that you don't know about. Sometimes it's a friend who has a friend or someone who has a business associate. I've written several books because of a friend of a friend.

Once you start to produce a good product, people will notice. If you start with profiles, those pieces can lead to bigger opportunities. You don't have to seek only the famous or the notorious.

Look for the unusual—a curious hobby, a weird occupation, or an achievement that makes a person stand out.

The first article, of course, is the most difficult and challenging. Try a profile for a weekly throwaway newspaper, a community-oriented magazine, or an ezine to which you subscribe. Where I live, I receive two free print magazines each month that focus on our county. Both publish personal stories and profiles.

One woman got her start with a monthly, freebie magazine that covered a large district of her state (I don't remember which one). She sought out people who did unusual things, such as a couple in their eighties who still competed in ballroom dancing and a woman who had quilted for more than sixty years. Another time, she wrote about a ten-year-old girl who raised almost two thousand dollars for a family. Their rental home had burned and the owner's insurance didn't cover their furniture.

If I want to be a collaborator
I have to take the initiative and seek markets.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Is the Downside of Ghostwriting/Collaborating? (Part 4 of 4)

As a ghostwriter, we not only don't get publicity, but many have no editorial rights. That depends on the contract.

During my early years, I wrote manuscripts and after the celebrity okayed everything, I mailed them to the publisher. No one consulted me about any editing. I wasn't always pleased when I saw some of the changes, but there was nothing I could do.

Another downside is that a few authors demand endless rewrites. One famous leader insisted I sit in his office with him and his secretary. He read every sentence aloud—which took hours, while I followed on my laptop. The two of them discussed every sentence and decided whether to keep, delete, or change it.

On the spot, I made the changes they wanted. A month later, we went through a second oral reading. And finally a third. He was demanding in other ways, but that was the worst.

Despite such downsides, I've enjoyed a lucrative career as a ghostwriter. And I believe God has given me the temperament to work with others who want their stories or ideas written.

Friday, July 5, 2013

What Is the Downside of Ghostwriting/Collaborating? (Part 3 of 4)

Another negative factor is that celebrities can be extremely demanding. And worse, they seem unaware of their behavior.

Here's one illustration. I had contracted with a publisher to ghostwrite a book on marriage. For almost a month after I signed the contract, I heard nothing. One day, I answered the phone and Big-name Celebrity said, "There is a Delta flight leaving Atlanta in three hours. I'll have someone meet your plane." He never asked about my availability. He expected my compliance.

After I arrived, he worked with me for perhaps an hour and left me to attend a business meeting. That went on for four days. I had a total of about five hours of taped interview time with him.

I decided to return to Atlanta the fifth day. "But I have a free hour tomorrow evening," he said.

He expected me to stay over for twenty-four hours to get one hour of his time. I tried to be diplomatic but firm and I went home. He couldn't understand why I would turn down the opportunity for one more hour with him.

Many celebrities have their small group of friends and those who work for them and shield them. They're used to giving commands and expecting compliance. They seem unable to change when dealing with others outside their intimate circle.

That's a serious downside.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Is the Downside of Ghostwriting/Collaborating? (Part 2 of 4)

Everything seems to have a downside and that includes ghostwriting. The most obvious is that ghostwriters don't get recognition or appreciation for their work.

First, even if their names are on the cover, most readers don't notice. Immediately, I think of a book signing in Atlanta. I sat on Don Piper's right and people in line came to me first. My name was on the cover of 90 Minutes in Heaven. I held out my hand to take a book from a woman to sign it and then pass it on to Don.

"Who are you?" she asked. "I don't want you to write in my book."

After I pointed to my name on the cover, she said, "I guess you did have something to do with it. Okay, go ahead and sign my book."

That remains one of my favorite stories.

Second, ghostwriters rarely receive opportunities to appear on talk shows, do interviews, or receive any publicity. Early in my ghostwriting career, one celebrity insisted that I sign a contract stating that I would not publicly acknowledge that I had written for him.

That part wasn't a problem for me, but for some writers, it's a deal breaker. "I wrote the book and I want credit," they say.

One ghost demanded that the publisher send him on the New York talk shows with the author and they complied. I watched one of the interviews on the Today Show. Matt Lauer nodded to the writer and said, "And you helped [name] with his book." Lauer turned to the author and the rest of the time the writer sat with a fixed smile on his face and said nothing.

"I was on the Today Show," he boasted.