Friday, August 30, 2013

What Makes a Best Seller? (Part 1 of 13)

Best seller? What's that? How do we define the term best seller? I see it used constantly along with "award-winning author."

In the latter, if a group of eight people can vote your book is the best of the year for the Deadwood Writers Association, does that make you an award-winning author? Apparently some think so. To use the term loosely, cheapens the meaning and relevancy of the term.

My understanding is that in the early days of advertising and promoting, a book had to see at least 100,000 copies to wear that crown of achievement.

Today, publishers can use the term as they choose. If most of their books sell fewer than 2,000 copies and one of their books soars to 3,000 copies, they call it a best seller. For them, it probably is.

Someone, quoting Dan Poynter (often called the self-publishing guru), says that if a book sells 35,000 copies it's a best seller. I'm not sure where he came up with that figure.

As a general rule, being on the best-seller list of the New York Times, USA Today, or having a high rank on the list seems to be enough to call your book a best seller without counting the copies sold.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Self-Questions Before You Decide to Become a Ghostwriter/Collaborator

If you are serious about wanting to write for others, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I sincerely believe that others have exciting lives or noble ideas and I want to promote them?

2. Do I get along with others and really like people?

3. Am I a self-starter? Am I self-disciplined? Can I meet deadlines? Can I work even if no one is there to encourage me?

4. Can I work alone? Writing is a solitary occupation and not everyone is emotionally suited to work with no one else around.

5. Can I treat this as a business? It is a business, and it means keeping records and receipts.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Is There Anything Else I Need to Know about a Contract to Ghostwrite/Collaborate?

Today we sell most books by proposals, which include two or three sample chapters and a synopsis or outline of the book as well as a marketing plan.

I ask authors to pay me to write the proposal. (My agent has set a price for my work because she said I tend to undercharge. She was correct.)

For writing a proposal, I suggest you ask for 40 percent of what you would expect on a flat-fee project. I write that from my own experience. By the time I've completed a full proposal, I've written at least 40 percent of the book.

So here's how it would work. For instance, if you charged $10,000 for a book—which is a reasonable amount for a first-time ghostwriter—your fee for the proposal would be $4,000.

There's one more decision to make. If I sell the book (and in my case, my agent sells the book), I refund the proposal money, and we split the royalty. Not all writers return the proposal fee.

My agent becomes involved only after I send her the completed proposal. She's not involved with any agreement with the author prior to selling the book. Of course, she doesn't receive a fee from the proposal.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Else Do I Need to Know about a Contract to Ghostwrite/Collaborate?

1. Be clear with the author before you start whether your name will be on the book. Some collaborators charge one fee if their name is on the book, and increase the fee if they get no recognition.

2. If it's a royalty project, who will market the book? Will you sell the book through an agent? If no agent is involved, who is responsible for the sale? (The author usually doesn't know the business and normally that task falls on the writer.)

3. Consider adding an escape clause. If the person isn't happy with you or you're not happy with the author, you need an easy way to break it off.

I usually say that if either party wishes to terminate the contract, a simple letter to that effect is all it takes. You do not return any money. If, for instance, you receive half of the agreed-on price and you do your job, but the author isn't satisfied, let the author stop the proceedings. You will have done what you agreed to do.

One time an author severed the relationship and wanted the money back. I had agreed to write a self-published book for a concentration-camp survivor of World War II from Eastern Europe. I did it on a three-part payment plan. After I completed the initial agreement of sending him sample chapters and a synopsis, he became ill. His lawyer terminated the agreement and asked me to return the initial payment. I sent him a copy of our covenant and I never heard from him again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Do I Need a Contract to Ghostwrite/Collaborate?

The rule to remember is simple: Never write without a contract. You don't need to incorporate legal language. I call my contracts a covenant agreement and I've never had legal problems.

It's not as much a legal matter as it is stating what you expect of the authors and what they can expect of you, the writer. You list everything you will do (such as when you'll deliver a first draft of the book and when you'll finish the entire manuscript).

You also list the payment plan. Most writers ask for half of the money up-front and the rest when the project is finished and the author is satisfied. (Some ask for a third to start, a third with the delivery of a full rough draft, and the final third when the author is satisfied with the manuscript.)

Here are a few final thoughts:

* Do not write a book on speculation—unless the author is willing to pay for all your work.

* Never write on credit—a promise of future payment. Get the first payment before you start. (I suggest 50 percent of the total fee.)

* Don't agree to write for royalty unless (a) the person already has a contract or (b) you have a strong belief the book will sell to a royalty-paying publisher.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How Much Do You Charge to Ghostwrite/Collaborate? (Part 5 of 5)

Besides work-for-hire agreements, the other method is the royalty contract. That means you agree on a percentage split with the author.

This isn't quite accurate, but it will give you an idea of how royalties work. Think of 10 percent of the retail cost of the book as the royalty—the amount paid to the author/writer. (In the Christian market, the percentage is a little higher, but it's based on the wholesale price of the book, and the writers and authors make less money.)

Experienced ghostwriters usually split the 10 percent royalty per book at 50-50. If an agent is involved, her 15 percent fee comes off first and you split the 85 percent evenly or 42.5 percent each.

Most royalty ghostwriters start at small amounts, such as 30 or 35 percent and work their way up to 50 percent.

Friday, August 9, 2013

How Much Do You Charge to Ghostwrite/Collaborate? (Part 4 of 5)

How do you charge for flat-fee projects?

Some people charge by the hour. I started that way, but I soon learned that authors want to know the total cost for a project. If you must work by the hour, set a ceiling and say, "The total amount will not exceed . . ." It's easier (and I believe more professional) to set a price for the total work (excluding travel).

Today the fees to write a book run anywhere from $2,000 to about $25,000 for experienced ghostwriters. One mid-sized publisher told me they start flat-fee ghostwriters at $7,500. The top-paid ghostwriters earn six figures—and there aren't many in that category.

If you charge a fee, how do you estimate it so that you won't lose money? That's where you consider your experience, and you need to analyze your work habits. Some writers are fast (I'm one of them), and others are slower—neither is superior, only different.

Here's how I approached flat-fee arrangements. I estimated that it takes four months (full time) to write a book. I would say to prospects, "Here's how much money I need to make in one year," and I give them an amount. "I'll sell you one-third of my professional time." Although they always understood, not everyone was willing to pay my fees.

One final thought on setting a one-time fee: If it takes longer than you estimated, you lose. If you do it faster, you gain. I've experienced both—and that was part of my learning.

My responsibility is to decide how much to charge.

That may not be easy to figure out, 
but it's part of being a professional.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How Much Do You Charge to Ghostwrite/Collaborate? (Part 3 of 5)

If you agree to write a book for someone, you have a number of things to consider.

1. You need to agree on whether it is a work-for-hire project or a royalty contract.

2. If the author decides to self-publish, I suggest that you not ask for royalty for two reasons: (a) You'll probably lose money; and (b) It's messy for individuals to keep track of the books they sell. Most self-published books sell less than a thousand copies.

3. A work-for-hire agreement means you receive a fee for your work and no additional money after that. You will have to agree whether your name goes on the cover. Before I discuss how much money to ask for (my next blog post), the only charges beyond the fee that you ask for is travel expenses. They don't pay extra for your ink jets or paper, hours of research, someone to proofread, or anything else. Build those items into your cost.

Friday, August 2, 2013

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

Flat-fee Agreement

Because of one bad experience, I adapted this from a contract with a publisher. I haven't had a second such experience.

* * * * *

THIS AGREEMENT made between Cecil Murphey, whose place of business is Omore Taya, 4297 Tucker North Court, Tucker, Georgia 30084-3632 (hereinafter referred to as "Writer") and XXXXXXXXXX (hereinafter referred to as "Author.”

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties mutually agree as follows:

1. Writer agrees to write a literary work tentatively titled XXXXX (hereinafter referred to as the "Work").

2. The Work will be completed for Author by Writer on a work-for-hire basis. It is intended by the parties that said Work be incorporated into a collective work or compilation for purchase and distribution by Author. Being a commissioned work-for-hire, Writer understands and acknowledges that he shall own no rights in the Work, including copyright, patent, and trademark rights. Writer further understands that by reason of the foregoing, he shall neither accrue nor receive any royalties from the sale of said Work.

3. Writer will deliver the Work to Author in approximately four months, one final revised copy of the manuscript double-spaced typed pages, and satisfactory in form, style, and content and acceptable to Author.

4. Writer warrants to Author: (a) that Writer's contributions to the Work are original; (b) that he has full power to enter into this Agreement; (c) that his contributions to the Work have not heretofore been published in whole or in part in volume form and that he has not entered into or become subject to any contract, agreement, or understanding with respect thereto other than this Agreement; (d) that Writer's contributions will not infringe upon any proprietary right at common law, or any statutory copyright, or any right whatsoever.

5. Author shall hold Writer harmless against any damage or judgment, including court costs and attorney's fee's, which may be sustained or recovered against Author resulting from the content of the Work. Author shall also reimburse Writer for all expenses, including court costs, attorney fees, and amounts paid in settlement sustained by Writer in resisting any claim, demand, suit, action, or proceeding asserted or instituted against Writer.

6. Author agrees to present to Writer twenty-five (25) free copies of the Work.

7. For all work done by the Writer under the terms of this Agreement, Author shall pay the Writer a total of $xxxxx as follows:

     $xxxxx upon receipt of a fully executed Agreement;

     $xxxxxx upon receipt of a first draft of the manuscript;

     $xxxxxx upon receipt of a manuscript fully acceptable to both parties.

8. The author will pay for all travel expenses for the writer.

9. In the event that either Author or Writer chooses to withdraw from this contract, this agreement will be terminated on written notice. All rights to materials created will belong to Author.

10. All sums due under this Agreement shall be paid to Writer and made payable to Omore Taya, 4297 Tucker North Court, Tucker, GA 30084-3632.

This agreement is made and entered into by and between the parties hereto on this _______ day of _____________, 20__.

AUTHOR                                 WRITER

_______________________     ________________________


_______________________     ________________________