Want to publish a best-seller? Consider hiring a ghostwriter—or being one! In this blog, I will use as my case in point Tony Schwartz’s ghostwriting of Donald Trump’s memoir, The Art of the Deal.
My impression is that most ghost-written books are memoirs, books about people of interest to the public who lack the skill and/or the time to write a book themselves. But there’s no reason that a book of any sort couldn’t be ghostwritten, with the possible exception of textbooks.
Ghostwriting is a recognized profession, and can be lucrative. The Canadian Writers Union sets the minimum fee for ghostwriting a book at $25,000. But it’s an individually negotiated contract, and less experienced writers might be paid $10,000-$15,000. According to Writer’s Digest in 2011, one experienced ghostwriter averaged $15,000-$25,000 for a book of 50,000-75,000 words. Another made $12,000 for a 30,000-word book. A third was paid $22,500 for a 65,000-word book.They say that very successful collaborators earn $30,000-$50,000 per book.
But there are other arrangements. According to Schwartz, in his interview with Jane Mayer for “Trump’s Boswell Speaks” in the July 25th, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, Schwartz earned 50% of the book’s $500,000 advance and half of the royalties. Given that the book spent 48 weeks on the Times best-seller list, that was truly substantial!
Money is clearly an upside to ghostwriting. But there are downsides as well. If one’s client doesn’t interview well, you might need a work-around. Schwartz was virtually joined at the hip with Trump for eighteen months, traveling with him, listening in on his phone calls, etc.
Then, too, check out “The Brutally Honest Truth About Ghostwriting” from 2013. They advise that one does the job, gets paid, and gets out. There can be personality issues, as discussed by Schwartz. And post-best-seller remorse.
So maybe ghostwriting isn’t for you, from either side of the contract. But it’s always good to know the options!