Contracts are an essential part of doing business as a ghostwriter. The first and most important rule: No writer should ever offer ghostwriting services without a contract in place. The contract serves a dual purpose of securing work from a client and guaranteeing payment to the author.
Ghostwriting contracts help an author and their client get on the same page. A good contract should outline all key details related to the writing project – including payment. It should cover enough ground to protect both author and client.
A ghostwriting contract is most effective when it defines these elements:
1. The scope of the project
Defining the nature of a writing project helps a ghostwriter understand how much time and resources are needed to see it through to completion. Is it a book? An article? An essay? The type and length of the work should be a determining factor for how much a writer charges for her services.
2. The working relationship between author and client
A ghostwriting contract should specify how a writer and client work together on the project. This can mean a series of face-to-face meetings, or having a phone meeting, or teleconferencing via laptop. The contract should spell out the duties of each party. Is the writer responsible for doing the bulk of research, or will the client supply information as needed? Ironing out these details keeps an open line of communication between author and client.
3. Payment and timetable for payment
Ghostwriters need to specify their payment in great detail. The contract should indicate what amount they will be paid for their work, when they will receive payment and how they will be paid. A portion of any negotiated fee should always be paid in advance. Many ghostwriters will ask for 50 percent of their fee up front and take the remainder upon completion of the project. The final fee should take into account all time spent on the project, not just on writing alone.
4. Ownership and copyright of the work
Once a ghostwriter produces work, ownership of it transfers to and bears the client’s name upon completion. That is the whole purpose of ghostwriting – creating content for another party that can be published under their name. A contract should specify the client holds copyright to the original work and any ancillary works derived from it. A ghostwriter can negotiate to receive a percentage of royalties based of future sales, but otherwise yields any right to work produced for the client.
5. Escape clauses
Good ghostwriting contracts should include an escape clause for both author and client. Sometimes, it is best to terminate a project when things aren’t working out. A client could make too many demands or drastically change the scope of the project. An escape clause — including a predetermined “kill fee” — allows both parties to terminate the contract peacefully. This allows a writer to be fairly compensated for any ghostwriting services rendered, even if a client is unsatisfied with the results.
John C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.