by Mary C Long
I wrote this for my Ghostwriting for Profit group on Facebook and am sharing here for readers as well!
So, I think we have an opportunity for a great conversation here - one that includes a variety of perspectives and elaborates a bit on some key distinctions. And one that is probably overdue.
There are different kinds of fiction out there - and I'm not talking about genres. I mean the end product created, and the associated costs that authors pay a ghostwriter to create these distinct works. Because the costs vary wildly, and for good reason.
This distinction isn't often discussed for whatever reason, so it fuels a huge disconnect - one that I've been thinking a lot about today! So, allow me to share some key insight that I've gleaned from working successfully as a ghostwriter for the past decade, creating all kinds of copy - and bringing in well over $100k each year doing so!
Fast Fiction vs Traditional Fiction
First, we have mass market fiction. This writing is focused on quantity over quality - and the rates a writer can expect there are correspondingly low. This is *not* to say that writing skill is not important here, nor is it intended to lessen what these writers do, but the focus here is on speed to market to meet whatever (often already existing and serialized) demand. The rates are low, but the overall pay can be high, as it's a race to the end with the fastest, most capable writers cleaning up. I call it "quick hit" or fast fiction, because that's what it is.
And then there's the traditional fiction market, where the memoirs and entirely plot-driven creations live. These pieces require a different kind of writing, a mode that is often not focused on per word, but per project (though word count is entirely relevant and used to define scope). But whereas you may see a quick hit piece offered, written and sent to print for a few hundred dollars, the traditional fiction market - where New York Times best sellers and other works you'll see in Barnes & Noble, marketed by industry agencies/publishers live - these will run in the tens of thousands.
$30-50k engagements are not unheard of, nor are they unreasonable. At all. Some writers command well over $100k for a work. And that applies to fiction, nonfiction, what have you. The work required, matched to expertise, is what one pays for. And much like anything else, you get what you pay for.
Understanding the Distinction
Here's the distinction to understand: Being given a general plot/outline and set loose to create something quickly to meet a set word count or formulaic genre standard is entirely different from telling a uniquely crafted, client- and plot-driven story. The former is fast (and honestly, easy for a solid writer to manage, which is why we see massive daily word counts tossed around) and the latter is intense.
Here's why: There's a personal, intimate relationship with a client when one attempts to capture their soul - and that's what a ghostwriter is tasked with. It's extremely complex and often emotional work - and it's not for everyone. It involves interviews, research, character development, creating a voice (often multiple voices), and other expected mechanics. But it's also challenging the author to get at real meanings/intent, and a good bit of mindreading besides.
It's writing something that makes the author feel you've pulled the story directly out of his/her mind - sometimes suspending that disbelief so effectively, they feel they may have given you the exact words to write! They didn't, of course. You've magicked it for them. Sometimes they cry, as it brings something deeply meaningful and personal alive for them. THAT takes skill. And time. And much, much more than a few hundred dollars.
Fast Fiction is Fine, but Different
If you choose to write fast fiction, there's no shame in it - you do what works for you. It's a living and a fun one at that! But those seeking ghostwriting services need to understand the distinction and what they're getting for these rates.
I think fast fiction places need to be clear about what they're offering, and who their market is. I get when ghostwriters become upset competing against rates that are not comparing apples to apples. It would be like offering a gold-plated ring, insisting it's as sturdy as its solid gold counterpart, with the jeweler of the genuine product forced to educate the consumer around the offering, instead of doing what it does best - craft solidly made, beautiful rings. Some people want the book done and published - and that's that. Gold plating it is! But everyone needs to be on the same page around what that is. And hopefully this post will save a ghostwriter from being burdened with this sort of distinction.
To sum it up: Fast fiction is great for those seeking quantity or something fast - and there are many small publishers out there seeking precisely those qualities. Many would be authors as well! But those seeking a ghostwriter to really dig in and tell their life story are in the market for a solid gold ring. It's an investment, as it should be. And they may luck out and find a jeweler that's new to the business, offering lower rates, but gold plating typically is not an option on the menu. Not for this type of tale.
So, maybe we need to make that distinction in our writing groups, to clear up the misunderstandings that keep happening - and also to NOT have clients assume I'm willing to write a book for $300 or even $3,000 when it would be more appropriately priced at $30,000! Time is money and personalized ghostwriting takes time. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. That's the gold plating talking.
And yes, some YA fiction is priced super low too - I'd mentioned small advances fueling small budgets there previously (mentioned it in the Facebook group), and I stand by that. Marketing a YA (or any) work to make money beyond the advance that authors sometimes get from publishers is typically on the author to do themselves, unless they've signed with an agency that cares about such things. Many do not. But that's a post for another day.
Template Services aren't Ghostwriting
One final caveat: There are services that offer templated ghostwriting, where someone interviews you or you answer set questions and they transcribe/edit the interviews to create your book.
This isn't ghostwriting - it's transcription and editing and is priced out at much, much lower rates as a result. If that's what you want, that's fine, so be it. But it's more aptly described as a self-publishing service than ghostwriting. And it may not include thorough proofreading, so be sure to line someone up to do that or you risk publishing something that will be disappointing and potentially embarrassing. You'll get what you pay for!
Please feel free to email me with any questions, and particularly if you're seeking a ghostwriter for your book! My time is planned approximately 3-6 months ahead, and I am not physically able to accept every request I receive (I wish I could many days as there are so many interesting stories waiting to be told!). But, I have an extensive network of writers and I am always happy to help connect you with someone who will bring your story to life if I cannot.
Watch for my next post where I'll share some criteria to keep in mind when choosing a ghostwriter. I think that's another top question folks have. And - thanks for reading! Please share/leave a comment if this was helpful at all, as Google notices and that helps others find me. Appreciate it.