Why a Ghostwriter Needs a Contract for Writing Projects
by Cris Yeager | DIGITAL MEDIA GHOST | Ghostwriting
The work of a ghostwriter can vary greatly and a contract is needed to secure both parties involved in a project. A contract should be drafted, revised, amended and negotiated before a solid agreement is reached. Security for both writer and client is essential.
An experienced ghostwriter or a writer just starting should know two things at all times about every potential project — the client and the contract. A thorough contract will help to protect both parties involved in the writing process, while also ensuring that getting paid proper worth and doing the best job possible while understanding the client's needs are a priority.
Here are some tips to help you negotiate your next ghostwriting contract.
The copyrights of any completed work are to be transferred to the intended author once the material has been reviewed, finalized and all payments have cleared. All original material written by the ghostwriter belongs to the intended author — and no one else.
At least one person should retain the copyright of written material until final payment has been received and is considered sufficient compensation by both parties.
Description of the project
Before anything is written, there must be an agreement between the author and the project manager. The project manager should summarize the entire project in writing to cover all bases and eliminate any doubt. This includes any necessary research or interviews that will be conducted. If a contract isn’t laid out correctly from the beginning, time may be wasted working on something that will never see completion. Be sure to get paid for that time by outlining that in the contract in the form of an 'escape clause.' *Explained below.
Working relationship specifics
One important element of the contract is an explanation of how the relationship between the ghostwriter and author will work. The hiring company/client needs to be sure they are working with someone experienced and competent, so it’s imperative that both parties know what to expect from each other. The agreement should outline basic expectations and responsibilities so there aren’t any communication breakdowns in the process.
Detail elements expected
The author should provide all information about the type of writing being requested and the topics that need to be included. Authors may request certain formats and writing styles - gather all of this detail. Knowing what's expected up-front and placed into the contract as such will eliminate any uncertainty and the writer will be able to accommodate the requests easily.
Create a timetable
The timetable is important because it helps keep all parties in check. Although many clients expect ghostwriters to be flexible and/or willing to work on tight deadlines, that doesn’t mean writers shouldn’t always specify how much time they need to finish. It should include a schedule of milestones with dates of completion, meeting dates to discuss and review material, etc.
It’s always advisable to include a schedule of meetings dates to discuss the project, updates on progress and review of written material deadlines so both parties have realistic expectations. Establishing that schedule up-front is important because any delays or issues can cause frustration on all sides.
It should never be either parties' "my way or the highway" stance. Find common ground.
The legal terms of your agreement will vary based on the type of project and the relationship with the client, but here are some important things to consider. Does the contract suit both parties? Insert a clause detailing the terms of negotiation — what's allowed by either party and what's not — and how to come to a final agreement. Neither the writer nor the author has total control and it should be discussed.
Set price for completion
You should set the price per word, hour or page (whatever best fits your business model) for each project. For example, if you’re in a rush to complete the project, you may choose to charge more than usual. Some ghostwriters use flat rates that apply to all projects and others set different rates per service (such as editing versus writing). You could also factor in bonuses when completing projects ahead of schedule or offer reduced fees on follow-up work with the same client. Price negotiations should always be included and amend the contract should the occasion arise.
Discuss the length
Ghostwriting is, by nature, an open-ended concept. For some projects — such as assembling business biography or collecting family histories — there is no definitive end to writing. The length of any project is going to differ greatly. Clearly state the length of the project. 500 words, 3 pages, etc. Indicate if there are other parts included that will require extra writing, like charts, tables and graphs.
A writer's time
A ghostwriter doesn’t want to be held accountable for certain timeframes and deadlines, while clients don’t want to be charged when their project goes longer than expected. A contingency plan will help writers avoid these common pitfalls. Writing projects can last anywhere from a few days to weeks to several months — and sometimes even years. Either way, an agreement should include some terms for what happens if one party misses deadlines.
Create an escape clause
Life's little surprises happen. Determine an outcome should this manifest. The easiest way to do this is to create an escape clause or an out in your contract. This means if one party doesn't hold up their end of the bargain, for whatever reason, then you can terminate and walk away from that party. Most people have horror stories about contract disputes, so it's worth discussing what might go wrong between business partners and putting some parameters in place. Discuss possible solutions for both parties.
Set payment dates
Set deadlines for advanced payments, project intervals and completed work and confirm when they’ve been received. Write dates into the contract and make sure both parties sign off on them. It’s important to have that specific date in writing so that if anything goes wrong, there will be proof of when payment was due.
Sufficient contact info
The hiring company/client will need access to a ghostwriter's contact information so they can reach them through a preferred method of communication during all stages of the process — from ideation and writing, until editing and delivery.
Summary and closing thoughts
Having a ghostwriter-client contract in place isn’t just an obligation — it’s a security blanket. By establishing the terms of the project, timelines and expectations ahead of time, everyone is prepared to handle situations before they arise. The more detailed the contract, the better. A ghostwriter needs a contract in place with their client to ensure that both parties understand all aspects that will go into a project and clear compensation. Ghostwriters should never work without a contract in place for any project.