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Writing: What To Say If Friends Ask You To Ghostwrite Their Memoir

Writing: What to Say If Friends Ask You to Ghostwrite their Memoir

headshot of John Lynch

John Lynch offers candid advice about ghostwriting memoirs for friends

Whether or not you are a ghostwriter already, it’s common for indie authors to be asked by friends, relations or acquaintances for help with writing and self-publishing their memoirs. Flattering though it may be, it’s a request you should treat with extreme caution, says professional ghostwriter John Lynch. What should you do if this happens to you? John shares the benefit of his experience.

 

The first consideration is to quote a realistic rate. My initial response is that the absolute minimum would be £400 or $500 for each 10,000 words. And I do mean minimum – I regularly charge double that.

You should be sure also to charge for time spent on the project rather than a fee for words.

Why Charge for Time, Not Words?

ghost holding pencil

Beware of the ghostwriting requests…

If you undertake this kind of work, you’re going to have to spend time talking to the customer. If that involves going to see the customer, charge for your time (I charge £80 an hour) and for travel expenses including meals.

Ask for some payment in advance, e.g. batches of x hours at a time. If you use Skype or something similar, charge for the time you are using the app PLUS the time you spend transcribing the recordings. Fellow ghostwriter Richard G Lowe combines a charge per word plus a charge for each hour spent in research.

Don’t be persuaded to opt for profit-share instead of a fee – that makes the risk fall to you.

Don’t Give Special Rates to Friends

If the customer is a friend, you may feel that you don’t want to ask for that kind of money (and the friend may feel affronted – be prepared for the friendship to come to a sudden stop and to hear yourself described as mean, grasping and avaricious.)

But you are a professional writer. So act like one and charge like one.

My boiler is serviced every year by a plumber who happens to be a very good friend of nearly 30 years standing. I don’t expect him to give me a cut price and I think I’d be offended if he did. When I decided to have the old sun room knocked down and a new one built, the builder I chose was also a friend – and, once again, I didn’t ask for (or get) any special treatment when he billed me.

Being a writer is no different from being a plumber or a builder. You are entitled to a proper rate of pay and you should not do business with anyone who doesn’t think you’re worth it.

Do You Actually Want to Do It?

Even if you are confident you can receive a realistic, professional rate, you also need to think very carefully about whether you really want to do this. Before you commit, ask for sight of the sort of material the customer is going to give you. You may well find that the customer cannot string a single coherent thought or sentence together.

Why I Avoid Ghostwriting Memoirs

Although I also publish in my own name, the great majority of my work is ghost writing full-length books that will be published with another “author’s” name on them. I work mostly for publishers and film companies and I expect to be paid what an established author would be paid as an advance. I’ve dealt with this in a different post so all I’ll say here is that I’ve ghostwritten more than 60 books in the last five years and almost none of them were memoirs.

Why? Because it’s a thankless task. You’ll be bored to tears. The person you’re writing it for believes that they have led a fascinating life and the world deserves to hear about it. In almost every case that I’ve ever seen, what the world actually deserves is to be kept in the dark about the fascinating life because the only person likely to be fascinated is the subject’s mother.

And it isn’t just the world at large that won’t enjoy this person’s story. You won’t enjoy it, either. Chances are, you’ll wonder why you ever got involved.

Have I put you off agreeing to write a friend’s memoir? Excellent. Mission accomplished. But, whatever you do, don’t send your friend my way.

OVER TO YOU If you’d like to share your experience and advice about ghostwriting memoirs, join the conversation via the comments box.

Thinking of #ghostwriting a #memoir for a friend or relation? Don't commit till you've read this candid post by #ghostwriter @JLynchAuthor! Click To Tweet

USEFUL FURTHER READING ABOUT GHOSTWRITING IN GENERAL
From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

 

John Lynch

John Lynch has been a writer since he was ten years old. He spent 40 years in international sales and worked on every continent except Antarctica but he never stopped writing. Now he does nothing else. He says that what is most wrong with Britain in the 21st century is the unwillingness – which he does not share – to give offence. You can find his fiction here www.jlynchblog.com and his freelancing blog here: www.johnlynchfreelanceauthor.biz.

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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Great advice overall!

    Pricing is one of the hardest jobs and is of great importance. $500 for 10,000 words (5 cents a word) is quite low compared to some of the figures I’ve seen online. One American publishing coach who does not write herself recommends others who charge $1 to $3 per word.

  2. Brilliant advice.

    I clearly charge too little and that’s probably why I’ve not had a ghosting client for a bit.

    I’ve also been asked to invest in a project instead of being paid outright.

    How cheeky!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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