Friday, May 27, 2011

Ghostwriting Workshop Takeaways (Part II)

In the first installment of our workshop recap yesterday, we broke down the advice from our expert panel (Ellen Neuborne, Jason Ashlock, and Dan Gerstein) on how to go about landing your first ghostwriting client. Today we delve into the logistics of getting down to business and what it takes to build a ghostwriting practice.

Look and Act Like a Pro

Even though you're just beginning to navigate the waters of writing-for-hire, it's essential that you establish yourself as a professional. Writing may be your art, but that's only one half of the project at hand: you're also running a business -- a business for which you're the CEO, marketing department, and administrative assistant all rolled into one. Neuborne estimated she spends about half of her work day writing, and the other half building and managing client relations.

For the freelance ghostwriter, "work day" is a key term. Even if you're working on projects round the clock, Neuborne advised that you make your availability clear to your clients -- and that you make sure your availability isn't 24/7. "I don't give out all my numbers," she said. One business number and one emergency number is plenty, and just because you have three email addresses doesn't mean your clients need them all. Drawing boundaries between your personal life and your professional life helps develop what Neuborne called a "business mindset," and, she added, "people pick up on the vibe."

Similarly, all three panelists were quick to stress the importance of your web presentation. Personal vacation photos and over-sharing blogs may have their place on the Internet, but they definitely shouldn't appear on the page you use to present yourself to potential clients. Any content should be "an extension of your professional self," said Gerstein -- "that means no pictures of your cat."

The Act/Art of Pricing

At some point, you have to have "the talk" with a potential client: how much, exactly, are you going to charge? For better or worse, there's no easy answer. The fee depends on a confluence of considerations: the skill and experience of the ghost, the resources of the client, the scale and scope of the project, and the expected turnaround time, for starters. In other words, it's almost impossible to quote a fair price without first discussing the project details.

What do you say, then, when a prospective client asks you for numbers? The trick, says Gerstein, is to avoid getting too specific too fast -- you don't want to dodge the (perfectly reasonable!) question, but accuracy is key. Once you've tossed out a number, renegotiating tends to breed ill-will, and it's all too easy to find yourself working for less than minimum wage. A simple, direct answer -- something like "I want to get you a realistic quote as soon as possible, but I need to know more; so let's talk about it. . ." -- can help you get the information you need without alienating the client.

The Paper Chase (aka Contracts 101)

Negotiating contracts might not be the most glamorous part of the ghosting gig, but it's an essential piece of the professional puzzle. While Ashlock advocates enlisting an attorney - -or an agent, if you have one -- to look over your standard contract, Neuborne said she's managed just fine drafting solo. Over the years, she's honed in on her contract essentials, though she stressed that the details come down in part to the personal preferences of both the ghost and the client.

Neuborne says she works from two standard agreements, depending on the exact nature of the project. "Some gigs (in which my name will appear on the cover or I have a royalty share in the final book) require a collaboration agreement," she explained. "Some, such as book proposals and other 'work made for hire' arrangements, just need a basic fee-for-services contract." Either way, expectations should be set as clearly as possible from the get-go -- not only what's expected of you, but also what's expected of your client. How long do you have to deliver? How long does your client have to make changes before accepting your draft? How many rounds of revisions are you offering, and on what timeline?

Then, there's the question of pay. Neuborne and Gerstein both recommend breaking up your fee into a series of installments (usually two or three). That offers you some insurance -- if the client is in financial trouble or otherwise unreliable, you'll know before you get in too deep. The contract is also the place where you'll specify at what stage in the process you'll see returns. Do you get a check when the client receives your chapters, for example, or when the client approves them?  For more on contracting basics, Neuborne recommended aspiring ghosts check out her late ASJA collegue Sarah Wernick's website.

1 comment:

Pat McNees ( said...

The late, great Sarah Wernick's site (with her husband's permission) has been migrated to my Writers and Editors site:
In particular Sarah's colleagues often refer others to:
Book collaboration and ghosting
So, You Want to Write a Book:

I shall post a link to your blog there, too. By the way, those who ghost or help write (or record) the memoirs of ordinary people should also join the Association of Personal Historians
Members do print, audio, and video -- plus memoir writing workshops, etc.

Pat McNees
Writers and Editors