A contract is every writer’s best friend. There are tons of posts out there that can help you build your basic client agreement, so today I just want to focus on four specific points that your ghostwriting contract should include.
1. Multiple payments.
Ghostwriting a book is a big, long project. If your clients pay everything up front, they’re taking a big risk. If they don’t pay until the project is completed, then you’ve got all the risk. Instead of considering either of those two routes, break up the project cost into multiple installments. Then, on the contract, spell out the deposit and subsequent payment due dates, which can coincide with content due dates.
2. Consider a kill fee.
I’ve mentioned before that many of the book projects you start won’t ever be finished. That’s why I include a kill fee in my contract, similar to those you see in print contracts. With the kill fee, I can make sure that I get a small payment when a project is cancelled or abandoned. This allows me to cover any expenses I’ve incurred (such as proofreading) and gives me a cushion for replacing the work, since I’ve likely turned down other projects expecting to be focused on the one that’s been cancelled.
Two points to remember on kill fees: First, spell out what it means for the project to be cancelled. If the client stops doing interviews or answering questions for six months, will that imply a cancellation for you? If so, explain that. Second, a kill fee isn't meant to be punitive. It's not mean to punish a client for stopping the project, but to protect you against losses you'll incur if they do.
3. Guarantee confidentiality, but not always copyright.
My contract stipulates that I will keep my clients’ information confidential no matter what. However, if they don’t pay an invoice after I’ve submitted part of the project to them, the contract specifies that I retain copyright. It’s an important distinction—you’ll keep their information private if they don’t pay, but that doesn’t mean they own the content.
4. Give yourself an out.
With the kill fee, you’re effectively telling the client that they can stop the project anytime—but what if you want to cancel it? While I definitely don’t advocate taking on gigs and not sticking with them, there could be an instance in which you can’t continue working the project. Your contract should let the client know that you have the right to terminate the relationship and, if you do, the way you’ll handle refunds of deposits.
As I mentioned, this is not a comprehensive outline of all the points you should cover in your contract, but it's a great place for a new ghostwriter to start. What caveats and protections do you build into yours?