Ghostwriting Contracts: 4 Points to Consider

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.

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?

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Yolander Prinzel is the profit monster behind the Profitable Freelancer website. She has written for a number of publications and websites such as American Express,, Advisor Today, Money Smart Radio and the International Travel Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Her book, Specialty Ghostwriting: A New Way to Look at an Old Career, is currently available on Amazon.

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6 thoughts on “Ghostwriting Contracts: 4 Points to Consider”

  1. Thanks for these great tips!

    I’ve thought about inserting a kill fee, but I haven’t done so, yet. I like the idea of retaining the copyright if a client doesn’t pay. Breaking up the payments is a good idea. I do this with large projects.

  2. Good points, Yo,

    One thing I’d add about pricing a GW project (or ANY large, multi-part project, for that matter).

    Often it’s difficult to figure how how to price a project like a book-length manuscript (or, again, any similar, big gig). After all, you have to factor in the human side of the equation.

    Why kind of client will they be to work with? Will they be sticklers? Micro-managers? Perfectionists? Will they want to edit every line to within an inch of its life? Will they be calling you all the time, wanting to discuss this and that edit, maybe even after hours? You won’t know until you get into it.

    But what if you based your estimate on certain scenario in your head, and it turns out much differently? Now you’re stuck, having committed to a fee that now looks too low, and doesn’t include the crucial “aggravation factor.”

    Yes, you can discuss these things beforehand and get clear on the working conditions of the project (including how many hours a week you’ll commit to working on it each week; you don’t want to do an “all-in” situation where you’re cutting yourself off from your network for an extended period of time).

    But, a good strategy is to offer to do a chapter or two, come up with an estimate for that piece, and then see how it goes, time-, money-, and hassle-wise. And once done, sit down with the client, and assess how it went, where you are, etc., all of which will give you a lot better idea of how to set the final terms of the project.

    It’ll not only make YOU feel more comfortable, but the client will appreciate this approach as well, as THEY want to to get a sense of what it’s like to work with YOU as well. You’re both checking each other out before committing to the whole enchilada.


    • That’s an excellent idea Peter. I love that the writer gets paid without committing to a huge project blindly and that the client can make sure they’re equally happy with the relationship before that commitment. Everybody wins! 🙂

    • I build each of my contracts with very specific limits on edits (2 rounds per section) and phone call time, and then specify the fee when things exceed these limits–but your idea of testing with just a few chapters is a great one. I do a several page sample for potential developmental editing projects in order to get a feel for the client’s MS and estimate time, but I may just give your method a try for writing projects.

  3. Thanks, Yo.You’re very clear and generous with your information. I’m embarking on a large ghostwriting project and your info is really helping a great deal.


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