Ghostwriter! Word.
February 28, 2008 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I've been offered a ghostwriting gig. Help me with my expectations, please.

So, I mentioned to several people in my life that, rather than continue in print production or bookkeeping (between now and the time I begin work on a Masters degree in Film in September), I wanted to get some experience with freelance writing and/or copyediting. I got a hit right away from my friend who works for a small publisher. Very small - nearly just a vanity project for the owner of the company, who is himself "not educated or experienced, but very smart" according to my friend. I actually designed the company logo a while back, too. Anyway, the owner wants to publish a novel based in truth about some conspiratorial figure I've never heard of, and that's about all I know so far. (Uh-oh... my Turner Diaries senses are tingling...) Sounds fun enough to me! We haven't met yet, but from my friend who runs his business, I have the impression that the job will be mine if I want it, in any case.

What kind of rate should I request, as someone with very little professional writing experience, writing a book that is not expected to profit enormously?

How much time should I expect to spend on a short reseach-based novel?

What complexities or stumbling blocks should I look out for in this arrangement and the adjunct relationships?

Resources for, um, how to write my first novel without personal inspiration, and on the fly?

I believe I can muddle through the copyediting and the research parts, but making the content interesting, authentic and well-structured are all problems I have no experience solving.

Any other advice, freelancers?

Thanks very much in advance!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if this will help, but I just picked up a book (suggested on MeFi no less) that is similarly a semi-historical novel, based on a particular character. If you're looking to see how someone else approached such a project, the novel is called Gould's Book of Fish.
posted by farishta at 1:07 PM on February 28, 2008

I just finished a ghostwriting project -- of sorts. A Freudian psychiatrist acquaintence hired me to clean up his novel manuscript (thinly veiled retelling of his early years and career). I've got a lot of writing experience: several books, a bunch of short stories, a pile of reviews, some articles, tech writing. We were in the same writers' workshop for a while so he knew my stuff. His manuscript was completed but he is quite elderly and couldn't tie it all together. Essentially I had to rewrite the entire thing, omit unnecessary characters, create one of two new ones, delete a bunch of noxious prose, write some new connective prose, and so on. I chopped about 5,000 words out to make it flow better. It was more editing than writing, I would say.

All of this took me about 6 months, writing most mornings, evenings and weekends. I was paid $3000 -- one third up front, one third on delivery, one third within thirty days of delivery. I estimate it was about 10 hours per week, maybe 12. It was a lot of work, and I think now that I undercharged to some extent. Of course I get no royalties, no name on the book, etc -- this was "work for hire," as it were.

The good news is that he left me alone, agreed to 90 percent of what I did, and made relatively few edits to the first draft. (Well, it was my first draft of his earlier draft.)

Your challenge is different from mine, but I'd draft out a short contract specifying time to completion, monies agreed on, whether or not a second draft will be necessary, and so on. Feel free to email me (on profile) if you want to ask me any other questions.

I guess the bottom line is this: it'll be a lot of work, so make sure you get paid appropriately. If this is your first big writing project, wow. Just be sure you are organized and professional.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:54 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, lady, that's a weird first-writing-job ever. That being said, I think you're just going to have to dive right in. Start wherever seems logical, and work in whatever direction your research leads you from there. Take notes so you don't lose those precious moments of genius. The Absolute Write "Water Cooler" forums might be another good resource for advice. Good luck!
posted by loiseau at 3:45 PM on February 28, 2008

It is somewhat risky from a legal standpoint for writers to talk about rates, as it can be construed as price fixing, but if you divide what Guy got by the number of hours he spent on it, well, charge twice or thrice as much as an hourly rate. And do bill by the hour; there is nothing worse than setting a flat rate for a project and having it take far longer than you expect, for whatever reason.
posted by kindall at 9:46 PM on February 28, 2008

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