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Ghostwriting – 8 Elements Of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement

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As a freelance writer I usually generate my own contracts. Of course, I don’t call them contracts, I call them Letters of Agreement. I like the less formal, less adversarial, tone.

My goal is to make sure the client and I are crystal clear on what we think we’re doing before we actually start the project. One way I judge that clarity is to ask myself “if I took this to a judge would she know what we were trying to achieve?” So far, I’ve never had to take a client to court so I haven’t tested my contracts at the bar so to speak,’ and that’s just fine with me.

Here are the elements in my letters of agreement:

  • The goal or purpose of the work. The goal is the overview of what we’re trying to do – get a book written, write a book proposal, create an article series, whatever.
  • The method we’ll work together. Since I’m usually ghostwriting books, how the author will get the information to me is critical. So I spell it out, like “a series of face-to-face meetings,” or “the author (client) will provide drafts in Word” or “a series of phone calls which will be recorded. The client is responsible for transcribing said recordings.” Often its a combination. I’ve got one client who has sent me both PowerPoint slides and a DVD of a talk he gave. We also talk on the phone.
  • Ownership/copyright. This part spells out that the client (or author if I’m ghosting) owns everything including ancillary products, original material, the copyright on the work, my notes, etc. in perpetuity. Once and awhile I’ll take a percentage. That percentage is spelled out here with something like “except Anne will receive 10% of the net profits from the sale of the book” or some such.
  • Confidentiality/non-disclosure. Here I agree to hold the information the client gives me in confidence and not to disclose it. I often offer an non-disclosure agreement when we first start talking. In that case, this is a repeat.
  • An approximate date the work will be finished. If it’s a book that date often slips because books are complicated to write.
  • Cost and way cost is to be paid. This is where they promise to pay me a million dollars a day plus expenses. Well, I always ask for that – it’s a great way to break the ice around money. If it’s a book I may take $x per chapter or a third up front, some sort of formula that makes sense. Recently I’m experimenting with asking for $x a month hoping to both smooth out my income and to get the client busy doing their part of the book. It’s sort of working.

  • The pace of the work/responsibility of each party. Here I speak about roughly how much time per week I expect to devote to the project, keeping it really loose. I also spell out what they will have to do – get me the information and read and comment on what I write.
  • Escape clause. I give us both a way to get out of the contract if the project isn’t working, Usually I say something like “this is a personal service contract. Although it represents our mutual understanding at this date, we both recognize that the situation may change. This contract can be amended by mutual agreement or canceled by either party with 14 days notice in writing.” Some would argue against this but I don’t want to try to force anyone to work with me if it isn’t working, and I don’t want to go to court if I can avoid it. I pick my clients carefully and this has worked well for me.
Claudia Suzanne who is in a ghostwriting LinkedIN group I’m in suggested the following acceleration clause:
“Accounts not paid within terms are subject to a 2% monthly finance charge. In the event of default in the payment of any installment or interest when due herein, time being of the essence hereof, Writer may, without notice or demand, declare the entire principal sum then unpaid immediately due and payable. All deposits and payments made to Writer are nonrefundable.”

I like it, mainly because I think it would get the attention of the occasional client whose attention wanders from the book.

I draft my letter of agreement, print a copy and read it slowly and carefully. Sometimes I may show it to another writer or business person. I then make corrections, put it on my letter head, date it, sign it digitally and ship it off.

Sometimes the client will want changes, sometimes not. Either way I know we’re clear on what we’re trying to get done as we get started. If it’s a book length project it will change, but this gives us a good place to start.

You may also want to read Renegotiating A Writing Contract.

How do you generate your contracts?

Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • You’re welcome – lots of good info on this site.

  • Great article! Thank you for the useful information. It’s a big help.

  • thanks

  • Hello! I’ve been following your weblog for some
    time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and
    give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the
    great job!

  • Pricing and cvs are quite different questions. You can see my list of credits at http://www.annewayman.com for a sample.


    Greetings, thanks for your sincerely excplaination regarding Ghostwriting. Please I have one pricing qustions that needs your attention:What is the format to write a resume/cv for ghostwriter?
    Hope to hear from you, thanks

  • Hola Jose – I found a translation website (http://www.spanishdict.com/translation) that gave me this: Hello,
    Someone could provide me an example of contract with ghostwriter, for a task that I wish to undertake.
    Thanks and a greeting.

    Here’s what a ghostwriting contract should contain, at a minimum: https://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/2012/02/9-elements-of-a-great-writing-proposal/ Does that help? Are you the ghost or the one telling the story?

  • Jose L

    alguien podria facilitarme un ejemplo de contrato con ghostwriter, para un encargo que deseo realizar.
    gracias y un saludo

  • Sharon, the info is in the article… and I don’t have an answer to how many you should interview… or what you should charge… see also the setting fess category here. And if you’re going to be writing the book in English, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your grammar. There are errors in your comment.

  • Congratulations. We’ve got some ghosts over at the 5 Buck Forum if you want some additional support – find it through http://www.aboutwritingsquared.com

  • Hi Ms. Ann,

    I am an author I wrote my first book that was published this year January 2012. My friend just open his production company and introduce me to a young woman who wants me to write her story. Her book will eventually be a trilogy and they will make a movie out of it. I have never done ghostwriting before. This is my first job my question to you is what kind of contract or proposal do I give them both to sign? should I put a date when the book will be completed? How many people do I interview? and what should I charge for my work? Ms. Ann, they have such great confident in me, I do too. I want to make sure I do everything correct.

    Thank you in advanced,

    Sharon Mae King

  • Thanks, Anne. This is a terrific site and 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.

  • ooh, congratulations…

  • Charlotte Reed

    Fantastic site and helpful information. I am embarking on my first huge project of writing a book for a professional singer and recording artist and can really use this advice.

  • A third and a third and a third if fairly typical. Actually, after writing comes production, then the pub date and actual publishing and distribution. Marketing takes place all along the line.

    And congratulations!

  • Hi Anne,

    I just got my first book job *faint*

    I’m working on the letter of agreement now, trying to sort out this unique situation. It’s for the lead singer of a Christian music band, a short book of his personal testimony. It’s not going to be ghost, he’s good if I want to be listed as coauthor. He’s also wanting me to “manage” the whole procession through publication and distribution. He doesn’t care if it’s flat fee, royalty or both.

    I’m doing a separate contract for the publishing part (royalty based). Since his main goal is to sell the books at concerts and in Christian bookstores already carrying his CD, I’m recommending he just indie publish.

    Now to my question, lol. Do you include a deadline in your contract? Is it okay if I get a third upfront, a third midpoint and a third at the end (of the manuscript. Then the publishing agreement kicks in)?

    Thanks for this excellent series. I need all the help I can get! 🙂
    Sarah Elisabeth
    Sarah Elisabeth recently posted..Wednesday Roundup: Free Ebooks for KindleMy Profile

  • denise

    Where can I get a copy of a ghost writer contract, fees ect…

  • jorgekafkazar

    The monthly rate makes a lot of sense, if you’re looking at a long gig, full-time or half-time. Lori has a point about friends and relatives of author (F.A.R.O.A.) intruding on the work. Obviously, you’d be dealing with a non-professional, which raises numerous flags. I think a general clause stating the author is not to even discuss the work with others might be wise. A non-professional will often damp his/her creative drive by too much talking about the project, particularly in ghosted fiction.

  • Hi

    Where can i get a copy of a ghostwriter contract? i have had an idea for a book for a long time, but have no time to write.

    thanks in advance for your help

    John Palmier

  • I’ve written a web design contract for another company before, but not a writing contract for myself yet. I should probably get around to that soon, and when I do, I’ll refer back to this post to get some ideas, since I will likely have no idea where to start. Thanks!

    Autumn’s last blog post..Make Website Content a Priority

  • Anne

    That could actually make a lot of sense… I’ve never had a real problem they way you describe it but I do hate it when my client starts running things by someone else.

  • I like the escape clause, actually. Mine includes a line that voids the contract should a third party start editing the work without the author and me agreeing to it from the start. I find I had to include that because inevitably, people drag in their friends, families, coworkers, or someone they think is an expert to look over the work. Look it over, but don’t expect me to now write for another person – one I don’t know, one who doesn’t know the conversations the author and I have had, one who has no vested interested in the project whatsoever, and one whose vision may be completely different than the author’s. I’d love to please the world, but it won’t happen if I’m now trying to please 2, 3, or 6 more people.

    I had that happen so many times it became necessary. The last one was heartbreaking – the client’s “expert” decided after we’d gone through the final edit that she wasn’t writing the right book. You know where that project went. Ugh.

    Lori’s last blog post..Writers Worth Tip #5 – Getting Help

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