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How To Protect Yourself When Hiring A Ghostwriter

protection for writersHi Anne,

I do not have the expertise to write a book. If I have an idea and story line for a book, and am thinking of hiring a ghostwriter, how do I protect myself?

Thank you,

TS

Hi TS,

First, you need to know that you can’t protect the idea you have for your story line, only its expression.

For example, if your story includes someone being murdered with a gun, what your copyright protects is how you, or a ghostwriter on your behalf,  write about that murder, not the idea of being murdered with a gun.

You may protest that your idea is unique where my example is anything but. It doesn’t matter. Even if you’re the very first person to come up with an idea, you can’t copyright it. And we’re talking about copyright here, not patents or trademarks which don’t usually apply to writing.

Next, the professional ghostwriters I know have no interest in taking someone else’s idea and using it themselves. The chances are even if a ghost did actually take an idea, the way they wrote it would be quite different than the way you would ask the ghost to write it. So there’s not, in my opinion, much danger.

That said, every reputable ghostwriter I know is willing to sign and may even offer some sort of non-disclosure agreement. You’ll find the one I use, editing as needed, here. (You’re welcome to copy and adapt that if you want.)

The non-disclosure agreement pretty much says the ghostwriter won’t use the ideas and materials you share with them in any way that you don’t direct or give specific permission to use.

I know not all professional ghostwriters offer a non-disclosure agreement, but all of them that I know are willing to sign one. I’d say if your prospective ghostwriter won’t sign one you should move on to find one that will.

But there really isn’t much risk in my experience.

Do you have a question about freelance writing? Contact me with Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best to get it answered.

Have any of you had problems with people stealing your writing ideas? What have you done?

[sig]

Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by wheat_in_your_hair

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Anne,
    As a ghostwriter I always present a non-disclosure agreement before we begin. I also send the client a letter stating that I assign all copyright ownership and mechanical royalties to the client.
    This ensures them a clear and concise ownership of the manuscript should they proceed to a book publisher.
    I know it is not called for, but I like to make sure my clients know everything is above board and on the table.
    Thank you for all that you do to help all of us who write for a living.
    Dub

    • Good idea, assigning royalties… what’s a mechanical royalty?

    • Good idea, Dub… clarity with clients makes everyone’s life easier… and you’re welcome.

  • diane

    A ghostwriter is a professional writer, and can be hired to write a variety of materials, but usually focuses on autobiographies. When ghostwriters write a book, they do not include their own name as the author. Instead, they are paid by someone else, and then that someone else will sign their name as the author.

    Usually, a ghostwriter is hired by a celebrity or politician. The celebrity or politician may not have enough confidence or experience to write their own material. Instead, they tell their story to the ghostwriter and ask them to craft the work.
    diane recently posted..A Few Tips On How To Organize Your Entertainment CenterMy Profile

  • Good advice, Anne. I offer a non-disclosure agreement as well and have an abridged version in every Statement of Work I issue.

    As a ghostwriter, I find the fun part is nailing the voice or passion of the person I am writing for. If you’re a ghostwriter to begin with, you obviously don’t have a problem with a byline other than your own, so I wouldn’t think there is a huge risk to someone stealing the idea.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Social Media Strategy: Pick Your PoisonMy Profile

    • I love your statement of work Cathy… do you have a link to an article about it?

  • Excellent advice Anne. And good for you for allowing readers to use your nondisclosure agreement.

    I’ve been approached a few times about ghostwriting, but I’ve only done it once.
    John Soares recently posted..All Your Writing Clips on One Site: Cuttings.me Review and InterviewMy Profile

    • Glad you liked the article John… did you like the ghostwriting?

  • Great post, Anne. I’ve ghosted for a number of clients. In no way would I think of taking their ideas. Even so, as you said, those ideas wouldn’t turn out the same as a client would want them to be written.

    Ghostwriting, for me, is helping someone who has an idea and needs help getting it on paper. I know some writers don’t like the notion of writing someone else’s story, but that’s exactly the point – it’s someone else’s story. Maybe it’s the idea of the writer’s name not being on it. Again, that’s not my motivation for ghostwriting. My motivation is to complete the job for the client in a way that satisfies them and tells their story in the best possible way.
    Lori recently posted..Headache-inducing MarketingMy Profile

    • Lori, small wonder you and I partner at aboutwritingsquared.com. 😉

  • abegail

    A ghostwriter is a professional writer, and can be hired to write a variety of materials, but usually focuses on autobiographies. When ghostwriters write a book, they do not include their own name as the author. Instead, they are paid by someone else, and then that someone else will sign their name as the author.

    Usually, a ghostwriter is hired by a celebrity or politician. The celebrity or politician may not have enough confidence or experience to write their own material. Instead, they tell their story to the ghostwriter and ask them to craft the work.
    abegail recently posted..online investmentsMy Profile

    • Well, Abegail, ghostwritten books address many other topics than autobiographies, although those may be the best known. And hiring ghostwriters isn’t limited to celebrities or politicians.

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