Co-writing and ghost writing arrangements for both books and scripts can be great when you and your co-writer or lead writer have a shared vision for the project and you bring to it complementary skills. Besides writing my own books and scripts, I have worked with several dozen clients on co-written projects.
A first step is understanding what the person seeking a co-writer or ghost writer wants and clarifying what you will do. In reaching this understanding, determine this person’s goals – is this to be a proposal for a books and some sample chapters, a complete book, a treatment for a film, a complete script, or whatever else the person wants written.
Also, work out the financial arrangements, including whether the client will be paying for this as a work for hire or as a co-writing arrangement, or if this is starting out as a work for hire, which will be transformed into a co-writing project if you mutually agree. Then, too, determine how the client will pay – based on a per word or per page basis or an hourly rate – and if it is per page, clarify approximately how many words per page this will be, based on the type font you are using.
Additionally, determine up front how the client will pay. Some like a contract, where you get a certain percentage down (ie: 20-33%), another percentage after you complete a certain amount of the manuscript (ie: another 20-33% after you complete ¼ to ½ of the manuscript), still more at the next percentage point, and at the end. Another common alternative is to use a pay as you go model, where the person pays you a set amount via PayPal or check for each segment of the project before you do it or where you charge that person’s card a certain amount before or after you do each section.
With more established companies, a common arrangement, if you don’t have a contract for money up front for each section of the project, is for you to bill the company, after which they pay you within 10 to 30 days. And usually they do. While such a billing arrangement may be fine with larger established companies or with a client with whom you have an ongoing long-term relationship, I don’t recommend this for new individual clients, especially if you haven’t met them personally or they are in another state or country. The big problem is that you can do the work and they don’t pay you. Then, you have little or no way to collect, because the client is out of state and this is too small amount to pursue through legal means, plus then you still have to collect if you win.
Sometimes clients may argue that they don’t want to pay anything up front because they aren’t sure that you will complete the work or that they will be satisfied. One good response to that is to assure them that they are protected if they pay you by credit card, because they can ask for and obtain a refund from their credit card company for non-completion of the project, whereas you have no such protection if they don’t pay you. As for their comment that their payment hinges on whether they will be satisfied, this could be a red flag that you are dealing with a difficult person who is hard to satisfy, and they could refuse to pay you for that reason, too.
To deal with that issue, I generally respond that I don’t work on spec and that I can limit what I do to a small number of pages (say 5-10 pages). Then, they can provide me with their comments so I can revise what I have written if necessary, and if satisfied, they can give me the go ahead to do more. But otherwise, I get paid for what I do, and I will do everything I can to make sure they like what I am doing, before I do more.
Another arrangement I will enter into with some clients is an initial co-writing agreement if the project is in my field and I think I will like working with this person, if the person insists on such an arrangement to do the project. Then, I will deduct 25% from my usual charges in return for a credit and splitting any royalties or fees for selling the project, after deducting whatever the person paid me upfront, though I give the client the option of turning the project into a work-for-hire before pitching it for sale by paying me the additional 25%. But ideally, I prefer to start as a work-for-hire arrangement with the option of turning this into a co-write down the road. This way, it is very clear that client is in control from the get-go, and as the project goes along, we can mutually determine if a co-writer arrangement would be mutually beneficial. Otherwise, the client is in the driver’s seat, steering the project, so he or she knows the destination, and my role is to help the client get there. The advantage of this arrangement, I have found, is that there are no problems of co-writers discovering they have different shared visions of the project as they go along, since it starts with the client’s vision and can always turn into a co-write if this vision is shared.
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GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar/workshop leader, who has published over 50 books on diverse subjects, including business and work relationships, professional and personal development, and social trends. She also writes books, proposals, scripts, articles, blogs, website copy, press releases, and marketing materials for clients as the founder and director of Changemakers Publishing and Writing and as a writer and consultant for The Publishing Connection (www.thepublishingconnection.com). She has been a featured expert guest on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including Good Morning America, Oprah, and CNN, talking about the topics in her books.