Do Ghostwriters Get Paid Royalties?

Do Ghostwriters Get Paid Royalties?

When you publish a book on Amazon or other platform, you will receive a percentage of the sale price as compensation for each book sold. This is called a royalty, and it is generally paid to the author on a monthly basis. There is a delay of a few months between the sale of a book and the payment of the royalty.

The calculations for books published traditionally (as opposed to self-published) are more complex. Traditional publishers operate on a long timeline; once you’ve submitted a manuscript to a publisher, expect the process to require at least a year before you find your book in bookstores and libraries. Royalties will be paid much later and are generally far less than those for self published works.

Do Ghostwriters Get Paid Royalties?

As a general rule, ghostwriters do not accept royalties as payment.

So, if that’s true, than how do ghostwriters get paid for their work?

Those who hire ghost writers generally pay in payments as the book is writtenMost full time, professional ghost writers earn their income directly from the work that they do. They use this money to pay the rent and bills, buy groceries, and occasionally go on vacation. Some of the money they earn is shoveled back into their business in the form of promotion, advertising, materials, travel and so on.

Additionally, the promotion and marketing of a book is virtually always out of the control of the ghostwriter. It’s up to the client to do the tasks that cause the book to become popular and for sales to occur.

Thus, if you ask a ghostwriter to accept royalties instead of payment in advance, you’re asking them to take a huge risk on their livelihood. They will be totally dependent on you and your ability to sell the book in order to earn the money they need to pay their bills and expand their business.

To make matters worse, the publishing platforms such as Amazon and IngramSpark do not offer any way to split the royalties up between multiple people. You will have to accept the payments from these platforms into your bank account, then pay the ghostwriter out of that money. This  introduces complications regarding income tax and also forces the ghostwriter to be dependent on you (or your heirs if you pass away) for income.

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule.

  • Books written for celebrities may be expected to become bestsellers.
  • Authors with a proven track record of high sales on their books (ghostwritten or not) might justify a royalty split instead of a full payment in advance.
  • The subject of the book is a passion project for the ghostwriter.
  • The ghostwriter is a co-author of several sections of the book and also helping by ghostwriting other parts of it.

For all new clients, I offer a free consultation. This generally requires about an hour, and the two of us discuss the book, its contents, purpose, timeline, and the cost. Most ghostwriters and freelancers offer the same thing. It’s important for both parties (the client and the ghostwriter) to feel comfortable with one another, to understand the process and costs, and to come to an agreement that works for everyone.

During these consultations, the question “can I pay you from the royalties?” comes up quite often.

Generally, ghostwriters get paid for the work they do, usually in advance. Most ask for a down payment of 25% or so, and then accept additional payments as the work progresses.

Occasionally, a ghostwriter will accept royalties, but usually this is for a book that is likely to reach bestseller status. Few books will become New York Times bestsellers, meaning they sell tens of thousands of copies within a short period of time.

Most of the books that I get hired to write our intended to be used to build credibility for my client. In this case, selling the books on Amazon or other outlets is secondary to using the book for media exposure, gaining clients, obtaining capital, and so forth. In fact, the amount received from royalties on this type of book is minimal.

Why Don’t Most Ghostwriters Accept Royalties As Payment?

As discussed previously, ghostwriters are contractors. They write your book on a work-for-hire basis. There are several methods used to determine the rate:

  • by the page
  • by the word
  • by the hour
  • or by other criteria.

Usually, ghostwriters will ask for a down payment, and then get paid as milestones are met in the project. This is all discussed and agreed upon during the initial consultation.

As with anybody who works for a living, it’s not fair to ask ghostwriters to work for free. After all, they have bills to pay and mouths to feed.

Using a traditional publisher, a book and require six months to a year or more from submission to being sold on bookshelves. That’s a long time for a ghostwriter to wait to be paid for the work that they’ve done.

Self published books tend to sell between a few hundred and a thousand copies, assuming they are well marketed and promoted. Again, the ghostwriter would be required to wait until long after the book is written and published to receive those royalties.

Mot important of all, since your ghostwriter is generally not responsible for marketing and promoting your book, they have no control over how well it sells.

The Bottom Line

The important fact to remember is a ghostwriter is the same as any businessperson. They need to make a living, and the way they do that is to write a compelling story, either fiction or nonfiction, based on the needs and desires of the client. Writing a book is not easy, and can require months of effort.

Let me ask you:

  • Would you do work today without expecting to be paid for six months?
  • Would you still accept the job if you didn’t have any control over how what you created was sold, promoted and marketed?

Of course, feel free to ask your ghostwriter if they accept royalties. If your book is likely to be a bestseller, or your ghostwriter feels strongly about your subject, they may agree. You certainly can’t lose anything by asking the question; just be aware that more than likely your ghostwriter is going to ask for a down payment and additional payments as the work progresses.