Do Ghostwriters Get Paid Royalties?

Do Ghostwriters Get Paid Royalties?

It’s common for ghostwriters to offer a free consultation to explain their process, costs, and benefits. During this consultant, I’m commonly asked, “do ghostwriters get paid royalties?” or, “Will you accept a royalty split instead of a fee upfront?”

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “royalty” before. It’s simply a percentage of the sale price of a book (or other product) that has been sold by a publisher or a platform such as Amazon. That’s how book authors directly make money from their books – they get a cut of every sale.

On Amazon, this royalty could be anywhere from a few percent up to 70%, depending on the book type, how the book is published, and it’s price. Royalties from traditional publishers are typically much less, on the order of 2% to 10%, which is only fair considering that the publisher does all of the printing, promoting, editing, and other tasks associated with getting the book out into the hands of readers.

On platforms such as Amazon, SmashWords, Ingram Spark, and Draft2Digital, royalties are generally paid 30 to 90 days from the sale.

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, how do ghostwriters get paid for their work?

Do ghostwriters get paid royalties? No, those who hire ghost writers generally pay in payments as the book is writtenMost full time, professional ghostwriters 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. In the case of self-publishing, the client is responsible for building a fan base, marketing, and sales. In traditional publishing, that’s the job of the publisher. The ghostwriter doesn’t have any part of it in either case, unless that is part of their contract.

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 Ingram Spark 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.

If not from royalties, well, then, how do ghostwriters get paid?

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 are 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 requires 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 – Do Ghostwriters Get Paid Royalties?

The important fact to remember is that 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 yet had to wait to be paid until the product was sold?

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.