Worthy Tip: This Job, Not That Job

What I’m reading: Late Wife by Claudia Emerson
What’s on the iPod: Better Together by Jack Johnson

I have a guest post up over at About Freelance Writing. Give it a look when you can.

Oh, if I had a nickel for every lousy job offer I’ve come across, I’d have more money than the jobs themselves pay. This beauty comes by way of our very own Hugh McBride, who tweeted this knowing the dual emotional response it would cause me. It’s a perfect starting point for this week’s worth-inducing kick in the pants. If you’re going to learn how to discern good work from bad work, let’s do it together.

Here’s the hilarious, yet tear-jerking ad:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Freelance job, chick lit fiction writer for hire, payment: $3,000 for 70,000-word book (anywhere)

Need a work-for-hire writer (no rights reserved) to turn a completed, detailed book outline into an approximately 70,000 word book. Pay is $3,000 in installments. Time frame is flexible but ideally project will be completed in 3-5 months. Please email with any questions.

Location: anywhere
Compensation: $3000

Let’s dissect. What’s wrong with this ad? I think it would be easier to ask what’s right with it – nothing. But since we’re trying to figure out how to choose better jobs, let’s figure out how to weed out the bad ones.

First thing – $3K for 70K words is not a good rate. Let’s assume you charge $100 an hour for ghostwriting (let’s call it what it is). That’s 33 hours of work. Sounds reasonable, but look at the word length. There’s no way you’ll write 70K in 33 hours. That’s under a week in “9-to-5” terms.

Second, it’s a ghostwriting project. You’re not getting your name on that cover. How do I know? You’re writing from someone’s outline, which means that someone thinks he/she has a fantastic idea and wants credit for it. And the words “no rights reserved” means you’re giving up everything, including credit, for $3K. Moving on….

If you’re ghosting, you should be compensated for your silence. Book ghostwriters generally charge in the ballpark of $20-25K, not $3K. That’s because it’s not always easy taking someone else’s ideas and turning them into saleable copy.

Third, payment in installments on such a low-paying project indicates either A) an amateur who doesn’t understand how to work with a writer, B) someone intent on withholding payment as a form of control, or C) someone who’s going to stiff you at the end, thus getting the product for less than stated.

A better idea:

Need a pro Ghost writer

I am looking for a professional ghost writer to write a treatment from my narrative.

Must be experienced, professional, innovative, creative, however know what they are doing and have written, screen and teleplays in the past.
If your work has been published, or you have had a screen or teleplay bought and produced, you go to the head of the line.
Please ensure that I have your name, all contact information, and why I should hire you?
Please include your rate.

Why this may be better – This poster is using the jargon of the industry, so this isn’t someone who is new to writing and could be someone who has hired a professional in the past.

Also, this person is asking for your rate. That’s a big plus – the poster isn’t telling you what you’ll be making, but rather allowing you to set your own rate (as it should be).

That’s not to say it won’t be as disappointing as the first, but the odds are slightly better thanks to the reasons stated above.

Look at an offer you’ve received recently. How can you dissect it to find out the true value the job brings to you? And that’s important – the job has to benefit you, as well.

What have you seen lately? Did you take the gig? If so, how did it work out? Did you turn it down? Why?

About the author




  • Devon Ellington March 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    If you want to ghost write, be it fiction or non-fiction, pitch to a book packager and get a legitimate gig at a legitimate rate. This ad not only reeks to high heaven in payment terms, it indicates that IF the poster has a market for the book (big if), then the poster is lying to poster's editor and publisher. Otherwise, the editor or publisher would be making the arrangements at a legitimate pay scale.

    The very few times I've ghosted anything longer than a speech for someone, I've always made sure my contract was with the PUBLISHER, not with the person I'm ghosting. Because if it's with the person, chances are there are layers of lies involved.

  • Devon Ellington March 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Further to the above, if the poster IS the editor or publisher, it wouldn't be posted in such a job listing — the editor or publisher would go into their files for contacts known to them and/or ask around and do it by word of mouth.

    Legitimate fiction ghosting gigs are rarely found via job site postings. Otherwise, you know who the editor and publisher are off the bat, and it's at the standard, professional rate for this type of work. It's not all mystery-hidden-behind-an-email.

  • Cathy March 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Devon, great tip. I do extensive ghostwriting of articles, but have plans for ghostwriting books in my niche in the future. You don't think you can write for a person with an idea for a book that hasn't been pitched?

    For example, one topic is techie and has to do with corporate wellness programs. One author has had previous books published. The other one has not.I thought my contract in the 2nd scenario would be with the author.

    I'm totally ignorant on the subject, so just curious on your thoughts.

  • Paula March 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I would love to do more ghostwriting, but so far my ghostwriting credits are limited to a couple of articles "by" the CEO of a fairly small company. Not exactly enough experience to generate trust with publishers.

    Perhaps a future post (or guest post – hint, hint, Devon) offering tips on breaking into ghostwriting?

  • Lori March 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I agree totally, Devon. While I've found a handful of legitimate ghosting gigs online, the really good ones don't populate the Internet. Would LOVE a guest post from you on the topic, if you have time. 🙂

    The few posts I found online were decent – not great. Nowhere near superb in terms of payment, but the relationships are still strong. However, I've had the opposite result, too. Lousy pay, lousy experience, nasty client. I'd much rather do it your way – if ghosting larger works interested me any longer.

    Cathy, great questions. Devon, guest post? Pretty please?

    Paula, I can't say beyond my own experience, but I didn't enjoy ghosting the larger works. I may have kept wondering why the heck I hadn't written my own books – and there I was writing someone else's.

  • Wendy March 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    A guest post talking about ghostwriting would be nice. The other day, I found out that 2 of my ex-clients went together to sell a Ghostwriting course. Both are heavy internet marketers, so you can just imagine what they'll actually be teaching you.

    The first job ad makes me think of the homework mills. You do all the work and I'll put my name on it. If it's accepted, I'll get all the credit and all the revenue it brings! You get (possibly)$3,000 and a swift kick in the pants.

  • Lori March 4, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Good comparison, Wendy. It is a lot like that. I'm not so sure the second job won't be a lot like that, either. It sounds better, but again, writers have to be aware of what the job entails and how much the fee would be.

  • Anne Wayman March 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Actually for 70,000 words the cost would be more like 40-70,000…. installments are okay. Ghostwriting for a publisher can be great, or not, like any other client. Working for the author, an individual, make super sure they know why they are doing this and it's not because "everyone" tells them they have a story… the project will peter out if you're not careful.

  • The Modern Aboriginal Mama March 6, 2011 at 1:19 am

    Wow, lesson learned! And here, I would have jumped on that first ad given an opportunity.

    How do you establish yourself as that kind of professional when you know you can do the work and meet the quality, but you don't have the history of being published as a ghostwriter?

    I've tried in the past, but it seems you can't *get* in the ghostwriting business if you haven't ghostwritten in the past. It seems a little circular. How can it be done?


  • Ajeet March 6, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    "if I had a nickel for every lousy job offer I've come across, I'd have more money than the jobs themselves pay"

    So, could we then say that low paying jobs also tend to be lousy in the way they are presented?

  • Lori March 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Ajeet, absolutely! Have you read many? They're abysmal!

    Delena, I started by ghosting articles for corporate and business clients. It's a great way to show your ability to work with clients and interpret their requirements.

    Great point, Anne! I've not ghosted too much, so I appreciate your wisdom here.

  • Devon Ellington March 7, 2011 at 1:34 pm


    You CAN ghost for anyone you want. But, in my experience when I worked on the other side of the table, for a non-fiction publisher, when there was a good proposal by an expert in the field for an idea, most of the time, we hunted down the ghostwriter. It was someone whose work we knew (even if it wasn't book-length before) or came highly recommended by either other ghostwriters we knew, or other publishers who were familiar with the material. There was a vetting process, both on the quality of the writing, and if the house thought the ghost could both capture the expert's voice and work within the house style. $30K was the LOW end of the scale, especially if there were no royalties involved. If the byline read "with" or "told to" or "and" and the ghost's name was included, that usually meant royalties were also included, and that was a different type of contract, based on what we thought we could sell based on 7K, 12K and 25K copies.

    As a writer, in many of my initial conversations to ghost, if it was with the individual, I wasn't convinced that, contract or no contract with the individual, I'd ever get paid because there was no publishing contract in place, and, often, frankly, I didn't think the premise was strong enough to sell a book. And, most of the time, because the publishing contract is not in place and it's a "maybe someday" sale, the person hiring you wants to defer costs. I've yet to be that excited about a project to do so.

    I don't really like ghosting anything for more than a speech — it's too complicated to get into in a comment, but I have a whole list of reasons why I don't like it, unless it's for an established pseudonym a la the Nancy Drew books or something — so, in order to convince me to put aside my own work and do it, the upfront money has to be HIGH. Or it's not worth it, on any level, to me.

    For fiction, I wouldn't contract with an individual. I can write and sell my fiction under my own pseudonyms — why would I do it for an individual? I'd do it for a book packager on an established series that I thought would be fun to participate in. That's a very personal view.