Ready to hire a ghostwriter? Here’s what to ask.
1. Will the ghostwriter “work for hire” or will s/he want a stake in the product?
A for-hire writer is paid either by the hour or by the project and has no legal authorship rights. The rights to such a book are entirely yours. This is the most usual arrangement for a memoir of a person who has no public presence—no fame.
A writer who works with a financial investment in a project does have legal rights, as do the inheritors of that writer on his/her death. While sharing the rights may be a way for you to reduce the up-front expense, it does mean that, if you are successful at marketing the book, you will have to share the profits. This is clearly more of an issue if you are famous or are writing about your relationship with someone famous. Obviously, such fame will assist in the marketing and may increase profits—which would be why the ghost wants a cut.
For most memoirs, however, there is little for the ghostwriter to gain by having legal rights to the book.
2. How will the authorship of the book be attributed on the jacket?
This is important if you are using the book to establish your credibility as an expert and thus promoting your career. Listing a co-author on the book’s cover may lessen your perceived expertise in the eyes of the reader. The reader may presume that any technical or specialized information was the work of the ghost, even if it was you who developed that material.
Most ghostwriters insist on minimal acknowledgement within the book. If the name of the ghostwriter does not appear on the cover, the writer uses this credit to prove to prospective clients that s/he is a previously published co-author. The mention may read like this: “I want to thank Joe Smith for all his invaluable assistance in writing this book.” It’s just that simple and discreet. Work this out with the writer before your collaboration begins. It will make both of you feel more comfortable. For most memoirs, this is an easy issue to resolve.
3. Will the writer hand over all the final, digital documents for you to reuse?
It’s entirely possible that in a year or two, you could have lost contact with the writer. With final files of the text and artwork, you will be able to go into reprint without contacting the author (if you do not share the rights). Be sure you have the files in hand to proceed independently. Some writers may insist on keeping the files exclusively. This is not to your advantage. Do not agree to it—especially if this is a for-hire arrangement.
If the author has a financial stake in the sales rather than just a for-hire relationship, s/he is likely to insist on retaining some control by holding on to the final files. This is another reason to engage someone as “work for hire.”