Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer will answer questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the writing and publishing industries you can think of. And she knows from whence she speaks. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.
Q: I just finished "ghost writing" a book for a fairly prominent real estate investor in Los Angeles. Since I work for a market company, I was paid a very small fee for writing the book. I make approximately $35K a year working as a senior editor for a small marketing company in Salt Lake. Would it be possible to make a lot more money than $35K working as a ghost writer/freelancer? I've heard that ghostwriters are paid $10K + for writing books. Jerry, Ohio, USA.
NN: Jerry, the fee you ask for ghostwriting a book is usually determined by your professional credits: how long you've been writing, what you have published (articles, books, and how many), and your name recognition. You must also consider your marketplace.
For example, the new ghostwriter in a rural area simply cannot ask as much as his city cousin living in the middle of New York City. So to determine the "going rate," you should probably ask other ghostwriters what they charge.
If you don't know any, I encourage you to contact a large writers' organization for the information. Some large state organizations such as the Writers' League of Texas would be one example, and on the national level, National Writers' Association also can help you with this.
As a first-time ghostwriter, though, you probably can't ask much, something well under $10K. But if that book finds its way to the marketplace and achieves some measure of success, then on your next go round, you can ask a little more. You hope for more success on that book so that on subsequent ghosting projects, you can ask for still more.
The best-known ghostwriters in the industry routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single book project. Be sure you put a contract in place with the client, and get cover credit unless they want to pay you six figures, because in this business, you never stop building your resume. And make no mistake, you will list these ghosted projects on your resumé as part of your professional credits.
How much can you make in a year? It depends on how many contracts you land, how quickly you work, and your marketplace. You can earn lots of money as a ghostwriter, but not overnight. Don't quit your day job. Ease into it. And always present yourself as a professional.
Q: I sent my article to a magazine for publication. They liked it and bought it. When the magazine came out, I received a complimentary copy with my check, but when I found published piece, I noted that it had been very heavily edited. Should I complain to the editor?
NN: Sure. Go ahead. Complain. Tell the editor exactly what you think of her editing job and then cross that magazine off your list of future writing assignments.
On the other hand, you could present yourself as a professional and accept the edits gracefully. That means knowing the rules of this crazy publishing industry and how to play the game. I won't go into all the rules here, but one very important hallmark of a professional is not to get upset when someone edits your work.
Everyone has an editor, a fact I never realized until my very first RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference in Dallas, Texas. I had just spent an entire day attending sessions, meeting writers, and learning the publishing industry. By late afternoon, I search out and find a quiet corner to catch my breath. Apparently someone else had the same idea and this other weary attendee and I strike up a conversation about the conference.
The first moment I see her, I suspect this young woman in her twenties is a would-be romance writer. We introduce ourselves and I quickly find out otherwise. She gives me her name and then in the course of our brief conversation lets it slip that she edited for a major house for some very well known authors, including Louis L'Amour.
"You're Louis L'Amour's editor?" I didn't know I could whisper so loudly. "I didn't know Louis L'Amour had an editor."
She giggles. "You should see some of the stuff some writers turn out. We have to do a lot of cleaning up."
I'm incredulous. "But what if they don't think they need editing or want editing?"
She laughs. "Professionals know they need editing. If we find them difficult to deal with, we drop them because we only work with professionals."
That comment begs the next question. "So if editors can edit so well, why do you need writers?"
"Because writers have the ideas, the creativity, and the talent to put the words on paper. We just improve on the original product. But believe me, everyone needs an editor. Even God did the Ten Commandments twice! Well, gotta go. Nice meeting you."
As she disappears around the corner, her words echos: everyone needs an editor. I, who had thought that editors would fight to publish my deathless prose; I, who thinks that my stories, my characters, my words, would soon make editors swoon in ecstasy, learn something I had never suspected in my wildest dreams. If someone ever did buy my work, they would change it. My Lord, someone would edit it!
When I finally sell my first magazine article, the editor really does her job. She changes. She revises. She rearranges. She polishes what I had written and made it shine.
I have since sold many other articles and books, and each product of my creativity undergoes various levels of editing. The editors in each instance make valuable changes. I make it a point to be easy to work with and discuss in a professional manner any edits I do not agree with.
The editors, all fallible human beings like myself, take the time to explain the reasons for the edits, and I must admit, I agree with them 99 percent of the time. That other 1 percent? I win that point, but at all times, we work together.
I realize I need an editor, and they understand they're dealing with a professional.
Joan R. Neubauer is an author and works as a publisher at WordWright.biz. Joan invites you to visit her website at WordWright.biz or to drop her an email at JNwriter@aol.com You can sign up for WordWright's monthly email newsletter at the site as well.