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Advice/Q&A
Neubauer's Nuggets
By Joan R. Neubauer
October, 2006, 10:30

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ach month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer answers questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her at submissions@fwointl.com Subject: Neubauer Nuggets, and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.


Dear Joan,
 
I write name poems and sell them. I also sell poems written by others, and of course those poems bear the signature of the author. I’d like to know if I can in some way indicate my company name on the poetry so people can know where it came from. I ask this because at a recent networking event, I gave a poem I wrote as a door prize. The person who won it wanted a company business label on it. How does this all work with copyrights?
 
Alberta Harvey
 
Dear Alberta,
 
Congratulations on your talent and business savvy. Now, let’s address the legal issue of copyright.
 
On poems that you write, you have no copyright issues, and of course you can put a business label on it anywhere you wish; however, I think a small, tasteful label stuck on the back with your company name and contact information should do the trick. You can have a local printer produce large quantities of such labels for you very inexpensively, or you can print them on your printer.
 
For poetry you sell on behalf of others, you should have the author sign a waiver or permission form and a statement of conditions and compensation for selling their works. If it is a work for hire agreement, then it should say just that. If the author is to receive a percentage of sales, it should also be specific about that. Remember, the creator of the work owns the copyright and controls the use of his or her work. Once you have that little legality taken care of, sell the poetry just as you sell your own.  
 
But remember, whether you sell your own poetry or someone else’s, in addition to the identifying label, you should also have a small copyright notice, so no one else can benefit from your talent or anyone else’s without properly compensating the author.
 
Good luck and keep going.
 
Joan
 
 
Dear Joan,
 
Joyce Faulkner’s article, Ghostwriting: Other Ideas, Other Voices was most interesting and very helpful. Could you tell me please, what fees a ghostwriter should charge? Should a ghostwriter charge a one-off fee? If so, how much? Or, should she charge a percentage of the royalties? I assume a legal contract should also be arranged?
 
Thank you for your help.
 
Viven Fiske Wake
Wangnui, New Zealand
 
 
Dear Viven,
 
Great question; one that I get all the time. Ghostwriters’ fees vary with location, experience, estimated size of the book, amount of independent research the writer will have to do, the client’s temperament, and other projected expenses.
 
I mention location because the author’s address and what the commensurate cost of living will help determine your fee. For example, a writer living in a very large city can charge more than someone living in a very small town, simply because everyone earns higher wages in larger cities. Writers should price their services the same way.
 
On the subject of experience, a new writer trying to work as a ghostwriter for the first time, should charge a minimum fee. After all, this is an on-the-job-training experience. There will be attempts, successes, and failures, and if the client is paying top dollar, he won’t be happy with the failures or the delays. But, a new author should also explain that she has never done this before, and that she and the client will be learning the process together; therefore, the price is much lower. That should make the failures more palatable to the client.
 
A more experienced ghostwriter can charge much more and can point to past successes, to justify the higher fees, particularly if the book or article has been published. You can also present yourself as the professional who will take charge of the project and lead the client through the process. This will almost invariably put the client’s mind at ease, and that is part of what he is paying for.
 
Figure on a minimum of 500 hours for a 200-page book, with a minimum of $10/hour for a beginning ghostwriter. Rates go up from there to sometimes more than several hundred dollars per hour. However, while you use this hourly rate as a basis, settle on what the whole project will cost, otherwise, you may get a client who will not want to sign on the dotted line because he may think you will add hours without producing work. This helps protect the client from outrageous charges.
 
To protect yourself, the author, make sure you estimate the size of the book ahead of time to within ten percent. For example, if you estimate the book at 200 pages, you could go as low as 180 pages, or as high as 220 pages. No more. No less. Otherwise, you could have a client who wishes to add, and add, and add, and you end up writing a 400-page book for the 200-page price.
 
Determine ahead of time how much information the client will provide and how much you will have to independently research. If the client provides all the information, obviously your charges will be less than if you will need to spend hours and hours researching. Work all that into your price.
 
Consider the client’s temperament as well. If you think this person will be easy to work with, then there’s no problem. However, if you can see that this person will take a lot of hand-holding and reassurance – developing a book is naturally a scary thing for a non-writer – you may want to add a handling fee. I’m not kidding when I tell you I once worked with a client who called me several times a day, every day, to ask me how far I had gotten with his book.
 
If you can see that this project will involve travel or other expenses, you can either add those expenses into your fee, or write into the contract that the client will reimburse you for them. But you should also include in the contract that these expenses must meet the client’s prior written approval.
 
Also in the written contract, include a schedule of delivery dates that pertain to both of you. Pick a date to begin. Set out dates when you will deliver pages to the client, and when he will send them back to you with his comments. Do this for the whole project until the projected completion date.
 
Write a termination fee into the contract. For some reason, you may decide this is not a project you are no longer comfortable working on, or the client may determine that you two are no longer a match made in heaven. One of you may become ill and may not be able to continue. In any case, you each need a way out, while at the same time being compensated for work done to that point.
 
Even with fees you may agree upon, the ghostwriter should retain a small percentage of the work, ten to fifteen per cent. If the client sells the work to a publisher, it would be nice to have a small percentage of the royalties. This success also serves as a stepping-stone to your next publishing project, for which you can charge higher fees. Of course, if you write this book as a work-for-hire basis, the retention of a percentage of rights does not apply, and you should clearly state in the contract that this is a work-for-hire agreement.
 
You and the client should each have an attorney review the contract and the terms. You want a contract that is fair and will protect each of you.
 
Ghostwriting can prove fun, interesting, and very fulfilling, as well as lucrative. I wish you good luck, Vivien. Let me know how it goes.
 
Joan
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Joan R. Neubauer is an author and works as a publisher at WordWright.biz. Visit her website at http://www.WordWright.biz email at JoanNeubauer@WordWright.biz or JNwriter@aol.com. You can sign up for WordWright's monthly email newsletter at the site as well.


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