If you have an idea for a book, article, or blog series that relates to your business or personal life, but don’t have enough time, writing skill or confidence to turn your idea into a marketable manuscript, consider contracting with a professional writer who you pay to perform writing services. The hired writer may call themselves a ghostwriter, writer-for-hire, or independent contractor. Whether their name is not included in the byline, i.e., a ghostwriter, or you agree to provide them with co-writer credit, i.e., John Smith with Mary Jones, a team approach allows both “creators”—the legal author and the co-writer–to display their complementary strengths while collaborating on a written work.
That’s where a publishing consultant or literary attorney comes in—an experienced publishing professional will ask the questions that lead to a satisfying contract for both parties. A good contract does more than just recite a price and time period for completing a literary work of any kind. Similar to a good business plan, a writing contract should give both author and co-writer the structure they need to reach their common goal.
Whether the contract is complicated or simple and whether you’re the legal author or the collaborating co-writer:
- Do you have a production schedule for various phases of the writing process—e.g., a proposal, an outline, chapter segments and drafts?
- Does the author need to be interviewed in person or are Zoom meetings or audio recordings sufficient? If interviews are necessary, where and when should they occur?
- If the two of you disagree, does the legal author make all final decisions or is there another way the two of you resolve the conflict?
- Will one of you need to interview third parties? Who will arrange for and perform the third-party interviews? Who will prepare the permissions for the interviewees? Who will own the resulting materials?
- What costs are associated with the project, who will pay them, and how do you agree on what costs should be incurred?
- There is particular language that must be included in the contract to make it clear that the collaborating writer is assigning their rights in the resulting work, and possibly to other materials, to the author and the author is the copyright owner of the work—has it been included?
- Heaven forbid, but what if one of you dies or is seriously disabled? Can the work be completed? If so, how?
- Will the contributing writer share credit for the book, be a “ghost,” or agree to being noted in the acknowledgements? How will that acknowledgement read?
- Most important, what happens if the relationship doesn’t work out? Is there an escape ramp for the contributing writer as well as the author? Does that exit allow the writer to be paid fairly and the author to engage another writer?
- Whether the author intends to pursue traditional publication with an agent and/or publisher or to self-publish, will the author assume all liability for any third-party suits based on privacy, publicity, or other torts, or will the author and co-writer share liability?
Writing “with” or as a ghost is a business, but there are personal considerations to keep in mind. If you’re the author, does the subject matter require that you give the contributing writer access to private diaries, letters, and emails? If so, include a contract provision requiring the writer to maintain your confidentiality except with regard to the passages you agree to include in your work. Most professional writers want this kind of provision in a contract because it protects them as well.
If you’re the author, stick with what you do best—telling your personal story, expressing your unique vision about your hobby, life journey or profession, or giving others a new take on life–and let a professional write it down.
And when it comes to creating a contract between author and professional writer, do that with another professional–namely, an experienced literary attorney.