A writer I know sent me this note: “I know you represent a number of collaborative writers, who help create books for speakers and celebrities. I have an interest in doing that, since I have a lot of experience with writing, but I’m trying to figure out how I determine what to charge. Can you help?”
Sure I can. There are at least seven things a writer will want to consider when trying to set a price to do someone’s book. (And, just so we’re clear, I’m going to refer to the “writer” as the collaborator who creates the text, and the “author” as the celebrity who has the initial idea.)
1. The WORK – If the author is a speaker who simply hands you some talks on a CD or MP3 file and asks you to create a book from them, that’s much easier than if she asks you to interview him, or hands you bad sample chapters. This sort of work is really done on a sliding scale — does the author expect you to create this from thin air, or does she have materials to get you going? The more work involved, the more the writer needs to be paid. So the amount of the work itself is a consideration.
2. The TIME – How much time is expected of the writer? This could be a function of the size of the book (a 100,000-word book requires more time than a 50,000-word book), or a function of the process (turning speeches into chapters is much easier than doing an interview and generating all new content yourself). The more time it takes, the more the writer is paid.
3. The SPEED – A book requiring a quick turnaround needs to pay the writer more money, since he is setting aside other projects to hurry this one through. I’ve had writers who were basically paid double their usual fee to get a book done on short notice.
4. The ATTENTION – A great collaborator’s name on the cover can help sell books. For example, Susy Flory hit the New York Times bestseller list with Thunder Dog. Publishers trust her. Cecil Murphey is the collaborative writer who created 90 Minutes in Heaven. Cecil’s name is on a multi-million seller, and that lends credibility and sales. That sort of attention is worth something when it comes time to paying the collaborator.
5. The EXPERIENCE – Simply put, an experienced writer makes more than an inexperienced writer. I frequently work with David Thomas, who has created nearly a dozen well-crafted, well-reviewed books for speakers. He also spent a couple decades working as a newspaper reporter and columnist for a couple major newspapers. David has the experience that book publishers love, and they’re always willing to pay more for that sort of experience.
6. The DEAL – If the author has a six-figure deal in place, he is no doubt willing to pay a bit more than if he is sitting on a $15,000 advance.
7. The MARKET – If the book idea you’re going to be working on it something that’s hot and in the news, or if this is a book that is tied to some sort of important date or event, the project could conceivably pay more than if it’s simply a self-help book the publisher is hoping to see break out.
8. The PITA – If the author is a well-known pain-in-the-ass, the writer can be expected to be paid a bit more, just as combat pay for having to deal with him or her. (And yes… I’ve also had this happen. Remember, I have done numerous deals with professional athletes over the years. There is no more pampered, out-of-touch group of people on the planet than people who have played a sport professionally. I’ve long been surprised Dante, when writing his Inferno, didn’t include a spot for professional athletes when describing the inner circles of hell. But I digress.)
9. The HISTORY – A collaborative writer might start out only earning a few thousand dollars for doing his or her first book. But with some history, that number will grow. Many newer collaborative writers are being paid in the $15,000 range. More experienced collabs are making between $20,000 and $30,000 for creating a book with a speaker. And the best collaborators are making in the $50,000 to $75,000 range per book, with the occasional six-figure payout for a huge book with a major celebrity. The writer’s payment history will help shape the negotiation for the use of their services.
I suppose, if I wanted to make this an even ten things, I could say that the writer’s enthusiasm for the project could affect the amount of money they are paid on a project (a collaborator may say “yes” to a smaller deal than normal just because he believes in the story, or because she thinks the book has life-changing potential). But, in my view, those nine things will probably determine what a collaborative writer is going to make on a project.
Does that help? Feel free to ask me questions if there’s more you’d like to know.