Chip MacGregor

July 3, 2012

What if I’m interested in collaborative writing?


Johann wrote to say he’s been approached to do some collaborative writing, and has several questions: “What should I charge? Should I get my name on the book? How long do you think it will take me? And what would the main points of our agreement be?”

That’s a lot of questions, Johann. You should definitely have a written agreement that details:

WHAT you’ll do (for example, “write a 50,000 word book that tells the author’s life story”), 

WHEN you’ll do it (for example, “it will be completed by October 1”), 

WHAT the author’s responsibilities will be (something such as, “the author will meet with me four times, for a full day each time”), and 

HOW MUCH you’ll be paid (the short version: you will probably want to charge somewhere in the $70 per hour range, plus get a percentage if the book is to be shopped to publishers). 

All of that will be put into a legal document — and you can find “work for hire” document examples online or in some “freelance writing” books. You just want everything spelled out, so there aren’t a bunch of surprises later (as in, “But I thought YOU would take care of all that!”). Of course, there will be much more said about the payments. You might ask for a flat fee to do a book proposal, and a larger fee to do the book once it gets contracted. You’ll probably start by charging and hourly amount, but you’ll quickly move to charging a flat fee to complete the manuscript, since it will pay you more. I’ve seen writers charge by the word, by the page, by the hour, by the chapter, and by the project — there’s not really a right way to do it. However, let me offer a tip to determine what to charge… 

Figure out how much you want to make each month through your writing. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that at this point in time you want to make $2000 per month through your part-time writing job. That means making $500 per week, or $100 per day — figures that are probably too low for a full-time writer in today’s economy, but may work for a part-time writer. If you feel as though the book is going to take you about two months to write, you know you’re going to charge about $4000, or two months of your normal fee. (In that case, I’d suggest you charge about $5000, since you want to guesstimate the time it will take, then add 20%, since nothing in publishing ever takes the time we assume.) If the goal is to make more, then your weekly and daily average fees would go up — but the important thing is that you develop an idea for the overall amount you see yourself charging. 

If you’re doing all the writing, you should certainly get your name on the book, unless you or the author have a good reason for not including your name. As for how long it will take you…well, if you shoot for 1000 words per day (a very common goal), it should help you figure out how long it will take you to create the rought draft. A 50,000 word manuscript will take you about fifty writing days, plus another ten days to revise and sharpen. I’m going to suggest that, if you’re serious about this sort of work, you might want to talk to a good agent and ask him to walk through all this with you. A conversation about what works and what doesn’t might help steer you away from some bad business decisions. I hope this helps. 

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  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Before I knew how to structure this type of thing, I did all the writing for a 40,000 word book and charged $5,500. Everyone I asked told me it was too low. Once I was finished with it, I agreed. However, the really sad thing is, for reasons outside of my control it will never be published.

    Using that experience and what you just shared, next time I will do it right!


    • Chip says:

      I did my first full book for $1500, Peter… Then I basically gave away my content for the next couple books. Was paid peanuts. Ugh! Hard to contemplate now. But we live with our mistakes. Charge more in the future!

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