How to manage book writing, editing and ghost writing

Some SAFREA members have found a lucrative source of work in writing, editing and/or ghostwriting book projects for private and business clients. A regular question that crops up is how to go about managing these kinds of projects and how to charge for them. Here are a few guidelines gleaned from experience in this area.

Clarify your terms up front

Will the client provide written material which you then edit? Will there be interviews that need to be transcribed and turned into content? Or will the client just supply a box of press clippings? As a rule of thumb, try to get the client to write their own book, reassuring them that you can fix it up later, no matter how bad the grammar. Trying to draw the content out of the subject from interviews or dictaphone recordings is time-consuming and difficult. You should charge more for this.

How much of the publishing and marketing are you actually going to do?

A self-published book still needs type-setting, and then another round of editing for orphans, etc, A printer will be required. The National Library must supply an ISBN. Marketing will be required if the book is for sale. Will there be press releases? Will they approach publishers once they have a manuscript? Is it an ebook that must be uploaded to Kindle etc? If you will be required to provide these services, charge for them as publishing services or project management fees.

Negotiate a project fee

This means the client and the freelancer will have clarity going in, how much the project will be worth. This does require doing some very serious calculations about how much time this will require. It will be difficult to charge extra, but it is a good way to manage client expectations and to ensure the project is worth your while. A ballpark figure might be R40 000 for ghostwriting a 70 000-word autobiography for a private client.

Ask for milestone payments

This means there will be payment at the beginning and then at three or four predetermined stages of the process, and then at the very end. Let's say R7 500 at the beginning, R7 500 at the end and five other payments of R5 000 along the way. These payments keep the client and the freelancer invested in the project and gives it momentum. The client has sunk money in and wants a result. The freelancer is obliged to work as she's been paid and wants to earn more.

Clear your diary

A big project works well when you have at least a few days at a time (ideally weeks) when you can focus on the project and build up a head of steam. This way you have all the content at your fingertips and can apply your mind to the big picture as well as the minutiae of every sentence.

Trial period for uncertain clients

If you are unsure about a client's ability to provide source material and/or his commitment to the project, you might propose working on one to three chapters on a trial basis before agreeing to take on the entire book. Set a separate fee for the preliminary work. This gives you and the client an opportunity to test one another out. It helps avoid potentially nasty surprises for both parties, particularly where clients are ignorant about writing and publishing processes.

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