Who Owns the Copyright for a Ghostwritten Book?
Ghostwriting is probably much more common than you think. If you’ve never been involved in a ghostwriting partnership before, you might have a few questions, many of them revolving around the issue of copyright.
There is a good chance that, if you’re an avid reader, you’ve read a book or two that was written by someone other than the author whose name is on the cover. Writing a book is hard work and it’s something that not everyone is cut out for. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a book inside them worth sharing.
Anyone can hire a writer, paying them to put pen to paper. The process is different each time, but the results are the same: a new book is made available for the world to consume.
You may be wondering then, if Person 1 pays Person 2 to do the actual writing, who owns the final copyright? The short answer is that the copyright for a ghostwritten book belongs exclusively to the buyer.
There is a lot more that goes into the process, though, so let’s take a closer look at ghostwritten books and the resulting ghostwriting copyright arrangements.
What Exactly Is Ghostwriting?
Ghostwriting is a remarkably simple process if you look at it through the lens of a business deal, rather than an artistic expression.
Consider the following example:
John has a great idea for a book that he can’t stop thinking about. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the time or the writing skills to move his idea out of his brain and into the pages of a book.
Instead of giving up, John tells Mark—a professional writer—about his great idea. Mark loves it and is confident that he can take John’s idea and write a fantastic book.
Together they agree on a price that fairly compensates Mark for the time and energy he spends writing the book.
Mark gets paid for his services, and John gets a finished product to call his own.
A ghostwriting arrangement is a business deal, not unlike many other product manufacturing business deals that happen every day.
Why Ghostwriters Write
Writing a book is not an easy task and you may be wondering why anyone would take on such a grueling project only to give it away and not get credited for all their hard work.
There are plenty of reasons ghostwriters choose to remain behind the scenes.
Being a successful author takes more than just a great book. There is a great deal of work in sales, marketing and business operations that need to happen in order to make a book a success. Many writers are not interested in going through all of that for themselves and would rather simply agree on a set price for their work.
When you’re hired as a ghostwriter, your payment is set and guaranteed in the contract. You know exactly how much you stand to make from the deal. As an author selling your own book, how much you make is dependant on how many copies you sell, which has no guarantee at all.
Some writers appreciate the inspiration that comes from working on someone else’s idea, and others thrive on deadlines and having someone else to answer to. Some writers do publish under their own names, but love the challenge of writing for diverse audiences, which they don’t necessarily want their name to be associated with.
Whatever their reason, rest assured that ghostwriters love what they do, and are properly compensated for their services.
Why Ghostwriters Are Hired
There are just as many reasons why a person might hire a ghostwriter instead of writing a book for themselves.
Many people simply don’t have the ability to write the book of their dreams, or the level of commitment that takes. There may be language barriers, physical or mental difficulties holding them back, or perhaps they just don’t have the time to dedicate to the writing process.
Others hire ghostwriters from a business perspective. Publishing can be a lucrative business if you know what you’re doing, and paying a set price for a book that you can then go on to sell indefinitely can bring a great return. Of course, there’s always a risk that you won’t recoup your investment, but that’s a part of nearly every business.
Whatever your reasons might be for hiring a ghostwriter, it’s important that you understand you have a lot of options for how involved you want to be in the process.
You might have nothing more than a topic that you want discussed thoroughly, and your ghostwriter is responsible for everything from the first to last word.
On the other hand, you might have a specific outline, plot structure, detailed stories or other information that you want covered. Many people will hire ghostwriters to work on their memoirs, and a relationship like that requires a great deal of communication and collaboration between the client and the writer.
There are also plenty of authors who hire ghostwriters to write the first draft of their book, and then go through it themselves, adding personal anecdotes and expertise to create the finished product.
There are many ways to structure a ghostwritten book, but having a great contract is the first and most important place you’ll want to start.
But the Copyright?
In nearly every case, the copyright for a ghostwritten book goes to the purchasing party, and the writer does not retain any claim to the material at all.
We say “nearly every case” because, of course, nothing is ever 100% true. When this rule falls apart, it’s almost always because of a poorly written contract, or having no contract at all.
Copyright is a legal term and it is crucial to have a legally binding contract in place before you start any partnership that is to result in a ghostwritten book. When you’re paying a writer for a specific job, you want to be sure that, in the end, the material you’ve paid for is owned by you, and you alone.
Kindle eBook Copyright
A lot of self-publishing authors wonder about their rights when publishing to a platform like Amazon, especially when they’re working with a ghostwritten book.
Because Amazon takes a portion of the sales income, it might seem like they hold partial ownership to your book, but they don’t. The publisher retains 100% ownership of all the material they upload through KDP, though Amazon does split the royalties with the publisher.
Even though Amazon itself doesn’t cut in on your Kindle eBook copyright, they are very adamant that you, as the publisher, do own 100% rights to any content you publish through them. This is one more reason to be sure that you have a very clear ghostwriting copyright contract in place.
How Are Royalties Managed for a Ghostwritten Book?
In most cases, ghostwriters do not receive royalties for the books that they are hired to write. Similar to copyright, this will all be set out and agreed upon in a good contract, before any writing begins.
When you hire a ghostwriter, you’re paying them for complete ownership to the material they write for you and, once delivered, you own it outright. This means they are no longer associated with the content in any way.
There are some cases of ghostwriting contracts being arranged in a way that reduces the upfront costs of hiring the writer in exchange for a percentage of the royalties. This can be set for a fixed amount of time, until they reach a fixed return, or indefinitely.
Ghostwriters who receive royalties like this are definitely the exception to the rule, and if you’re looking to hire a ghostwriter, or become one, you shouldn’t plan on sharing royalties.
How much do ghostwriters cost?
There is no single price point that all ghostwriters around the world agree to. The industry and genre, as well as the length and complexity of your book will affect the price, as will the experience level of your writer. This video, What Does It Cost To Hire A GREAT Ghostwriter, concludes that the best price you can find will usually come in around $0.30 - $0.50 per finished word. When you work with an agency like The Urban Writers, with a large, highly qualified team of professional writers, your costs for a top writer can come in lower than you might expect.
Are ghostwriters legal?
Ghostwriting is completely legal and a very popular way to get your ideas onto paper, even if you’re not a professional writer! It’s always a good idea to have a contract in place to establish ownership rights, and if this is your first foray into the world of ghostwriting, working with an established agency like The Urban Writers can help smooth the journey for everyone involved.
How do you hire a ghostwriter?
You can simply do a google search for a ghostwriter in the genre you’re looking to publish, but if this is your first experience hiring out your writing needs, you might want to consider working with an agency. At The Urban Writers, we manage an entire team of writers from around the world with collective years of experience writing for every and any genre you could imagine. For a more in-depth answer, this article will tell you everything you need to know and more: How To Hire An eBook Ghostwriter.