The Book Ghostwriting Contract

The ghostwriting contract

The process of hiring a professional ghostwriter is not complete until you’ve signed the ghostwriting contract.

But what should go into that agreement?

It can vary, for there is no set format for a ghostwriting contract. Some contracts are long, some are short; some are written in plain English while others are full of legalese; some try to cover every eventuality and others stick to the main issues. Here are some of the issues to consider:

What is to be written?

This is a description of the book to be ghostwritten. It could be as brief as a line or two within the contract, or as lengthy as several pages in an attachment. Among other things, the description should include the projected length of the book, usually in terms of the number of words (e.g. 60,000 words).

Who does what?

This is a summary of how the client and ghostwriter will work together; that is, who will do what. Will the ghostwriter do it all herself? If so, will she work from scratch? From an existing manuscript? From interview transcripts or previously published articles? Will the client and ghostwriter sit together to create the manuscript? Will the client review chapters as they are written, or wait until a first draft of the entire work has been completed? How much time will be allotted for the client to complete the reviews? How does the client formally acknowledge approval of the drafts and, later, that the work has been completed?

If there are any other duties for either party, these should also be described. They might include being available for working sessions or interviews, handling research and coordinating with a graphic artist or proofreader.


This spells out the dates for beginning and completing the work, with perhaps other dates included for certain benchmarks, e.g. dates for completion of each chapter if you’re working chapter-by-chapter, or dates for submission of the first and second drafts of the manuscript.


This is a statement of the full amount the ghostwriter will be paid, the way the payments will be divided (installments), and when each installment must be paid. If the ghostwriter is given a “piece” of the book, there should be a description of the division of royalties and how they will be paid.

Who owns the copyright?

This is a clear statement of who owns the rights to the work and when these rights become fully vested.

Who gets authorship credit?

This states who will be given credit for authoring the book. Since the work is ghostwritten, the client is generally the sole author. Sometimes, however, the ghostwriter is given a “with” or “as told to” credit, or a nice mention in the acknowledgements. However it is handled, it should be spelled out clearly in the contract.


This is a description of what the ghostwriter can say about his role in creating the work. For example, can he list the book on his resume and website and discuss it with potential clients? If so, what can be said about his contribution to the work? This clause also covers whether or not the ghostwriter is required to keep some or all of the information confidential.


To indemnify means to protect another against possible loss, damage or liability. Since the ghostwriter is using material provided by the client, and the client is reviewing and signing off on the manuscript, the ghost should be indemnified against claims for libel, slander and other issues


This spells out any promises the parties are making. For the ghostwriter, there may be a warranty that all material she contributes will be original, and for the client, that any case histories provided are accurate and non-libelous.


This details exactly how expenses, if any, will be handled for copying, dictation, travel and so on; that is, who pays for what?


This section lays out when and how either party can back out of the contract. If, for example, the ghostwriter backs out, must she finish the chapter currently in progress or reach some other benchmark? If the client backs out, does he owe money for the work in progress? And if the project falls apart, may the ghostwriter use material she’s already written for another work?


This provides information about handling legal notice, disputes (where and how will they be handled), severability, changes to the contract, and the possibility of the demise of one party before the project is complete, among other things.

Pay close attention to the ghostwriting contract!

The process is not always quick and easy, and you may be tempted to sign the contract without looking.

Don’t! Read it carefully. The points I’ve listed are certainly not the only issues that may be addressed in a ghostwriter’s contract, but you should make sure that all of them are included, at the very least.

What’s you’ve just read is a ghostwriter’s look at the contract. To see what an attorney has to say about this, read “The Ghostwriter Agreement” by Ivan Hoffman, J.D.

If you’d like help writing your book…

Contact ghostwriters Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor. Use the contact form on this page to send us a message, or call us at 818-917-5362.

You can learn more about ghostwriters and ghostwriting in general on our “What is a Professional Ghostwriter?” page.