Getting paid in advance?
In the “old days,” around 15-20 years ago, writers, ghostwriters, screen writers, et al, had to settle for whatever terms their clients or publishers gave them for payment. Generally that meant a meager up front payment with the bulk of your fee withheld until the work was finished—sometimes, in the cases of some magazines and other printed entities, that big last payment took 60 to 120 days or even more to arrive.
Take it from me, those days are long gone. Now, all the above mentioned professionals (you) can dictate terms what with streaming content, i.e., HBO, Netflix, Prime, Hulu and a dozen others hunting (sometimes desperately) for quality content. They know what we’ve known all along, without quality writing, there are no movies or series.
When I was still running my advertising agency working with Fortune 1000 clients 26 years ago, I was constantly chasing payments from people and companies that had far more financial resources than I did. When I sold my agency after 25 years and went into ghostwriting, the first rule I set was—no more waiting for clients to string me out. I found early on that the publishers I was pitching or working with had that “old” mentality or more accurately, they dictated the terms of the game.
I immediately changed that playing field more to my liking: I demanded to be paid in thirds commensurate with a word count which was also divided into three parts: the first one was due in advance of starting any work. The second was due when I was a third of the way through and the final payment was due before I began the final push. And for that reason, I started using a “word count” to define progress instead of pages, which can be finagled depending upon the font being used, margins, etc. There is no arguing that when I started on a 100,000 word manuscript, my second payment would be due when I finished 33,000 words of writing.
For those clients who balked, I likened the structure to an attorney’s “retainer.” I said, “No good attorney starts to do research, make phone calls, write contracts, or defend your honor in court without securing a retainer and then payments are expected as work progresses, always in advance.”
If an attorney could get away with it, I figured I could too. Of course, I’d ghostwritten many books, been a best seller and had plenty of award-winning work. However, even before I had that library of work and all those great testimonials on my website, I vowed I wouldn’t work until I was paid in advance. I did have a long sales background, ghostwrote quality work, and had a solid business background to enable me to be that courageous.
Now, I also consult with other writers and ghostwriters by the hour on the “business side” of writing and this subject always comes up right away. Today, with the overall demand for quality writing showing no signs of abating, it’s even easier to dictate these kinds of terms. When I do get the occasional client who challenges me on money issues, I tell them, “I agree this might not be what you’re used to, but when we are starting on a “collaboration,” such as your memoirs, business book, or even a novel, you are most definitely taking a “leap of faith,” in some ways. However, I recommend you call any of the testimonials on my site: www.theghostwriter.net or the ghostwriter.net/theghostworks and ask them how it was working with Robert. Or, if I think it would help, and I think the client would be open to it, I offer to write a sample of how I felt his or her story ought to sound and feel and to see if I’ve captured his or her voice faithfully. However, I also charge for those words—by the way, my fee is based on one dollar a word. There is no arguing with the math and that gives you a set of goal posts to strive for and also serves you well when and if there are any disagreements in the length of the work. There is no set word count for any manuscript really, just general guidelines and that is always a moving target because clients never truly think they are finished with a book. So, my structure serves several purposes.
Unfortunately, my post is growing too lengthy, so I’ll have to leave this here for the time being. Visit my sites and see if I’m not right. And, I’ll be back to finish this subject at some point as well as other pointers.
Robert Bruce Woodcox