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I don't read the genres where that practice is common, but I wonder just how low the compilers are willing and able to go when it comes to quality of the stuffed content ?

If it's somewhat low outsourcing to foreign writers with english as a second or Nth language becomes a possibility, and you'll have a hard time convincing anyone but the most scrupulous to pay fair 1rst world wages for what a 3rd world worker will be happy to do for a fraction of the price.
 

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The problem of fair wages is endemic to a free market system. The market will always ultimately determine wages, unless something like a government influences them.

So, as long as there are fast writers willing to work for cheap, it's hard for others to raise their prices. They will price themselves out of the market and out of a job, just like with books or groceries.
 

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David VanDyke said:
The problem of fair wages is endemic to a free market system. The market will always ultimately determine wages, unless something like a government influences them.

So, as long as there are fast writers willing to work for cheap, it's hard for others to raise their prices. They will price themselves out of the market and out of a job, just like with books or groceries.
In this case, part of the problem is outsourcing. A lot of marketing machines will hire ghostwriters who are in countries with lower costs of living.

Cheap ghostwriting is a different market than good ghostwriting. But with any gw, a publisher never knows how much they'll make from the content. Even the masterminds have duds. A book can make a ton of money. Or it can be a dud and stay in the red forever.
 

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In fairness, from what I've read in the threads about how the mass-producing-publishers typically operate, the ghostwriters are creating relatively little of the actual value in the process. Particularly those who are writing based on a reasonably specific outline.

Most of the value, IMO, is created by the publisher applying expertise relating to what the story/book should be about, the tropes to hit, covers, blurbs, overall packaging, and (probably most of all) marketing.

I've read several books of this variety. Overall, my impression was that the writing itself was generally decent. Much better than some detractors of that business model often suggest, in fact. Maybe competent would be a more apt term, but likely well above the average for indie authors as a whole. But definitely not exceptional, or even notably good. Not like the kind of books one might find on the NYT Bestseller list. It ain't Nora Roberts, for sure. To be frank, I don't think the readers who enjoy this particular kind of book are especially picky about the writing. They just need minimally competent prose that can deliver the hot tropes or whatever they're looking for - and there are many, many writers who can produce such writing. On its own, this is not a supremely valuable skill. It only becomes valuable in combination with other skills and resources - the kind that the publishers are bringing to the table.

Maybe I'm wrong; maybe the exceptional quality of the writing really is responsible for the degree of success that such books achieve. But in that case, the ghostwriters shouldn't have too much difficulty striking out on their own and successfully publishing their own books.

 

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This is why I only write non-fiction as a ghost writer.

It's almost impossible to get a decently fair wage for fiction. For me, the time it takes to write it is longer. You're getting my creativity, not just cut and dry facts.  I'm not going to haggle with someone as to why I deserve $80k for a well written romance they'll sell for more.

But I can "turn and burn" a self-help/how-to book in about 5-10 hours. Depends on how much I already know versus how much I look up. Though, one thing that helps with the work for cheap crowd versus the good value crowd is having good samples. I've only had a few issues over the years when it comes to pricing, but I'm also willing to fire clients if it's not working out. I hate firing clients, but it's a necessary evil.
 

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Define "fair wages."

 

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Ghost writing lowers your risk. Write a story, then be done with it. Not every story is worth developing an IP. Not every writer wants to manage all the complexity of self publishing. Not all ghost writing jobs stick it to you. Like all fields, you can get better gigs as you make contacts. The pro ghost writer's goal is to find people who do pay fair wages. Don't think for a second that all those famous people out there write their own bios. Just don't ask me how they find those jobs, or I'd already be doing it.
 

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Former Ghostwriter:

I ghostwrote books... dozens of them for years. Until I stopped a couple years ago. It let me get practice in writing, but the wages were very low. More like .02 per word, maybe .03. once I was out. It was steady work, with specifics all drawn out. One person does the outline, another writes, another edits, so there is not one person involved with all of it. I quit for a couple reasons: 1) I wasn't writing my own work because all my energy went towards these books 2) I learned about how these books were negatively impacting authors potentially - I started out ghostwriting and being paid 3-4k per book, had interviews and liked it a lot. But it turned into a machine, and once it turned I got work lined up elsewhere and got it. I think it changed when all this page stuffing stuff happened, because my original clients were not these mills. They were people with brands who had ghostwriters. Then those jobs were squeezed out, and what got left was this carcass of work with no meat left on the bones because it all went to someone raking it in and not caring about my 'clever prose' or 'character development' or anything else that mattered to me in writing. This is just my personal experience, and I can't speak for others... but I think anyone is better off blogging, doing copywriting, website copy, or other types of writing where you'll make more money and still get to practice writing :)
 

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I had no idea that the stuffing craze was also crushing ghostwriter pay rates (though I should have considered that), so I appreciate those sharing this information.

Puddleduck said:
Honestly, I think those people just need to publish their own books instead of selling them outright to someone else. Doing ghostwriting makes sense in some cases. At some point, like when you're good enough to develop your own fan base and you're not writing in someone else's already established world, it doesn't make sense anymore. I think those people need to take control and publish themselves under their own name.
That seems unfair to me. Not everyone wants to be a publisher and marketer. Some people just want to write. That's reasonable, and they deserve to be treated with respect and fair pay like anyone else.
 

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boba1823 said:
In fairness, from what I've read in the threads about how the mass-producing-publishers typically operate, the ghostwriters are creating relatively little of the actual value in the process. Particularly those who are writing based on a reasonably specific outline.

Most of the value, IMO, is created by the publisher applying expertise relating to what the story/book should be about, the tropes to hit, covers, blurbs, overall packaging, and (probably most of all) marketing.
Value is relative. Expertise is great, but all the expertise in the world isn't going to sell a book that hasn't been written.
 

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ShayneRutherford said:
Value is relative. Expertise is great, but all the expertise in the world isn't going to sell a book that hasn't been written.
I mean economic value, in context of which activities and skills that go into generating the final profits are in shortest supply. In terms of artistic value, then sure, that belongs to whoever is responsible for the book itself. In the content mill business, as I understand it, that is often split between different people - sometimes the publisher actually personally produces an outline for the story, for instance - but the actual writer definitely produces a large portion of value in the artistic sense.

I see it as being sort of similar to producing an iPhone. You can't have an iPhone without the factory workers who stick the parts together, but because people who can do that are a dime a dozen, they aren't contributing much value to the production process - certainly not in relation to the people who actually design the product, for example. That's conditional too, of course. If designing an iPhone was super easy and lots of people could do it, whereas assembling it was really difficult, then the factory workers would be contributing more value.

This is an area of interest for me because I decided (foolishly maybe? ;D) to write Romance. It's highly competitive, and that suits my own disposition well enough I suppose. Now, as I was researching and considering my options, it became clear that the 'writing to trend' approach was.. maybe not particularly wise as a business model. The content mill type publishers seem to pretty well have the trend angle covered. They have a certain corner of the market locked down. I think of this market as the literary equivalent of people who adore fast food type buffet restaurants because they want to consume a huge quantity and aren't too picky about quality. This week, they want to read a bunch of stories about billionaire bad boys who are also firefighters, and who also ride motorcycles, and [insert random tropes here]. They seem to be mainly enamoured by the general concept of whatever trope happens to be popular, and the details of how that gets worked out in any specific book are not overly important. They're junk food readers, basically.

Now.. as an individual writer, I can't effectively compete for that portion of the Romance market. It's basically too easy to write a book that is acceptable to the most non-discerning readers - and books that are of a higher quality aren't necessarily any more successful. That's part what makes the content mill publishers possible, sure. But it also means that probably a million other writers have the ability to produce a book that is of acceptable quality for that market. Basically too much supply, or too much potential supply, relative to the demand - even though the demand is awfully high. So I decided to go for what you might call the 'upscale' market, writing for readers who care much more about quality since that's an area in which I felt that I could compete effectively. (I'm still pretty new, so we'll see, lol!)

There's 'upscale' ghostwriting too, as I understand it. I'm not sure if there's less of it available than in the past, or if it's just that there are far more ghostwriting opportunities available (mainly because of much more low-end ghostwriting) which make it harder to find.
 

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KateDanley said:
We need a new word for these predatory bundlers/content millers/faux pen namers. Can someone come up with a word? Because if you look at what is happening on paper, they are small presses. They are small presses that are saying to authors, "I have this idea. I'll pay you $1000 to write it. I'm going to publish it under my name, take all the rights, and pay you no royalties. And you can't tell anyone."
Why not just call them.. content mills?

It strikes me as pretty unfair to label content mills as predatory based on their relationships with ghostwriters. The old vanity presses, as I understand it (sort of before my time), lured somewhat naive authors into paying them sizeable chunks of money to publish books based on exploiting dreams - and even making promises - about literary stardom and riches. Based on what I've read here, the content mill publishers make it perfectly clear to ghostwriters that they get a specified lump sum payment and that's it, no credit, no anything else.

The pay rates sound far below anything I could possibly live on, even if I was pumping out 20k words a day. Fair observation. Working at a fast food joint wouldn't support my needs either. But they're offering relatively low pay for work that is of relatively low quality. It's not a super rare skill to be able to produce the kind of writing they require. These books aren't successful because of their subtly beautiful prose and inspired metaphors.

Hey, it's not a business arrangement I would want to be on either side of. I'd think the marketing skills that are largely responsible for the success of content mill books could be employed even more profitably in a different line of business. But there's really nothing illegitimate about hiring low-end freelancers at market wages to code an application, or write a book, or do whatever type of work. I'm all for freelancers negotiating for higher rates if they feel that they deserve them. But to be successful, it's important to be realistic about the value of the work. And the value of the work is certainly not the same thing as the value of the worker. It's just that a highly skilled ghostwriter needs to seek out high-end work if he or she wants to see those high pay rates; it's not reasonable to expect low-end work to pay the same based on the quality that a writer can produce, when the work doesn't actually require that level of quality.
 

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Hi, Kate. :)

I'm glad you've asked this question. Once upon a time, I used to be a ghostwriter and made decent money at it. This was back when I couldn't work a regular job because I was healing from an injury + surgery. So it was convenient...but I had (and do have) some issues with ghostwriting in general.

Now, I wager some folks here might disagree with me so by no means do I aim to be disrespectful. But I see ghostwriting as somewhat lying. When I think of ghostwriters, I think mostly of people like Kim Kardashian and movie stars who do not have the writing skills necessary to write a book but they have something to say. It's kind of a given that Hollywood would use ghostwriters for this reason (they are famous and have brands, etc). But I view this differently when it comes to fiction.

As a ghostwriter, I always had work. On average, I was paid around 8 cents a word, sometimes 10. There were also clients who paid at a flat rate (like $60 for a short story or novella). I wrote short stories, novellas, and novels. Sometimes my clients gave me an outline, but most of the time I had to come up with the outline and was only given the genre and a few details on what the client wanted (sweet, sex or no sex, settings, those sorts of things). I faced a moral quandary with ghosting because of my own work: I was basically writing for my competition. I wrote for 'authors' whose names appear next to my books on Amazon. Readers don't know these authors are actually not real, and that the books are written by other people. I don't know...that just doesn't sit well with me. When someone puts their name on a book it states that they are the ones who wrote the book, they are the sole creator. But with a ghostwriter, that isn't true! So that was my second issue with it. And finally, like you said in your OP statement, I would get paid a few hundred bucks to write someone's book that they would then turn around and sell, over and over again, making [crap]loads more money than I ever would on my own efforts alone.

So I quit and never looked back.
 

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Rose Andrews said:
Readers don't know these authors are actually not real, and that the books are written by other people. I don't know...that just doesn't sit well with me.
I wouldn't be too sure about that. As a reader I often am able to discern ghostwritten stories from self-written ones, and I also notice (prose) similarities between authors not officially linked to each other.
 

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One of the issues is that every month there are new, capable writers, and the market for writing has its limits.

Sure, there are 6 million or so books on Amazon alone. But the majority of them probably don't sell all that well.

So that means if a writer wants to make money, they may consider ghostwriting.

Supply and demand -- that's what people are seeing. The low rates are because there are only so many top selling slots, where someone may be able to afford to take the risk and hire you to ghostwrite for them.

I've never ghostwritten, and haven't considered it. But from my viewpoint as an indie I can see that the market for ghostwriters is probably fairly limited, but there are probably a lot of very capable writers who could do it.
 

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Why should individuals who pay a market rate for services be considered predatory? Saying that such individuals treat ghostwriters in a predatory manner presumes unfairness. But we have yet to define "fair wages."

Until we do, the word has no value beyond its ability to denigrate without evidence.

 

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Nic said:
I wouldn't be too sure about that. As a reader I often am able to discern ghostwritten stories from self-written ones, and I also notice (prose) similarities between authors not officially linked to each other.
Can we say that this is because you're an author? I agree with you but it seems to me that the average reader is trusting the name on the cover to be who wrote the book. It's easier for us to tell because we can detect a different style and flow in each book (a series for example).
 

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Rose Andrews said:
Can we say that this is because you're an author?
That is possible. But again, there are also a lot of very sensitive readers out there. Recently, I have noticed a generalised "malaise" with many romance sub genres and the output flooding readers. Readers are definitely aware of book stuffing and the background of it.
 

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Anarchist said:
Why should individuals who pay a market rate for services be considered predatory? Saying that such individuals treat ghostwriters in a predatory manner presumes unfairness. But we have yet to define "fair wages."

Until we do, the word has no value beyond its ability to denigrate without evidence.
The thing with freelancers (ghost writers included) is that the "fair wage" is in some part arbitrary because there's no official "market rate". It's just like selling ebooks. The cost of an ebook spans from 2.99-9.99+ What's the market rate for an ebook? Fair wage could be 5cents to 20cents depending on who you ask, what their experience looks like, and how much confidence they have to ask for it.

Do individuals treat ghostwriters in a predatory manner? I think so, yes, because just like there's no one setting a minimum wage, there's no one telling people how to treat ghost writers.

I have customers who, even after I've said I'm only doing three edits, come back to me and demand either a refund (after I've done the work) or fight with me about what they already agreed to. I have people not read my rates and book at the price they're willing to pay for my work and get confused when I cancel the job. I have people who argue with me about stupid details. I'm dealing with a client now who requested I write a productivity ebook. I did the research on productivity and this person is discrediting known ways of being productive to insert what works specifically for them (for now, they're going to crash and burn with their method but I don't fight with clients).

I've had clients talk to me like I'm scum because they think they're somehow doing me a service by paying me (it doesn't get far, I clap back hard).

A "fair wage" to me is about $30 an hour for nonfiction, $50 for fiction. I have a degree in English, a wide spread of knowledge, I've been ghost writing for over five years and writing for over ten, and I enjoy eating. I also have to cover various business expenses out of that money like 25% for taxes. I also have an impressive resume. Someone else just starting out probably won't get what I consider a "fair wage".

However, I don't price by hour to my clients, I price by job because no one needs to know how fast I do the work. Clients think the faster you work, the worse the product is. So I take what they want, divide it by how long it would take, slap on what I call a "headache fee" and then quote them for the job. It's like when you take your dog to the vet and they charge you if he's aggressive. I have a fee for clients who are difficult.

I don't know if that helps you define what a "fair wage" is for a ghost writer, but that's my two cents, my experiences, and how I do my pricing. I only go lower than my calculated "fair wage" if it's a long time client.

Nic said:
I wouldn't be too sure about that. As a reader I often am able to discern ghostwritten stories from self-written ones, and I also notice (prose) similarities between authors not officially linked to each other.
This is because people are hiring cheap-ish ghost writers. One part of a ghost writer's job is to switch up the tone based on the client. I have clients who have the personality of a wet dishrag and I write, what I call, "hey girl hey" style for them. I have some clients who want informal-authoritative, and others who want formal-authoritative. If you pay me pennies, I'm not going to bother trying to make this story sound unique and separate from my others because who cares? But if you're paying me what I charge, I will take out the general "tells" of my personal style and do a deeper request for what the client wants and/or try to match the clients other work.
 
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