I was recently asked by a potential client to think about how the experience of working together could be designed to exceed both our expectations. Great question! As a Florida-based executive ghostwriter, I gave this some deep thought today and came up with some key factors. The best client/writer relationships need:
1. Clear project goals. Whether it is a whole book, a white paper, an article, or a blog, it is essential for a writer to understand a client’s hopes and dreams for the end product. Must the piece of writing inspire readers? Entertain them? Convey complex information in as clear and succinct fashion as possible? Make an argument? Contain quotes from as many sources as she can think of? It’s okay to pick more than one of those things, clients, but you can’t have them all. Be specific. It helps the writer immeasurably to understand the essential goals of the client.
Your writer cannot wow you without a few clues. One thing a client can do to be extra transparent about goals is point to piece of writing s/he enjoys and hopes the writer will emulate.
2. Clear audience profile. It is key to talk about the target audience. It’s not what you say (or write), as expert communicator Frank Luntz explains. It’s what your audience hears. So, spending a little time ensuring a ghostwriter understands the client’s target audience for the piece of writing is important.
3. Clear terms. Here is a good way to establish terms: talk about the goals of the project and the audience, and then establish a word count range and timeline to project completion. Next, the writer provides the client with a total project fee, which is based on how many hours she thinks the total project will take times her hourly rate (mine is $60). Once the fee is established and agreed upon, that’s it. Even if the writer takes less time to complete the project than she estimated (or more), the fee doesn’t change.
It’s a good idea to pay half of the project fee up front, and half on completion for larger projects like a book-length work. Smaller projects can be paid on completion. Other terms include copyright (generally, this goes to the client), and revision policy. My standard revision policy is simple: my fee includes one revision round based on client feedback. I am willing to do additional rounds of revision, but I bill for the additional hours using my standard hourly fee. I aim to make each and every client deliriously happy, but there is nothing that can ruin a great relationship faster than endless rounds of revision with no additional payment. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Over and over.
Signing a contract containing the terms you've established for each project can be very helpful, but in my experience isn't 100% essential if both parties are of good faith.
4. Respect for human frailty. Stuff happens. Meetings have to be rescheduled from time to time. Flights get canceled. The best working relationships are built on an understanding that we are all human…even writers! If both parties make an effort to communicate when there are occasional blips in the road, chances are excellent many exciting writing projects will come to fruition as the years roll by. I put this one in here because I’m the parent of a three-year-old. While I’ve never been better or sharper as a writer, I’ve also never been as vulnerable to the whims of the Universe…or a determined stomach bug.
Clients: when you’re working with a writer who is curious, funny, brainy, and generally beats her deadlines, think of all the great things you can accomplish together. It’s so exciting!
Writers: when you find a client who is serious about telling important and engaging stories, and respects your time and talent, imagine all the amazing possibilities.
What would you add to this list?