Paris Hilton, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Keith Richards have all published books, but it's questionable if any of them actually did any of the writing. Each manuscript was left in the capable hands of Merle Ginsberg, Valerie Frankel and James Fox, all ghostwriters. The salaries of these three authors were much higher than an average ghostwriter can expect, but when a writer takes no credit for his work, earnings tend to increase.
In 2011, writers and authors averaged $68,060 a year. But higher salaries in certain industries can skew this figure. For this reason, median wage is often a better indicator of earning potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage -- or the midpoint salary -- for this occupation was closer to $55,870 a year, meaning that half of all writers make this amount or less annually. Neither figure, however, differentiates a copywriter from a novelist, or a playwright from a ghostwriter.
Pay Per Project
Because most ghostwriters are freelancers, they tend to charge on a per project basis. In book publishing, the average cost per project is $22,800, with earnings ranging up to $80,000 per manuscript. But these figures only account for the rate when the writer is given credit for his work. Without credit, a ghostwriter often charges more, averaging a rate of $36,229 per project. On the high end, writing without credit can garner you upward of $100,000 per manuscript.
Pay Per Hour
Not all ghostwriters charge on a per project basis, instead choosing to opt for an hourly rate for their time. Much like per project costs, hourly rates vary based on the ghostwriter getting credit for his work. A ghostwriter given credit charges an average of $73 an hour, while those without credit tend to charge $70 an hour. However, the high end of hourly rates is where it falls back in line with the pay per project costs, with rates upward of $100 an hour with credit and $115 an hour without credit.
Book publishing isn’t the only industry where you’ll find ghostwriters. Many work within the business industry, writing articles and columns for others to publish under their names in trade magazines. In this situation, a ghostwriter averages $750 per project, while those working hourly charge $96 an hour, on average.
Besides business writing, ghostwriters also write articles for others to publish under their names in general magazines. In magazine publishing, a ghostwriter charges an average of $2,088 per project, with earnings up to $3,500 an article. Those on an hourly basis charge $50 to $200 an hour, but the average is closer to $100 per hour.
2016 Salary Information for Writers and Authors
Writers and authors earned a median annual salary of $61,240 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, writers and authors earned a 25th percentile salary of $43,130, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $83,500, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 131,200 people were employed in the U.S. as writers and authors.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.