It is inevitable. Every now and again I am contacted by someone who wants a book or script written and doesn’t want to pay me to do it. Instead, they say something like: “I was hoping we could strike a deal and you could take part of the royalties when it sells.”

Allow me to explain why I, and many other professional writers out there, won’t even begin to entertain this as an option. If you’re looking to have a book or script written and you’re using royalties as a bargaining chip, consider these things first before striking a deal with a writer:

1) There Are No Guarantees

You have a great story and you’re sure, once it’s written, that it will sell a million copies. However, there are no guarantees that this will happen. You want it to, and you hope it will, but asking a writer to sacrifice 200 hours of her time without a guarantee of payment is ludicrous. You have a job, right? And you get paid for that job. If your boss asked you to work 200 hours without any guarantee that you would get paid, would you do it?


2) You’re Not a Marketer

why I won't write your book for royaltiesUnless you have a huge social media following, an agent, a publisher willing to market you, and exquisite marketing skills yourself, how do you propose selling your book? If you don’t sell it, you won’t make any money. And if you don’t make any money, you have nothing to give to your writer.

“But I’m certain this story will sell. This book could help you make your mark! You can write it on weekends and at night.”

I had a woman tell me that just yesterday. True story. Buuuuttttt……

One: I can’t put certainty in the bank.
Two: If I write anything on weekends, you better believe I’m going to get paid for it.
Three: I’m not looking to make my mark with your book. I’m looking to make my mark with my own personal projects.
Four: if you don’t have a marketing plan behind you that will sell your books like hotcakes, you’ve officially screwed yourself and your ghostwriter.


3) You Talked to a Writer Who Will Do a Royalty Share

Good for you. How long have they been writing? Do they know how to write a book? Writing a book isn’t just about putting words down on paper. Writing a book requires lots of hours of interviews, finding a theme (or themes), an audience who resonates with the theme, shaping the book, creating a storyline, keeping the reader engaged, and evoking emotion. It requires an extreme amount of research, organization, and semblance.

Can the writer you’ve chosen do that? I’ve had authors come to me after working with a writer who agreed to a royalty share, asking me to please help them rewrite the manuscript they were given because it’s a hot mess. They tried to have the book written for nothing. And in the end, they got what they paid for.


4) You Don’t Have a Publisher

why I won't write your book for royaltiesIf you don’t have a publisher who is willing to print your book, then you don’t have the ability to collect royalties. If you self-publish, then it’s up to you (in some cases) to manage your books so your writer is paid fairly. It’s tedious and time-consuming. If your writer is smart, he or she will have a contract asking to see the sales of all books and to be paid monthly. They should also ask for no less than 30%. If the writer is really smart, he or she will ask for that 30% every month, regardless of whether or not sales are made.

But let’s say, for the sake of this post, that you and the writer agree on a 20% royalty. You sell the book for $20. You get $16 bucks, the writer gets $4 bucks. Without a marketing plan or a publisher, you may sell one or two books a month. That means the writer gets paid $8 a month. Do you think that’s fair? Would you do it?


5) Money Talks

Here’s the secret when it comes to getting a ghostwriter to write a really, really good book for you:

Money talks. If you give your writer nothing up front, they’re not going to give you their all. It’s the truth. When the woman I talked to on the phone said to me, “I want you to think about this. You can write it on weekends and in your spare time. I’m in no hurry. You don’t need to have it done in six months. Think about it.”

I said to her, “I don’t need to think about this. You do. If you give someone the option to write whenever they want and give them no timeline, what do you think is going to happen when the weekend comes and there’s a concert they want to go see? Do you think they’re going to say, ‘Well, I could work on this book with no deadline that I’m not getting paid for, OR I can go to a concert and have a blast.’ Which do you think they’ll choose? Unless you put money on the table, you remove any sense of urgency. If you want it done, pay them and watch the urgency emerge.”

If you still believe you can find someone who will write for royalties and you still believe your offer is fair, I encourage you to go to your own boss (even if that boss is YOU), and cut your pay to only get paid 20% of every product you sell. 


6) We Work for Money, Not for Free

Why I won't write your book for royaltiesThe bottom line is, if you want a quality book written, you’ve got to pay for it.

I’m sure, if you dig long and hard, you can find a writer willing to do the royalty split with you. But you’d be hard-pressed to find one who is damn good and is willing to give up his or her time for mere pennies.

Professional writers don’t play that game. They charge 50¢ a word and up. They get it done and, if they’ve been at it long enough, they get it done right. If you sell a zillion copies and make a zillion dollars, the ghostwriter is happy for you. They don’t want a cut of that. Their job isn’t to take your money for years to come, it’s to provide a one-time service and that’s it. They have aspirations, too. Most of the time it’s not to make money off of your book. It’s to use their talents to make money off of their own books (or stories or scripts.)

In A Word…

One more thought…

If you’re confident that your social media followers would buck up to buy your book, you have two options:

1) Ask each of them to donate a dollar. If enough come forward the way you believe they will, then you’ll have the finances to pay for the service up front.


2) Finance the process up front so you can properly pay a writer, and then pay the bill off with the money from your followers. Again, if they come forward the way you believe they would, then you’ll have the finances to pay for the service.

If you still think royalties should suffice, the biggest point you’re missing is that no one is going to give you the time this book deserves unless they are paid. No one. And if they DO agree to royalties only, I promise you will get exactly what you pay for. Nothing.

They will not give you 100%.
They will not meet a deadline.
They will not come to the table with experience.
They will not, absolutely will not, turn away paid work to finish unpaid work.

Let go of this expectation, save yourself the heartache, and find a writer who is a good match and pay them.
The result will be the most incredible book you have ever held in your hands.


Joleene Moody is a former television reporter and anchor turned freelance writer, ghostwriter, and speaker, based in Central New York.
(No, not New York City. Not even close. 🙂
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