Get Your Money Up Front! I’m Glad I Did! By Debbie Elicksen

Books are my business. In the last seven to eight years, I’ve helped make people’s books come alive with manuscript editing, project managing books to print, graphic design and layout, and sometimes ghostwriting. So when a fellow member of an association – a friend – came to me to ask me to ghostwrite a manuscript, I didn’t turn him down.

It was a little over a year ago. “Merle” asked me to ghostwrite a manuscript for a branded series. You know the type: the author does all the heavy lifting and the owner of the brand lets you attach his name and brand to the book for 50 percent of the profits. Without revealing which brand, I’ll call it the Gridiron Series and its owner Peyton.

Merle spoke with Peyton and he was definitely interested. So Merle asked me for my ghostwriting fee, I threw out $8,000, which I know isn’t high, especially when you Google ghostwriting fees. He opened his pocketbook, pulled out a check, filled it out, and handed it to me. It was for $10,000 – all up front – and it didn’t bounce. He didn’t ask for a contract or even an invoice, however, I know emails are legal documents, so I made sure I kept a solid paper trail of all our correspondence.

It took about a month to get the materials required from Merle to craft the outline, which I sent to him to ensure we were on the right track. Scratching for more material, I then flushed out the outline and made up the proposal for Peyton, but before sending it off, I wanted Merle’s approval – that took another couple of months. Then Peyton suddenly caught amnesia on the project and “lost” my email three times. He said he didn’t like the title and blew me off.

Undaunted, I suggested to Merle that the material was solid and we could find someone else. He seemed disappointed Peyton backed down (welcome to the world of publishing), was okay with finding someone else, but wanted to try calling him one more time.

I told Merle I’d start looking for another publisher. I found another bite, but when I told him about it and that I was flushing out the proposal further for this new publisher, Merle said he wanted to kill the project and wasn’t interested. He also asked me where we stood on the manuscript and asked for a REFUND for what I hadn’t done. I was weeks away from finishing the manuscript. With the material he had given me, and with what I had culled from media interviews and articles he wrote, the book was pretty much done. Plus nearly a year had passed since this project began! I didn’t even bother to comment on his ridiculous refund request.

My lawyer (who I immediately contacted after Merle brought up the refund issue) said it was a fee-for-service contract, even without a physical document. In Canada, a verbal contract is as legal as a written contract. He told me to finish the manuscript. It took less than three weeks.

I sent Merle the finished and edited manuscript, along with a file that showed what the page count might look like if it were laid out in a six-by-nine book. He still wanted a refund. So I referred him to my lawyer. We figure Merle will not pursue, but if he does, his odds are probably not very good. He paid the money, and I delivered the manuscript I was asked to do. Imagine if I weren’t paid up front!

Debbie Elicksen provides publishing support to authors, self-publishers, and companies that produce books to market their business. She has personally authored, ghostwritten, edited, and project-managed over 70 books for both royalty and self-publishers in both Canada and the United States. She is a member of the Association of Canadian Publishers and a professional sportswriter, covering the National Hockey League and the National Lacrosse League.