top of page

Kill Fees: How to Protect Yourself When a Writing Collaboration Dies

April 15, 2025

It happens to all of us as ghostwriters. Maybe you saw it coming from a mile away but chose to ignore the signs. Perhaps an unexpected event has blindsided you both. Or maybe your author has chosen—oh irony of ironies!— to ghost you. Whatever the circumstances, the project you were working on so diligently together has come to a dead halt. What's a ghost to do?

Nothing, if you don't have a kill fee stipulated in your contract. What's a kill fee? It's the money you still get paid, even if any of the following occurs:

 

  1. The author decides they don't want to work with you anymore.

  2. The author breaks the contract by not providing you with what you need to finish your work on time.

  3. The author disappears for a long time without an explanation.

 

Years ago, when I was just starting out as a ghostwriter, I had never heard of a kill fee clause—until one day when I really wished I had one. I was halfway through a manuscript for a former C--suite executive of a major multimedia company. It had been two weeks since the author had responded to any of my emails about the draft. She also owed me the second of three payments for the work I'd already completed.

When I finally got her on the phone, she was rude and noncompliant. Since my contract at the time was only a little more useful than toilet paper, the only recourse I had was to take the woman to court to receive my quantum meruit—that's the Latin term for the actual value of services performed.

We ended up settling a year later. With the money I received, the first thing I did was hire Jesseca Salky of Lyons & Salky Law, LLP, a top IP lawyer who specializes in publishing. She and her partner put together an iron-clad contract for me that included a kill fee clause, which goes something like this:

In the event that Author determines that Author will not engage Writer to provide any of the agreed upon Services (yadayadayada) for any reason and/or in the event of Writer’s termination of this Agreement based on Author’s breach, Writer shall be entitled to the full value of all outstanding Manuscript Fees (yadayadayada) that shall serve as a kill fee (yadayadayada).

The amount of the kill fee varies. It could be the entire remaining payment for the project, or a smaller amount that you and the author agree on. If you already have a kill fee clause in your contract, congratulations! If you don't, please do yourself a favor and get one before signing your next one. Your time and talent are worth protecting.

bottom of page