Saturday, March 16, 2013

Is work-for-hire right for you?

There are plenty of work-for-hire opportunities out there—everything from developing short articles for Demand Studios to writing educational content for textbooks to writing full-length novels for book development companies. With respect to full-length novels, WFH isn't a guaranteed lifelong job in publishing or a surefire path to an agent, but it can teach you a lot. You can learn how to be a disciplined writer. It can give you a chance to practice your craft. And if you're not already published, it can serve as a crash course in the field of publishing and introduce you to other authors and industry pros. And all of THAT stuff may very well help you get your original work published.

But how to know if you're a good fit?

1. Are you comfortable with what the company is asking?

WFH contracts vary widely. Some share copyright. Some demand publicity and touring. Some insist you put your picture on the jacket flap, have a blog, and even be open to touring. Some insist you don't put your picture on the jacket flap and don't even want you to publicly associate yourself with the book. Some pay royalties or subrights. Some don't. Be sure you know what the company's expectations are before you sign on the line.

2. Do you have an agent, a lawyer, or a high knowledge of contracts? 

Packagers and publishers alike are going to offer you less-favorable contracts if you don't know enough to advocate for yourself. Even if you are a savvy negotiator, keep in mind that wages are usually set by supply and demand and there is a much greater supply of talented writers out there than demand for them. Just look at the gazillions of people providing entertaining online content for free. Note: the Authors' Guild will not review WFH contracts, at least that's what they told me.

3. Are you fast?

Here Libba Bray talks about how “if you can outline a book and then write it in six weeks you can do pretty much anything.” Six weeks even sounds fast to me, but being expected to write and revise 30-40 pages a week is well within the realm of normal. If I'd had a full-time job or a family, I never could have kept up with my own writing and my work-for-hire stuff. And I am very fast :)

4. Are you flexible?

In a WFH contract it isn't all about you and what you want. Maybe you'll get to write the outline. Maybe not. Maybe all your thoughts will be embraced. Chances are, some of them will be embraced and some of them will be vetoed. You may be asked to write a book that you wouldn't necessarily want to read. Are you cool with that? If not, make sure you and your editor have the same creative vision upfront and provisions for how to reconcile differences that might arise along the way.

5. Do you have enough time to write WFH and continue your own writing too?

This was a big one for me. I put a ton of effort into my work-for-hire books and I do feel proud of them, but if I had needed to put my own writing on hold, I would have felt like WFH was a step away from my dream. Doing it as I did, I clearly see the benefits I got from my contract and I don't feel like I deferred progress toward my ultimate goal.

6. Do you love the project?

Writing is hard work. Revising is even harder work. The more you love your story, the easier it is to keep polishing it until it is perfect. Imagine being forced to read a book you feel so-so about. Now imagine being forced to read that book 30 times in 3 months as you write and revise it. Yeah. That would be crazy-making, right?

If you can answer yes to those six questions then congrats, it sounds like work-for-hire is right for you. But here's everything I've ever read about work-for-hire--the good, the bad, the thought-provoking--in case you're on the fence or just curious:

Paper Lantern Lit has been profiled in Businessweek and Fast Company.

Is book packaging YA's dirty little secret? 

The always hilarious and insightful Maureen Johnson weighs in on the scandal.

In the interest of fairness, here's James Frey's blog where he tells his side of the story and how things at FFF have changed.

A work-for-hire writer who enjoyed the experience even though his book never made it to the shelves.

A steady WFH writer lists still more work-for-hire links.

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