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.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's it like writing work-for-hire? Part II

Here's the second part of my Q&A about working with Paper Lantern Lit.

7. What is the give and take like between you and those on the idea end? (collaboration, meetings, input, etc.)

I didn't have any formal meetings but we did talk on the phone a couple of times and I went to NYC to meet everyone. Basically PLL sent me an outline for each book. I pitched changes and suggestions. They accepted some but not all of them. We went back and forth until everyone felt somewhat comfortable with the outline and then I started writing. They were always open to hearing my thoughts and I think out of 15 or so plot point changes/additions for the Belladonna outline they took all of them except 2. 

Book #3 was more of a struggle because by that time I was really emotionally invested in the series and had strong feelings about the plot and character arcs. PLL had strong feelings, but a very different vision. So how do you reconcile creative differences? It was tough. Basically both sides compromised on as much as possible and then we consulted the Penguin editor for input on the rest. Luckily, she's a genius and I really think she guided us down a path where the book is now finished and everyone feels good about it. But here's the deal: PLL are  the ones who made the bulk of the money in the sale and it's their copyright Therefore, they're the ones Penguin has really high expectations for, so they do have final creative control. I did a lot of things differently than I would have done on my own. Looking back on the manuscripts, some of the PLL suggestions are clearly better than what I would have written and I'm grateful I had them to push me to see things a different way. Some of the things I still think could have been just as cool the way I envisioned. But anytime you're working with other people--and WFH or not, all traditionally published books involve working with other people--you're going to have to be flexible. You have to pick your battles, you know?

8. Given the six-figure deal PLL made for Venom, how did you feel about the flat fee you received? 

Dude. I was dumbfounded when I found out Venom had sold as part of a major deal. I never thought of historical as having a high price tag. The thing with the PLL setup is that they sell on proposal. This means they have to sign you to a contract before they know what the book sells for so they have a guaranteed writer attached to the project when an editor buys it. My contract was redone after the sale and while the flat fee still doesn't feel like a lot of money, I did get things put into the terms that protect me if the series becomes a runaway bestseller so I am comfortable with the contract. You have to keep in mind that PLL has overhead like editor and accountant salaries to pay that I don't have. They also had agency fees (I didn't) and picked up the tab for the Renaissance expert. Finally, the idea of working with a new development company helmed by 2 industry experts was probably very enticing to some of their publishing colleagues and it's highly unlikely that if I would have shopped the same exact book--even with an agent--it would have sold for the same amount of cash.

9. Do you think PLL's basic structure is something that could be widely replicated, or does it only work because of the personalities/ambitions of those who founded it?

Honestly, I'm not business-savvy at all so I don't know. What I do know is that work-for-hire is everywhere--songwriters are hired to write songs for bands, screenwriters are hired to create scripts for movie studios, legions of mystery writers are hired to develop books for James Patterson. What's the big deal? If you like the song or movie or book, does it matter if multiple entities helped bring it into the world? With respect to books, my gut instinct says that middle men are expensive so publishers who start hiring WFH writers directly to develop IP will be less inclined to use outside development companies. But it's like my agent says: "there is always a market for awesome." I think if an editor falls in love with a story and believes it can reach a wide audience that he/she is going to buy it no matter where it came from.

10. What was the timeline like, from submission to sale to publication?

Every book's path to publication is different. I was invited to sub for a PLL project in July of 2010. I wrote and revised a sample chapter and was offered a contract in August. I wrote the 60-70 page proposal (the first 5 chapters or so) in August and September. We revised that throughout October, also allowing time for PLL's agent to read. We went out on sub in November, had immediate interest from multiple houses, went to auction, and sold before Thanksgiving. The deal was announced in PM in December. I began writing the rest of the book in January, while working full-time, going to grad school, and writing a second manuscript.

I wrote Venom pretty slowly--finishing the first draft by May 1st, I think, and then revising through early summer. I cut back to part-time at work and Belladonna was written a little faster. Book 3 was drafted in 2.5 months to stay on publisher deadline. First drafts of all three books were completed before Venom released on October 30th, 2012, though book 3 had some extended revisions which I just finished. One thing you have to keep in mind is that revision can take a lot longer in a process like this because you revise as you write and then you revise at the end of the first draft. Then you revise for your publishing house editor. Then maybe you get letters from her and from the development company with more revisions. Each round you have to figure 2-3 weeks for the editors involved to read and then 2-3 weeks for you to do the revisions.

11. Break it down, the pros and cons of your work-for-hire experience.

Okay, but these are my pros and cons and other writers have had different experiences.

Cons: struggling to reconcile creative differences, lack of copyright, fast and furious deadlines, heavy editing, time-consuming email chains about potential plot issues, reading negative reviews and saying to myself, "but, but I TOLD everyone we shouldn't do it like that", and the forced realization that I am more neurotic, controlling, and emotional than I ever would have guessed. Okay, maybe I knew about the emotional part :) Also, dude. Do you know how hard it is to write 3 books and not use the word 'dude' once? Or even the word 'guy'? Historical is freaking tough!

Pros: got pushed out of my comfort zone, became a better writer, developed confidence, learned how to advocate for me and my characters, wrote with a think tank of editors at my disposal to help with plot snarls, got to go part-time at my day job, networked and became pals with amazing authors/editors/bloggers, got to work with Penguin executive editor, got a crash course in the publishing industry, learned how to read copy-editing marks, developed cramazing writer stamina (Nanowrimo? Dude, I lived Nanowrimo for months at a time), developed thicker skin, learned about marketing and social media, learned about contracts, became beta partners with other published authors, met and did events with other local authors, got selected for fancy Breathless Reads promotional campaign and got to go on tour, received amazing emails that said things like,  "your book swished me away from all of the stress of my husband's hospitalization and made me feel like I was back in Venice", and last but not least, I made my mom proud.

12. Will you write more books for PLL?

Here's another question I can't answer. There's no job security in writing until your books have their own theme parks, so more books with PLL may never even be an option. I do have my own agent and deal now and I'm not going to lie--it does feel different. I guess what I learned during the PLL process is that I'm kind of a control freak who wants copyright of her words and likes being able to have things mostly her way :) Not that I don't take feedback well. I've revised multiple manuscripts with my agent and I think she would describe me as very receptive to suggestions. Part of it is, succeed or fail, I want to own my destiny, you know? On the other hand, I built the Fiona Paul identity even though PLL owns it, and I'm not sure how I feel about just giving it away. Even writing for 2 publishers, I'm still making less money than I was as a full-time RN. Once I finish grad school, my plan is to go back to nursing, promote the books that are written but not yet released, and just see how things go. The future feels wide-open, and that's pretty exciting.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's it like writing work-for-hire? Part I

I've noticed some threads and blog posts lately about work-for-hire writing and whether it's evil and manipulative or just good business. One blogger even wondered on her blog how I felt about working with Paper Lantern Lit. With their blessing, I'm going to answer a few of the most commonly asked questions. Keep in mind these answers are specific to me. A lot has changed at PLL since I began writing Venom and your experience with them or another development company could be completely different.

1. Wait. I'm already lost. What's work-for-hire?

Basically, work-for-hire means that a person or company hires another person or company to make something for them. Normally the copyright/licensing rights for a product remain with whoever made it, but not necessarily in the case of WFH. WFH can be corporate (if you discover the cure for cancer while you're working for a drug company, the drug company is going to have the rights to your medicine) or freelance (if a TV studio hires you to write the script for a weekly episode, the network will own the rights to the script once you are finished).

In the case of WFH and books, it is often a book development company or packager who comes up with an idea they want to see developed into a book. Sometimes the idea is generated by the writer and then adapted and edited by the company. Some of the major book development companies are Alloy, Working Partners, Paper Lantern Lit, The Inkhouse, and Full Fathom Five. (Note: if you prefer not to find out that some of your favorite books were packaged, you might not want to click those links). Lately it has become more common for publishers or editors to develop ideas and for publishers to hire WFH writers directly. I know of WFH authors developing intellectual property for imprints of Penguin and Random House and I'm sure there are plenty more. Occasionally a TV or movie studio (as in the case of the bestselling Richard Castle books) will hire a writer to develop books based on a story they own. 

2. How did you find out about Paper Lantern Lit?

I actually took an online writing class taught by Lexa Hillyer, one of PLL's founding partners. She mentioned the company during the class and once the class was over invited me to audition.

3. What was the submission process like?

I was not a slush baby, but regardless of where PLL 'finds' you, once you are offered a chance to audition, the process is the same. I was given a short document that was an idea-spark--I think it was one page--along with a one-page chapter outline. I turned their one-page outline into a 15-page chapter. They then gave me feedback about what they liked and didn't like in the form of a revision letter and asked me to revise. I was a finalist with one other writer. They felt my revised chapter was a better fit for the project so I was selected and offered the chance to develop a 60-page proposal for their agent to sell. Unrelated, but cool: the girl who was my runner-up found me online and we are really good pals now. She is going to do amazing things :)

4. What made you want to write for them?

First and foremost, I learned so much from Lexa in my online class that I would have paid to have her critique the rest of my WIP. Getting paid to work for her just seemed like a no-brainer. I saw it as an apprenticeship--a way to improve my craft, learn about the industry, and get a chance to work closely with Lexa, Lauren, and a publishing house editor. Also, I tended to write 1st person, present-tense contemporary stuff, so writing a 3rd person, past-tense, historical novel seemed like a fantastic way to stretch unused writer muscles and explore a new genre. I had recently been to Venice and my mind started brainstorming ideas as soon as Lexa mentioned the words "Venice", "murder mystery" and "romantic entanglements." Finally, I was working a day job that was psychologically crushing me and the money from the PLL contract was enough that I could go down to part-time. What was to lose? My one concern was that my own writing would get back-burnered for PLL but I just refused to let that happen. I wrote 6 books in 2.5 years while working and/or going to school and 5 of them are sold. I feel pretty good about that :)

 5. How detailed are the outlines that you're given?

Word-for-word from PLL's website. "Like architects we envision, design, and layout all the basics of a book, but it's our writers who inhabit them and bring them to life." My original outline for Venom included short character descriptions for the main characters, some notes on the setting and a longer plot outline. As the series progressed and PLL gained confidence in me (and I gained confidence in me!), the outlines got shorter and my overall creative input increased.  I should also add here that PLL did require me to complete a handful of homework assignments including longer character sketches, character interviews, and analyses of horror books and movies to determine what it was about them I found scary. 

6. Must you follow the given outline point for point, or are you allowed to go "off script"?

Heh. For the first few weeks I was kind of starstruck by the whole process and sent all these emails every time I wanted to change the tiniest detail. But the answer was always "go ahead and let's see what happens." Since PLL reads your draft and sends edit notes every 2-4 chapters as you are writing, you can't veer too wildly out of control without them realizing it. By the middle of Venom I was mostly just adapting the outline as I saw fit during the writing process. Honestly, I went back to review it before writing this blog post because I was going to ask PLL if I could post an excerpt to show you guys, but it is pretty much unrecognizable next to the end product. By the beginning of Belladonna, I felt comfortable deviating from the outline as needed. Only once in the writing process for the trilogy did I write a chunk of pages off script and have it all get cut.

Come back on Thursday for the second part of this Q&A

Monday, March 4, 2013

Where in the world is BELLADONNA??

We have a winner!!

But first, I am super-duper excited to share with you the beauty of Wings Wildlife Park in Gunns Plains, Tasmania. And let me just say that I had to stop in the middle of writing this post and reflect on how monumentally cool it is that little old me has been to Tasmania. 

I grew up as a "free lunch" kid whose dad was perpetually underemployed and whose mom juggled jobs in retail and fast food. I never hopped a plane until a high school friend invited me to go to Universal Studios with her. I never left the country until after I graduated from college. I've been to about 30 countries now and I did the bulk of my traveling while working in a restaurant making 10 dollars an hour. You can do anything you want, okay? You can have All the Things, no matter where you are right now or where you came from. So if you want to write a book or go to Tazmania or do any other thing that people might tell you is impossible, I'm telling you right now, they're wrong. You rule. The whole world is waiting for you...

Welcome to WINGS WILDLIFE PARK!!! hiding place of Belladonna!

Get up close and personal with the locals

Or, you know, just kick back and rest for a bit.

Or make a new friend.

Maybe you'll even fall in love.

Congrats to my WINNER Sara from Forever 17 Books who located Bella inside the Tasmanian devil enclosure at Wings. You'll be receiving an autographed ARC of BELLADONNA, an autographed hardcover of FIRST KILL, the first book in Heather Brewer's Slayer Chronicles, and an assortment of other delicious stuff.

Randomly selected winner of a $15.00 e-card to is Karibbean Island.

Both winners, please email me at the address listed under the 'Contact me' tab.

Thanks to everybody for playing!! You've revealed a wealth of amazing destinations I just might have to visit someday. Happy reading, writing, and traveling. No worries if Tanzania is currently outside of your budget. There's always tomorrow, and in the meantime magical places are probably lurking right outside your door. I hope they find you.

Where in the world is BELLADONNA?? Clue #7

Dear tired explorers,

I'm tired too.
I'm not feeling witty.
What if I just told you
the name of the city?

Unscramble me.

Where in the World is BELLADONNA?? Clue #6

Oh weary and valiant explorers:

The ninjas are tricky
They'll come from the east
But there's nothing to fear
Bella's guarded by this beast.

Believe it or not, this picture has not been edited ;)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Where in the World is BELLADONNA?? Clue #5.5

Hey explorers,
You'd better drink some coffee
So that you may prevail
Does it help at all to know
Your scarlet bovine is a male?

Where in the World is BELLADONNA?? Clue #5

Dear explorers,
Are you getting tired?
Perhaps you need a scarlet bovine to carry you to Bella.
Good luck. It won't be long now...

Where in the World is BELLADONNA?? Clue #4

Dear intrepid explorers,
Don't despair. You're getting closer to finding Bella.
She's right across the way from this ticklish little fella.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Where in the World is BELLADONNA Clue #3

Clue #3

Looking for Bella?
She's past the end of the hippie trail, man!

Where in the World is BELLADONNA Clue #2

Clue #2:
When I was hiding Bella, I rode a bus for hours.
It pained me that I couldn't stop to pick these pretty flowers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Where in the World is BELLADONNA?? Clue #1

Wait. What? How do I play Where in the World is Belladonna??

A quick order of business :) I recently turned in the third book in the Eternal Rose trilogy so I'm sure you're wondering what's next. What? You don't care what's next? You just want the damn clue? :) Okay okay, but when it stumps you and you come back later to reread it and search for hidden meaning amongst the cryptic words, take a peek at my first contemporary novel over on GR. Despite having just 27 adds, she somehow made her way onto a LIST! Very exciting stuff. If you like contemps and romantic comedies and swoony boys who may or may not have mohawks, you might want to add it to your TBR.

Clue #1: To find Bella, you might have to dance with the devil...

Where in the world is BELLADONNA??

As you may or may not have heard, an ARC ofVENOM was stolen by post office ninjas during Apocalypsie to Apocalypsie transit last year. (No Apocalypsies were injured during this crime). 

As a traveling type of chick and all-around international woman of mystery, I decided to safeguard the rest of my ARCs by hiding them in exotic, hard-to-reach places.

Only strong-willed, pure of heart, sound of mind, intrepid explorers will be able to locate these rare tomes. (Or, you know, if you're good at googling that might help too).

The logistics:

1. I post clues to the location of the ARC on the blog at random times. The clues will be released in the evenings or anytime on the weekend (where I live--sorry I can't make that happen for the whole world) so as not to put teen readers at a disadvantage while they're in school. This is me being nice. Do not send me a thousand emails about when you have cello practice or soccer games and hey can I please work around all that. Answer: No. Life's about priorities. Choose wisely :)

2. You figure out the location from the clues. You must be specific.BELLADONNA is in Chicago--NO. BELLADONNA is at Wrigley Field--NO. BELLADONNA is leaning against second base at Wrigley Field--YES. Got it?
3. You post your guesses in the comments beneath the latest clue.
4. Each intrepid explorer (that’s you) can guess a max of twice per clue. Once a new clue is released, you can't go back and guess on the old clues. 
5. If your guess is super-duper-close but not quite there I won’t post it. Instead I will email or DM you on twitter (meaning you'd better post your preferred method of contact with your first guess) to give you one shot to be a teensy bit more specific.
6. If somebody else guesses the exact location before I get a hold of you, they win.
7. To win you just have to guess the location. Note: You guys were SO good at this last time that I have tried to make my clues harder this time. The hiding place is in a country I have actually visited--that's a bonus clue for reading all the instructions, but no, you cannot guess on this post.
8. Once again, you don’t have to follow the blog to play, but I will be posting clues at random times so blog followers will probably have an advantage.
9. I am law. This ain't nursing school. You don't get to debate with me about the answers. Sorry ;)

10. Questions? Put them in the comments. The first clue will be posted sometime on March 1st. Good luck!

The fine print:
Can international people play?
What if the post office ninjas steal this book too?
The best I can do is priority mail with delivery confirmation or 1st class overseas. If the ninjas still prevail (they seem to have a grudge against me) I'll pre-order you a copy of the BELLADONNA hardcover.
So what do I win?
Because the fearless assistants and I know you have a choice when it comes to blog contests, we have packed Ms. BELLA alongside a swagorific, stunning array of other tempting goodies, but we're not telling you what they are. That's right. You win a signed ARC of BELLADONNA, and...mysterious other stuff :) I am also going to award a $15.00 US e-gift-card to to one random contestant.