Thursday, January 2, 2014

To Be or Not to Be -- Work-for-Hire Projects

As a working writer without spousal back-up, I sometimes get lost in the day-to-day business of survival.  Writers of nonfiction seldom enjoy the advances most novelists take for granted.  So the sale of one, two, three, even four nonfiction children’s books a year does not guarantee fiscal security (or health insurance) for the same twelve month period.  

Work-for-hire projects are a tempting but controversial option for keeping ends met.  I say controversial because some experts say a writer should never agree to a flat-fee contract because they put no pennies in your account down the road.  

I understand that concern, as a woman alone in paying the bills.  But I have often agreed to writing work-for-hire projects, too.  

So let’s explore three hard facts about taking these assignments.  Then let’s explore three great reasons, hopefully to help you make the choice that will be best for your career.  

Hard to Handle 

1.   1.  The paycheck that covers your mortgage this month may seem skimpier once the work-for-hire project is released and on sale to the public.  When you’ve long since deposited the five figure check, but the book is earning six or seven, be prepared for a wee bit of jealous longing.  If you know it’s coming, it’ll disappear almost as quickly as it comes. 

2.    2. If you take too many work-for-hire assignments, you won’t have time to write and research royalty based book proposals that will pay a modest longer term dividend.   Balance in all things. 

3.      3.  It may be hard to give away the perfect idea for a royalty based project to your work-for-hire editor unless you retain the right to write about the same subject again in another format.  Maybe.   

Those are some of the weak points of writing work-for-hire projects.  Now, consider these very important strong points before you make your decision to say yes or no to the flat-fee work. 

Perks to Ponder

1.    1.  Some flat fee books have a better price point bringing your work within reach for kids at all economic levels.  Financially challenged kids will be able to buy a book, where they would not otherwise have that chance.  More affluent kids will suddenly buy two. 

2.   2. Creating strong, work-for-hire books for an editor helps you build a very important working relationship that can lead to more work in the future – work-for-hire and work for royalties.  Do a great job for your editor and you’ll see your opportunities grow. 

3.      3.  Kids who read don’t care what you make for writing your books.  They only care about great stories.  So ignore the contract when you write.  Give the kids and the editors the best work you can muster, because they deserve no less.  That’s how you build your fan base.  NEVER underestimate the power of those readers.   

      After all, young readers are not just our bread and butter, they are our inspiration. 

I love my work-for-hire books just as much as I love my traditional royalty based book projects.  I am proud of every book I’ve written and feel grateful to all the editors who have been generous with their contracts and assignments.  I hope I am always lucky enough to have both kinds of book projects.  

I hope you’ll consider both options too.  The more we write, the more we fine tune our craft, the better it will be for every player on the team, from writers to editors to book designers to marketing pros to the kids who curl up with the books. 

And remember, either way you ARE the winner, every time a young reader falls in love with your books.

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