You may have wondered if Work For Hire is right for you. If you’re considering writing in the children’s book industry, I’ve created a quiz that might help. It’s based on my personal experiences as well as several colleagues I interviewed. [To give you some perspective on collective experience that I’m drawing from: I’ve written 16 kidlit titles for hire so far; picture books, chapter books, and YA–most of them as part of an existing series where the other titles were written by several other people. The fellow writers I talked to have authored close to 100 for-hire titles total.] We’ve all written for different editors and publishers, on different topics, in different genres, with different parameters. Every contract was in some way unique. But generally speaking, Work For Hire has similarities that differ from traditional publishing.
It’s not for everyone.
Is it for you?
First, a definition. “Writing for Hire” means a contract from a publisher or third party—usually from an outline, writing samples, or pitch—to write a book as assigned. For them. It
might have pre-established characters and settings
might be ghostwritten under someone else’s name
might include a “tie-in” or “media-related” connection to an existing product, entity or trademark, such as a movie, comic book, game (typically referred to as intellectual property rights, or i/p)
Lawyers define it as “an exception to the general rule that the person who creates the work owns the copyright. If a work is made by an employee within the scope of their employment or if it was a specially commissioned contribution…it may be a work-for-hire. The employer or hiring party is considered to be the author and thus the copyright owner. A work-for-hire agreement must be signed by both parties before the creation of the commissioned work.” (emphasis mine)
Sometimes you work directly for a publisher. Sometimes you work for a middleman, called a book packager or book producer, who in turn works for the publisher. The book or series might be your idea, but is more likely their in-house idea that they are hiring out for–usually part of a series such as early readers featuring popular TV characters like Spongebob or a history series for K-3rd grade.
Bottom line is: you write it, they own it.
- Do you prefer innovation over purely-from-scratch invention? (More like, say, creating a collage than painting)
- Can you work with a pre-existing format, one you didn’t create?
- Can you write in someone else’s voice, and/or match the general tone/voice and target age range of an existing series?
- Are you okay handing over your work and having someone else do whatever they want to before going to print–even though it (probably) has your name on it?Do you take direction well? (See earlier reference to pre-existing format and matching voice)
- Are you good at research, note taking, keeping files of resources and interviews?
- Can you handle rewrites without arguing? (See all of the above)
- Are you good with deadlines–possibly short ones? (Typically in the six-eight month range, start to finish)
- Can you handle someone else telling you exactly what needs to be done, then possibly changing gears midstream?
- Are you okay getting a flat fee, with no royalties? (Note: there is a chance you’ll come out ahead this way. Slim chance, sure, but a chance.)
- Are you okay with the fact that even though it has YOUR name on it, the contents and everything about it may not have been your preference or decision?
If most answers are Yeses, you might be on the right track.
If most questions made you clench, well, relax. Before you get too nervous, know that the publisher isn’t out to screw you. They don’t want to mess up your work on purpose. Their goal–like yours–is to get the best possible product in the hands of their customer/reader; but the main caveat is it’s usually the best product possible created in the shortest amount of time. You might disagree on what the best product ultimately looks/reads like. (It doesn’t matter though. They have final say. On everything.) Just know they really do have the best interest of the customer in mind. They want to sell books! This is their business! They fully understand a crappy book won’t sell as well as a well-written one. They don’t want to put their reputation on the line for shoddy quality. They have your back; their name is on the cover, too.
There are feel-good questions to ask yourself about Work For Hire too:
- Would you like a shorter time to market? (That is–getting your book on the shelf faster? Most WFH is on the shelf within a year, vs up to potentially 2 to 5 or even 7 years later going the traditional route.)
- Would you like getting paid in a timely manner? (Many pay half the fee upon acceptance of contract and the other half upon submission/completion of the work)
- If the project is cancelled, would you still like to get paid some of the contracted amount? (Make sure you’ve got a “kill fee” in your contract!)
- Do you like direct feedback on how to make your assigned work better?
- Do you like taking an idea and running with it? (Assuming you are okay when they need to rein you back in)
- Do you like a clean set of rules, with a detailed schedule, giving you less time to goof off online and on social media? [Maybe that’s just me, lol]
- Do you like being in control of which projects you agree to and which you decline? (It’s always okay to say no thanks)
- Do you like researching and choosing which publishers and packagers you work with?
- Do you like having a built-in opportunity to work with the same WFH people again? (Assuming you’re not a jerk to work with…)
- Do you like learning about new topics you may have never considered writing about?
And most importantly:
- Do you want to get published?!
If you took this quiz and are a yes (wo)man, then Writing For Hire is for you! Give it a try!
How to go about finding Writing For Hire opportunities will be the topic of my next blog… Hint: it takes just as much effort as pitching your current manuscripts! But worth it.