What to know about the work-for-hire market
ONLINE COLUMN: Writing for Children
Published: February 1, 2009
|Q: Do you recommend signing a work-for-hire contract?|
A: Passionate opinions abound as to whether a writer should sign a work-for-hire contract. A work-for-hire contract basically means that you agree to write a manuscript and give away all rights to it. Your manuscript becomes the publisher's property and the publisher can do whatever it wishes with the work. Many writers feel passionately that work-for-hire contracts should never be signed.
On the other hand, some writers love the world of work-for-hire publishing. Assignments can come at a steady pace. Deadlines are fast and furious. Nice paychecks arrive in the mail on a frequent, regular basis. These writers usually don't like royalty-based contracts because they've learned from experience that it may take years for cash to trickle in from royalties on a book that doesn't sell well.
There can be key benefits to work-for-hire. Most work-for-hire assignments have fixed guidelines and a pre-arranged format that writers are required to follow. Some writers prefer this. Editors who work with writers on these assignments also realize that there's a learning curve for those new to their publishing house. They're often willing to help and train newbies—an added bonus! It can feel like signing up to take a writing course but being paid to take it. Other benefits are that you learn to write what an editor wants and work on a tight schedule. Plus, work-for-hire helps a writer acquire published credits.
These are essential ingredients of building a successful, solid writing career. The main issue you want to be careful about when signing a work-for-hire contract, however, is to never agree to write about something that is near and dear to your heart. Don't sell all rights to the picture book about your nephew's first birthday party or a middle-grade novel series with your twin daughters as the main characters. Save those books for royalty-based contracts where the copyright is registered in your own name.
Most work-for-hire publishers expect to receive a query letter stating that a writer is interested in being considered as an author for a potential assignment. List any published credits you already have. They'll also need to see samples of your work, but if you haven't yet written in their specific genre, mention in your query that you're interested in preparing sample text for their review for a potential upcoming new project. That way, you can fine-tune your writing sample directly to their house style and format. And if they like your sample, you just might be offered a contract to write that project.
Work-for-hire can be a great source of quick cash in the world of publishing, but it might be to your advantage to establish a balance of work-for-hire contracts along with royalty-based contracts. In between your work-for-hire contracts, take time to query publishers who offer royalty-based contracts. If you can land contracts for several royalty-based contracts each year, along with several work-for-hire contracts, it can help you financially in the long run. The beauty of writing royalty-based contracts, other than the all-important reason that you get to keep the copyright to your own work, is that over the years, as you build up your published credits, the royalties start adding up as well.
--Posted Feb. 1, 2009
Nancy I. Sanders
Nancy I. Sanders is the author of over 75 books and has been published by such houses as Scholastic, Reader's Digest, Tyndale and Sleeping Bear Press. Web: www.nancyisanders.com.