From the web archives: Writing for Hire
Since I'm smack dab in the middle of a very fun WFH project I thought this would be a good time to resurrect this post.
What is Work-for-Hire?Work-for-Hire (WFH) is work that a writer is hired to do. The writer prepares a manuscript to fit the publisher’s specifications. The author is typically given a flat fee. The rights belong to the publisher. That means that even if a particular title becomes a best seller, you won’t get any extra money. Of course, there are exceptions. Some publishers give royalties and retain rights to your manuscript. Read your contract carefully.
WFH comes in many flavors to suit your taste.
• Fiction or nonfiction for magazines
• Test passages and questions for educational publishers
• Teaching or technical manuals
• Captions for museums, zoos, etc.
• Series books (both fiction and nonfiction) for book publishers and packagers
How Do I Get Started Writing WFH Nonfiction Books?
Many publishers cater to the school and library market. These nonfiction books are for children to read by themselves to gain information, either for pleasure or for book reports. You cannot find these books at bookstores, but you can buy them directly through the publisher.
Go to your library and read many of these nonfiction books. Pick out the ones that you like. Could you write some of these books? Note the name of the publisher. Check their guidelines either in a market guide or their web site.
Most WFH publishers require you to send a resume, writing samples and a list of references along with your cover letter. Do let them know what kinds of books you would like to write, whether you have any expertise in specific areas. Perhaps you are a former scientist or history teacher.
If they like your work, you will get an assignment. Generally, you have to submit an outline. Once that is approved, you can begin writing. Work-for-hire is usually on a tight schedule. You must be able to write quickly and to specification: grade level, word limits, etc.
Is the Process Similar for Writing WFH Fiction Books?
Yes. You send in samples of your writing. If your style is a good match for a particular series, and if the timing is right, you will be hired.
What About Magazines?
Depending on magazine guidelines, you propose an idea in an outline form or submit a complete manuscript, either fiction or nonfiction. If the magazine buys all rights to your manuscript, it is considered WFH. Many magazines have wide readership and you can be sure that your story will be read by tens of thousands of children. It is also an excellent way to learn to write to the publisher’s specifications in a timely fashion.
WFH is not always glamorous. Sometimes you don’t even get a byline. However, if you enjoy writing about various topics and in different styles for children, WFH can allow you to earn a living from it, especially if you have several different publishers that you work with. This may take away time from your own creative projects. It’s a decision you have to make.
This article is also posted on the SCBWI Blueboard.
Writing for the Educational Market by Laura Purdie Salas
Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children by Margery Facklam et. al.
A Treasure Trove of Opportunity by Melissa Abramovitz
Children's Writer's Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner
Educational Markets for Children's Writers by Evelyn Christensen
Writing for the Education Market (a place that connects publishers and writers)
21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference
I offer in-depth workshops both on magazine writing and writing for hire. Contact me for rates and availability.
As a veteran of WFH you are the one qualified to post this. Many do not realize that most writers who actually earn a living from writing do WFH, not fiction writing from of own initiative. Thank you for re-posting.
Thank you for sharing this process with us! I've always been curious how it works.
Thanks Mirka and Faith. It's the one thing that comes up over and over and I'm happy to have this online again. Marcia over on the SCBWI boards did a great breakdown of the 6-figure deal, and how little it comes out to be year by year.
I'll have to check that post on BB. Reading your explanation on WFH, it reminds me of how similar it is to ghostwriting, which I've been fortunate to be doing for a few private clients (not in the publishing industry). I follow and expand on my clients' directions then write and revise according to what they want. No rights and royalties, too. Which honestly is okay with me (for now). Some people I've talked to raise an eyebrow when they hear this because they think authors should never give up their rights. They feel I'm making a huge sacrifice or something. I'm okay with this because it's more about getting the job, getting the job done well, and getting reasonably paid for it.
Claudine, I didn't realize you were a ghost-writer. I missed that in my WFH category and will add it. You are providing a much-needed service. The thing is that although everybody loves stories, not everybody knows how to tell them well.
I've also heard the same criticism about WFH, how could I give up all my rights, but the truth is I have too many ideas to worry about it. Of course, I prefer keeping my rights for an advance/royalty structure but that's always what is on the table. And a flat fee isn't such a bad idea considering that the vast majority of books do not earn out the advance.
Thanks so much for contributing to my little summary.
Interesting to learn how writers first get involved in finding projects. Have fun with your current writing job!
This is great. I've often wondered about this and how to get started. Good luck!
Thanks Marcia. There are so many paths in this writing life and all so wonderful.
Johnell, Laura's book is one of the best if you cannot take a class in person. Thanks again.
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