do you think of when you hear the term write-for-hire?
Do you envision yourself going door-to-door, trying to drum up work
from your neighbors? (“Hello, my name is Janice, and I’ll be happy to
write that Christmas letter for you!”) Or do you see yourself standing
on a street corner, wearing a placard that reads, WILL WRITE FOR FOOD?
The concept is similar. The term write-for-hire
basically means that you get hired by a publishing company to do a
temporary, assigned project. In some ways it’s like working on
assignment for a magazine or newspaper. When that particular project is
over, it’s over.
I love write-for-hire projects.
Believe it or not, I use them to rest my brain between novels. About a
third of my freelancing income comes from these quick projects. They
are varied and enjoyable, so I recommend this avenue if you’re serious
about writing for money. (And, hey, who isn’t interested in earning
extra money while you’re waiting on that next book contract?)
Over the next few months we’re
going to address some questions related to write-for-hire work. We’ll
figure out where to find these projects and how to maintain good,
healthy relationships with editors. We’ll also address a variety of
topics related to contracts, rights, payments, the editing process, and
more. I hope to stir you up so that you will consider write-for-hire
work as another fabulous way to use your writing gift to earn top
Let’s start by talking about the
various types of write-for-hire work:
devotionals and short-story collections: Many publishing
houses put out a steady stream of compilation books (devotionals, in
particular). Most of these books are written by more than one author.
For example, over the past couple years I contributed devotionals to
compilation projects for caregivers, stepmoms, dog lovers, and so on.
If the book contained 100+ devotionals, ten might have been mine. Or
twenty, even. My assignment usually came with detailed instructions and
a clear deadline. Over the next few months we’ll talk about compilation
projects in depth.
Surprisingly, a handful of the novels you see on bookstore shelves,
particularly those for kids, are actually write-for-hire projects. Some
time ago, I was hired to write a complete book of mini-devotionals
titled Everyday Joy. I didn’t have to share the
project with anyone else. I had so much fun (and was tickled to see the
book on the ECPA best-seller list not long after it came out). My name
is on the cover of the book, but I received a flat payment, not
packaging: Book packaging is a bit different from
compilations. In this scenario, a series of books is put out under one
name. (For example, the Nancy Drew books were supposedly written by
Carolyn Keene. In reality, they were written by a host of unnamed
authors who were given a formula and an outline for the book they were
to write.) One thing that sets book packaging apart from other
write-for-hire projects is that the author does not receive credit for
his or her work.
Initially, the term ghostwriter was used because
the writer would never be disclosed to the public. Thankfully, the
process has morphed over time. These days, the name of the ghostwriter
usually appears along with the owner of the story. I’ve done some
ghostwriting and have been acknowledged as the writer. Perhaps this
holds some appeal for you, as well.
Think for a moment about the following: advertising materials; catalog
copy; technical, medical, and marketing materials; newsletters; Website
copy; brochures; etc. Who writes all of that stuff? You . . . if you’d
like! There is money to be made in business/technical writing. We’ll
discuss this in detail over the next few months.
write-for-hire markets: The first is the Sunday school
curriculum market. Someone has to write those lessons! There’s also
write-for-hire work available through school and library publishers.
Finally, you might consider writing press releases for authors or
businesses. The potential for income is unlimited!
If you’re already published but need more work, consider asking your
current editor if he or she has any write-for-hire projects coming up.
If you’re a fiction writer, you might ask your fiction editor to give
you the name and contact information for the nonfiction editor at your
publishing house. Also, don’t forget about your agent (if you have
one). When I first signed with my agent, I told him up front that I was
a freelance author, not just a novelist. In our first phone call, I
said, “If you hear of a publishing house looking for an author to write
a book on a specific topic (be it fiction or nonfiction), think of me.
I’m fast, flexible, and willing to learn and research.” He has since
come to me with “special projects” from two different houses. In most
cases, though, I’ve drummed up the work myself, or have garnered work
as a direct result of previous relationships with editors.
The primary thing is to see
yourself as more than a novelist, particularly if you need the
additional income. If you’re like me, you will see these short-term
projects as a welcome change from the day-to-day novel writing
What do you think, writers? Do
you have what it takes to handle the pressures associated with
write-for-hire work? If you’re motivated, disciplined, and willing to
think outside the box, you’ll do great! Stick with me over the next few
months as I take you on a journey inside the write-for-hire world.