Do you Want to Write For Hire? Take This Quiz to Decide

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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.

Quiz time:

  • 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.

If you’ve had experiences similar or in contrast to these Quiz questions, tell me about in in the comments. I love hearing anecdotal WFH stories.
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College Applications, Manuscript Submissions, and Lessons Learned

There was a big College Information Night at my son’s high school. There are still years to go before he’s ready, but he’s a planner.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So we went.

Approximately 50 reps from colleges all over the country were there. They ran from big and big name schools (UCLA–the most-applied to school in the entire Unite States) to so small I don’t know how else we would have heard of them (Holy Cross–921 students, total).

We talked to lots of them, asking most of the same questions about GPA needed, acceptance rate, majors offered, class size, etc. The school my son most wants to go to had one of the biggest lines (guess others want to go there too). We waited quite a while to talk to the rep, who patiently repeated the same information over and over. (Seriously, why weren’t the parents just listening in while they were in line? But I digress.) While we waited, we grabbed their college brochure and started flipping through it. We noticed some more obscure majors listed for the school, ones my son was sorta interested in, and wondered if applying for one of those would make sense, instead of those which were sure to be the most popular/crowded/competitive. So we asked the rep, if our son were to major in, say Japanese, would that up his odds of getting accepted, as opposed to him majoring in engineering.

The rep waited not even half a second before answering flatly: “Major what you want to major in. Don’t apply to something you aren’t interested in.” And we felt stupid for considering it, or even asking about it. I did, at least.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now bear with me as I cut over to Manuscript Wishlist, an amazing resource where editors and agents tell you EXACTLY what they are looking for. And I mean exactly. It’s a website as well as a “hashtag” (which means you can do an internet search for “#mswl” and up will pop the most recent posts about it). It’s fantastic because if you are working on a book, say, about kids and frogs you can type in “#mswl kids frogs” and see if there is an editorial match. If so, you know who you should add to your sub list! The more specific the less likely you’ll get a hit, but hey it’s worth a shot. One recent post from an editor, I swear, read “High-tech elves with internet while everyone else is trying to figure out the Iron Age.” It’s that specific.

Scanning the posts or website can be a fount of inspiration. Even if you don’t find a perfect match for your current work-in-progress, it can give you manuscript ideas. Knowing there is someone waiting for that topic/character/etc means you’re one step closer to acceptance! I’ve found myself creating and re-creating all kinds of story ideas from trolling around. Sometimes, I’ll see an element an editor shares about him or herself, and I’ll add that character tag to one of my main characters just so I can add in the cover letter, “Emma loves jelly beans just like you.” I’ve raced to complete a final product since I can almost taste the sweet reward of publication from an already-ready editor. Any edge helps, right?

But here’s the rub. It’s never panned out. The problem is, those stories I was working stories weren’t really my stories. The ideas weren’t my ideas. Even if I can run with a concept, my heart isn’t in someone else’s idea of what makes a great plotline. Just like picking a major just to get accepted at the school you might want to get into, a school you might not otherwise have a chance at, writing a story just to get published at a house that might not otherwise notice you is a waste of time. No one wins. Not you, not the editor or agent, and not the story.

The reader suffers too.

In that moment back at the college fair, I was struck by the similarities of the college app and manuscript submission process. We both search and search for the best fit, then send our submission package after years and years of hard work. (We also fret and fret after hitting the send button, having no control and no idea when we’ll hear back…)

All the time I spent creating those MSWL story ideas? It took me away from MY stories, the ones in my soul, the ones I WANT to write. I’ve wasted my time. I thought I was being clever. But I screwed myself. (Is it OK for me to be frank?)

I hope I haven’t been wasting your time with this analogy.  All this is to say: write the story you want to write. Write the story you need to write. Don’t waste your time writing the story that you think will get you a leg up in the industry.

Write the right one.

Yours.

How do I Find an Agent?

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Google “how to find a literary agent for children’s books” and you’ll get 1,580,000 hits. Over one and a half million! And that’s just in the kidlit world. There are many, many theories on how to find one, just like there are many many theories on how to write the perfect picture book. Many roads will take you there, my friend. You just need to start walking. THEY AREN’T GOING TO COME TO YOU.
First things first. You need to make sure your manuscript is print ready. Never send something that isn’t perfect/finished! Has it been copy edited? Have you had more than one other person review it–do you have a reliable/experienced critique partner/group? Have you been working on it for longer than, say, a month? The ironic thing here is that the next thing I’m going to say is be prepared to make changes if necessary which contradicts the “make sure it’s perfect/finished” statement. An agent might have suggestions on how to make your manuscript better, and you might need to make those changes before he or she agrees to represent you. (It’s ALWAYS up to you to decide if and how those changes will be implemented. It’s your manuscript, afterall. Feel free to say “No, thanks” and move on to the next agent on your list if the recommend changes don’t feel right to you.)
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Second, you need to research the right agent FOR YOU, one that will like/accept not only your genre and age range but fits your style. That means your style of writing as well as your style of a working relationship. You do that by researching reputable agencies online and reading up on every agent that reps the kind of manuscript you have–based on what they have already sold and based on what they say they are looking for. Have they represented authors that have books similar to yours? That’s what you are looking for. This may be the only time you don’t want uniqueness. You want someone with relevant experience so they can get you the best deal and offer you the best, most applicable guidance. A super YA agent, for example, might be a crappy picture book agent. It’s a different world. Maybe it’ll work out–see what else they’ve sold. The good news is they will tell you directly on their page what they are looking for and have sold but that bad news is it’s a lot of work b/c there are so many agencies and so many agents.
How to get started researching, you may ask?
  • https://janefriedman.com/find-literary-agent/ gives an excellent overview on finding agents. It’s not specific to kidlit, but is worth reading every word. This post is from 2015 but still very much valid. Jane gives tips on checking an agent’s track record, what to expect from a good agent (are they members of AAR?), and explains submission guidelines piece by piece. READ IT. I’m not kidding.
  • The very first blog page on that Writer’s Digest site that I’d recommend you read is http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/pubtips. Editor Chuck Sambuchino culled advice from real agents, who Tweeted their top tips on what to do and how to do it. For example, some advice from 2013 that still stands is from agent Jacquie Flynn’s (@BookJacquie): “Check out an agent’s website, tweets, & blog posts to get a sense of her style & taste before you query. Customize for best results.”
  • Speaking of Twitter…I’ll go ahead and quote Chuck from that same blog, who says, “Many, many agents are on Twitter. And by reading their tweets, you can get a deeper understanding of what they seek as well as what kind of writing excites them. Use an agent’s online footprint and research them. Read their blog interviews. Review their website. This helps you better target agents to query, and it also helps you learn more about each rep, giving you information you can use to begin your query letter. For example, ‘Dear Ms. Flynn, I saw your tweet about how you seek irreverently humorous young adult books such as Spanking Shakespeare. For this reason, I think you would like my YA comedy of errors, [Title].'”
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Social media is your friend when researching agents

  • And speaking of matching up agents with what they’ve already said they like…Have you heard of MSWL? If not, write it down! There is a great website/resource called MSWL — Manuscript Wish List  — where agents regularly Tweet out exactly what they are hoping to find, and the results are tallied and searchable here: http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com You can do a search for exactly what you’ve written, such as #magic #chapterbook #unicorns, and see if there are any matches. It’s worth coming back to again and again.
  • If you’re a member of SCBWI (and if you’re not, don’t be an idiot, join already!), start looking up names and agencies with “The Book” that is online to members http://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/. Go to the Agents section. It lists websites for every agency that’s worth reviewing. [“The Book” also lists all major kidlit publishing houses, and gives websites and contact information as well as if they accept unagented or “unsolicited” manuscripts (unsolicited means you need to end a query first), if you decide against pursuing an agent.] Narrow down the agencies you like, then look at their agents, and if the agent reps your age range and/or genre and you think you’d get along, then give them a whirl. There are other sources online that charge for this information and may be worth looking into if you don’t have SCBWI access. Either way, always verify your searches with the agent websites and/or agent social media accounts. Do that with a basic Google search.
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  • Wondering about warning signs, such as contests disguised as paid editing services or agents asking for a reading fee? NEVER PAY AN AGENT TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT! RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY! [The exception is legit conferences where you submit your work for a fee in exchange for a critique/feedback, or fundraisers like #PensforPaws where agents (or editors) donate their time to giving you feedback and the money goes to charity. These are NOT solicitations for representation so don’r count as creepy agent maneuvers.] Tally up sleeze-meter readings with help from this list created by “Writer Beware” http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/agents/
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In all honesty, you don’t NEED an agent in the children’s book industry. If you ask me (and you did) I suggest you take all that time researching agents and spend it perfecting your manuscripts. You can submit to many editors and publishing houses directly.  The key is always quality writing, not the agent that submits it. 
The bottom line is: just like when writing your manuscript, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Perfect your work. Research out a few solid agents that will work FOR YOU, submit per their exact submission guidelines, and see what they say. If they all pass b/c they say your manuscript isn’t ready, well, you know what your next steps will be.
If they like it, well, wasn’t all that work worth it?
Write on!

Author Platform: Maximizing Social Media

Social Media

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Last post we defined Author Platforms. So tell me, what is an Author Platform, do you remember? It’s how you show your unique qualities that “brand” you as a writer or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales. It’s a long term goal, not a RIGHT NOW CLICK HERE goal. No one likes the CLICK HERE RIGHT NOW guy, amiright?

Social media is one of the main ways you create your brand. Since most of your readers will never meet you in person, it’s how most of your readers get to know you. This post is gonna look at ways to maximize social media so you can give yourself the best platform. We’ll talk through some real examples, screenshotted below.

If you need to take a step back and get a basic primer on Twitter, check out https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/twitter-101-the-basics-for-writers/

General social media tips to support your Author Platform:

  1. Be you, all the time.
  2. Have fun! Every tweet/post doesn’t have to have something to do with writing or illustrating, but each one should still reflect who you are and what you stand for. Remember the part about the real you needing to shine through?
  3. Sorry to say this, but people are people. And by that, I mean selfish. I’m not judging. It’s fact. We are always asking ourselves WIIFM? As in, What’s In It For Me? No one has time, and we make decisions in a snap. You need to do whatever you can to convince me, quickly, that what you have to say will benefit me. And then come through. So don’t just tell me your book trailer is finished and give me a link. Tell me what the trailer is about, what I’ll see, why it’s worth watching. I need to know WIIFM or I’m not going to click. Even if I like you. I just don’t have time.
  4. Other people are selfish–but you need to be giving. Stop talking about how great your product is. Let us figure that out on our own. Your book really should be able to speak for itself…or at least let others do the talking. A tweet like”Another great review, my work is profiled yet again! Click to see the latest url.2937y5/iji…” gives me no incentive to click. It’s blatant bragging. But what about “What an honor to be included in this roundup, check out the other Best 2016 Reads by Buzzfeed at url.8724r34r/…” or “Thanks for the kind review, Donna, it was nice being your guest blogger this month. I bet no one can guess how many puppies were harmed in the making of that video! [link to Donna’s website].” Do you see the difference? One is “Look at me!!” Another–the preferred method–is “There’s something in this for you, have a look.” You want to be of service. Your book or link or review just happens to be one way to help. [See #6, below.] Continue reading

Creating an Author Platform

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Quick quiz: You’re told you need to work on your “Author Platform.” You:

  1. Smile politely, then go back to searching online for cute cat outfits
  2. Nod, smile, then furiously Google “Writers’ d” hoping you’re not the last to know what the heck that is
  3. Think “Oh, yeah it really is time I update my Facebook, Twitter, blog and website,” then dig right in
  4. B or C but definitely not A (unless it was a really good sale)

Correct answer: D.

What is an Author Platform? And why do you need to care?

Let’s break it down. Author. Platform. It’s like a compound word. (Author Platforms or Writer Platforms, no matter what you call it, are the same thing, don’t get hung up on author vs writer. For the sake of ease, we’ll use the terms synonymously here. I’m also capitalizing the words here for effect, which is unnecessary elsewhere.) A writer or an author is someone who has written something. A platform is a raised surface, something you’d stand on for better visibility. Like a stage. Put the words together and you’ve got an image of a writer standing on a, well, platform, a little taller than everyone around them. They stand out; you can spot them in a crowd.

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That’s the writer you want to be.

You want to be the writer/author that people can find easily or can recognize…the one that stands out. And you’ll need a platform on order to do it.

“Author Platform: your visibility as an author, utilizing your personal ability to sell books through who you are, the connections you have, and the media outlets you use.” –Writer’s Digest

I think of the term as a less-commercial way of saying “author branding.” It means how you present yourself to the public, and how you are seen/viewed by readers, agents, editors, fellow writers/artists and anyone else paying attention. It’s a way of showing your unique qualities that “brand” you as a person, as a writer, or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales.

Don’t confuse it with image. Image implies something perceived. You’ll be putting the real, flawed you out there, just like you do for your main characters. An Author Platform should be based on truth. You’re not an actor hiring a publicity agent to get media attention. You’re you, showing who you are, with the ultimate goal that the likeable you is worthy of following or noting or reading or acknowledging, and it will at some point lead to book sales. Isn’t that why school visits, book signings, special promotions, launch parties and all that exist, to sell books? Well you’re the in-person version of that, the walking billboard, the neon sign, open 24/7. Except when you’re asleep. Or whatever. You know what I mean.

You are NOT shaking hands and asking people to buy your book all th
e time, oh no, you’re missing the point. No one is going to follow or buy the book from a guy that’s sending pestering Tweets or spamming Facebook posts or always standing up in groups asking people to buy their books after the meeting. Boy is that annoying or what? I hate that guy. What I’m saying is you are your brand. You represent you. So be respectable. Make me like you. Make me WANT to buy your book. If you do it right, you will probably never have to say the words “Buy my book.” I’ll decide I want to on my own.

 

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Note this is a Writer Platform, not a book platform. This is about you, not your book. Why?
Because you’re more than one book. If you brand yourself too closely with one title, on the next book you’ll have to do it all over again. That confuses people. They can handle lots of books, but they only want one you. Brand yourself correctly and all your books will easily fall under that one umbrella…you!

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Everything you post online becomes a part of your brand. Your Tweets, your FB posts, your blog updates. Your forwards, your shares, your likes. It all shapes the person people see. Those who have never met you can only form an opinion based on what they see. And that’s based on what you do. How you reply to comments. What you post or repost. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Continue reading

2016 NY Writers Conference: Who’s With Me?

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I’m headed to one of the largest children’s book writing conferences in the world: the SCBWI Winter Conference (why our annual winter conference is in NY [where it’s supposed to be 8° this weekend] and the summer conference is in LA, I’ll never understand, but that’s another topic.) And OVER A THOUSAND fellow writers and illustrators will be there too. The event boasts many top (dare I say famous) editors, agents, art directors, authors & illustrators in the children’s publishing world. It’s going to be a fantastic few days of learning, inspiration, and friend making.

The large mix of attendees is weighted a little heavily towards the beginner, with many in the intermediate and many many in what I’d call the “seasoned professional” category. The NY conference is a little different from other SCBWI conferences in that, given the proximity to so many publishing houses, it practically rains editors and agents. You’ll see them at conference keynotes, intensives, panels, awards ceremonies, heck, even elevators. Some of them just show for the Art Show or Gala Dinner. Many of them are either new or overworked and don’t travel much, so you won’t see them elsewhere.

If you’ve never been, and have wondered if it’s worth it, I have to give it a hearty YES YES, two cramped writing thumbs up. And not just because I love my NY roots and will find any excuse to go back. But because it’s a writing experience like no other. It’s not a pore-over-your-workshop-notes-and-guarantee-yourself-an-aha-moment. It’s a wow-I’m-really-a-writer-surrounded-by-other-writers-and-this-is-where-I-want-to-be-moment. If you don’t have one of those while you’re there, well, you might not be a writer after all. And that’s OK, too. Isn’t that an important learning moment as well? No matter what you walk away with, I promise you won’t regret your decision to attend. There’s a reason a thousand people from around the world will be at this thing.

Now if you happen to be one of these thousands of fellow conference attendees this week or sometime in the future, and are fearing for your life because you’d rather be in your jammies creating in the privacy of your home and not in the middle of a grand ballroom surrounded by all these cat ladies, here are some conference tips to maximize your trip.

Conference tips:

  1. You’re not going to get a contract (seriously, toss that thought right now), but you WILL make contacts. These connections might lead to a contract some day. But don’t pressure yourself, or others. Listen. Learn. Be present. Follow some new people on Twitter and Facebook (follow this blog!). It’s kind of like college-you aren’t really there to memorize the Periodic Table; you’re Continue reading