How To Be A Freelance Writer: Write…For Hire! by Janice Thompson
Writing is my time machine, takes me to the precise time and place I belong.
What 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 dollar.
Let’s start by talking about the various types of write-for-hire work:
Compilation projects: 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.
Books: 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 royalties.
Book 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.
Ghostwriting: 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.
Business writing: 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.
Potential 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!
Closing thoughts: 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 experience.
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.