Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Work For Hire Q&A

A couple of days ago, a reader asked if I’d post about work-for-hire. 

First, a definition:

Generally speaking, a work assigned to an author by a publisher—based on contracted guidelines—is called work-for-hire. Sometimes the author will be credited—sometimes not. The author may not hold the rights to the work, and may not receive royalties. Sometimes the details differ based on the contract or the publisher. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire

Basically, the bottom line with work-for-hire is that you don’t have any rights to the work after it’s completed. You can’t use it as a writing sample. You can’t sell it to anyone else. It can be fiction or nonfiction. Typically, you’re paid an agreed-upon sum to complete an assigned project.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on this stuff. Just one author with my own personal experience.


1.      What do you think a writer should consider before agreeing to write a children's book as a work-for-hire?

Think about how much ownership you want for everything you write. Your work-for-hire piece might have your name on it, but you might not have written 100% of the contents. In my experience, WFH is a team approach, with editors and graphic designers having as much input as the author. It’s a fantastic experience, but it’s not all yours the same way another piece would be. The final product may not be the same piece you turned into the editor and you may or may not have a chance to see the final work before it goes to press.

2.      How do you put a work for hire proposal together?

For the most part, you’re not going to put together a proposal for work-for-hire. You’ll probably apply for an assignment much like you apply for a job, with a cover letter, resume, and writing samples. Depending on the publisher, you may write individual samples specifically for them. For me, when I initially applied to Capstone, I sent writing samples that I had already written. Like any other writing query or submission, make sure you look at the submission guidelines and send what the individual publisher requests.

3.      How do you get paid for a work-for-hire project?

Again, this varies by publisher. But, for the most part, you’ll be contracted for a lump sum. Usually, you’ll get half upon delivery of an outline or first draft; and the other half when the editor accepts the final document.

4.      Do you need an agent for Work-for-Hire?

As most of you know, I have an agent (the lovely Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary). She is not involved in my work-for-hire contracts; she works exclusively with me on my middle grade and young adult fiction. However, I do consult with her on occasion when it comes down to deadlines and new projects and how they might or might not impact my fiction.

5.      What does having work-for-hire work on one's resume say about one's writing career?

Work-for-hire books are professionally published works. You are paid to write them. Therefore, you are a professional, paid writer. That’s huge! I feel very strongly that my work-for-hire experiences have opened doors for me professionally. I can do school visits and feel much more legit that I did before—though that’s my experience and personal opinion talking. Just because I feel like it makes me more legit, doesn’t mean it will be that for you. And I’m certainly not implying that it makes anyone who hasn’t done work-for-hire less legit. If you’re writing, you’re a writer!


My work-for-hire has been an incredible addition to my writing career—three years ago I was struggling with advancing my career, not sure what type of writer I was going to be. As of January 2012, I have eight books published, with three more in various stages of progress. All but one are with Capstone Press, so my experience has been limited to that publisher.

My fiction is still a work-in-progress, but I’m certain that my nonfiction work-for-hire has made me a better writer, and given me some street cred. And sometimes, feeling legit can make the world of difference to a fragile ego.

Thanks to all the readers who asked questions. Any other questions—feel free to ask in the comments.


Jonathon Arntson said...

Kris! This is a great post. Thanks for the comprehensive look from someone who has been there. I hope my last question didn't sound condescending - I didn't know how to phrase it properly. I have considered doing work-for-hire for a couple of years. I have even noticed some of my idols have done WFH or still do.

Regarding your journey with fiction: it's plainly obvious how talented you are with writing and social networking. I've watched your progress for almost two years now and it's only a matter of time before we're popping virtual bottles of celebratory juices!

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Laura Pauling said...

Terrific post about wfh! Off to retweet!

Kristine Asselin said...

Thanks so much everyone! Glad you found it helpful.

Evelyn said...

Congratulations, Kris, on the writing success you've achieved! I thought you did a good job of describing the basics of WFH.