Friday, January 25, 2013

A Bit about Work for Hire

As a writer of work-for-hire, nonfiction books, I’ve been involved in fourteen books for the school library market. Eleven of those are available (if you're interested, click on the "my books" tab above). I look at these projects as truly a team effort, between my editor, a content consultant, the design team, and me. All the players are equally important in making a high-concept, interesting, and visually exciting final product.

The whole project starts with the assignment. Once I accept and sign the contract, I get the author guidelines. These guide me, as I research and write the first draft.

Truth be told, I’m always a little nervous turning in that first draft. I’m not an expert on the topics about which I write. I’m a researcher and a reader. I follow the writer’s guidelines to craft a book that introduces kids to an interesting topic at their own level.


The revision part is where things get interesting—as far as the team process. I’m usually holding my breath to make sure I haven’t made myself look like an idiot to the editor and consultant. Editor notes usually come back via comments and track changes in Word. Usually I see things like, “make this section longer,” “add a sidebar here,” “move this section to chapter four.” Sometimes the suggestions are more extreme. A couple of times, editors have changed mid-stream. In that situation, there might be more significant changes after the first draft, especially if the new editor has a different vision.

You might get specific, easy-to-follow instructions for changes. That’s great. On the other hand, you might get a vague suggestion, and it’s up to you to figure out what to add. On one book, I was asked to write a paragraph that kids would have to paraphrase as part of a “try this” activity. The book was about how to research; the paragraph ended up being something about volcanoes—not at all the content I was writing.


My best advice for revision for work-for-hire is to remember that this is a paying gig. This is not your pet novel. Make the changes as suggested, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Change the content based on what the consultant says. If you disagree with any of the suggestions, by all means, talk to your editor and work it out. But, by and large this is a team effort. Be a team player and don’t be a diva, and you’ll get more assignments.

I'm happy to answer questions...I'm away for the weekend, so I'll respond to comments next week!

Good Luck!

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