Saturday, March 26, 2016

I'm doing a Work For Hire. Will that hurt my novel?

I have an opportunity to write a few novels set in someone else's world in a work for hire situation. My name, my stories, their IP. I also plan to write my own novels in the same genre. While there isn't a non-compete clause in the contract, I still have some qualms about the opportunity. Or am I over thinking things and panicking like a frightened woodland creature?
Either way, I can't seem to shake these questions:

(1) Will the work for hire novels hurt or help my chances to get my own novels published?
(2) Will I still be considered a debut author if the work for hire books come out before I'm ready to shop my own novel?
(3) Does it actually matter what order this happens in?
(4) Should I look at getting an agent for the work for hire novels? (the contract is very straight forward.)

(1) No

(2) No

(3) Yes. Your first novel is your debut. If the WFH comes first, that's the debut. If your own novel comes first, that's the debut. Debuts matter ONLY for prizes, generally, and for gaining interest from booksellers. You won't need the bookseller interest for the WFH, I'd guess, because the interest is based on the series, not the author. Generally, if you're writing a Star Trek novelization, readers are asking for the next Star Trek book, not the next Felix Buttonweezer book.

(4) Yes. Now remember, I'm an agent. I think everyone should have one BUT to support that statement let me quote from a client who did get a very straightforward contract recently for a project that I did not sell "Thanks for the notes. I know I would not have caught (any of) these things"

In other words, I saw some things that he didn't and he was able to get most of them changed in the contract.

(Just FYI, I review all contracts my clients enter into even if I don't sell the project for Just This Reason!)

This seems like a good opportunity to build your writing portfolio. Even if you don't secure an agent for the WFH, you should have someone review the contract to keep you out of trouble. Let me know if you need a name.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

On a much (much) smaller scale, when editors have assigned pieces, I certainly have enjoyed working on them, but for me there's nothing like the word-search that ticker-tapes out of my own mind.
Building a writer's portfolio is great. A while back I did that for a year, without pay, and it was the best writer's decision I ever made.
Just think, you'll be famous before you're famous and make money too. Life is good.

BTW Reiders if tomorrow is one of the holidays you celebrate may you bask in the sunshine of your beliefs. If it's not, a blessed day to all in this crazy mixed up place we call earth.

Jason Magnason said...

This sounds a lot like Ed Greenwoods Onder Librum. You write for free and get paid a portion of the proceeds of the book if it sells. You have to pay to be a part of it and you don't get an advance on the sale nor do you receive representation.

Sure they do all the hard stuff: Marketing, publishing, pushing the content, but the material is not yours and you cannot represent yourself outside of the material as being an author of said material. I just can't see myself writing for the benefit of someone else if I am not getting properly compensated for it.

One of the folks in my writing group got contracted for it and the contract has some stipulations that make it very hard for you to write anything else after you write for them.

Janet is right, if your writing a novel, work for hire, a magazine article, it's best to be represented by someone who knows the business and can prevent you from getting screwed in the end.

Caveat Emptor.

nightsmusic said...

I have a wonderful friend who is multipubbed who has decided, when the market took a real downturn in her genre, to do ghost writing or...wfh. She has clients set for the next 18 months with more calling all the time. She's happy, content, has a 'regular' income for a writer and is considering self publishing for the remainder of her series and anything new. BUT! She's been published for many years so she's been around the ins and outs for a long time. I would heed Janet at all costs here. And if you can't find an agent, at least a lawyer to look the contract over. Straightforward or not, there's always something to be missed.

BJ Muntain said...

I posted this in yesterday's comments, but I'll post it here, too, for those who won't see them the next day.

Thank you all for the thoughts, prayers and support, EM, Colin, Lisa, NM, SD, Donna, Julie, Celia, SiSi, Adib, Mark, Jason, Karen, Panda, 2Ns, Lennon (and you're very welcome!), Brigid, KD, Christina, Dave, Megan, Kae, Sam, and all you wonderful people. I truly appreciate them. This place is a very special place, full of kind and supportive people. Thank you.

Julie, that was a beautiful verse. And the bunny! The bunny! Thank you.

Jason: So inspirational! Good for you! Like you, I didn't have a lot of support from family... although, once I proved I could make money writing (technical writing), my Dad got more interested. Even a week before his final illness, he was asking me what was happening with my book. And congrats on your first query!

Brigid, that really is beautiful. Yesterday, the family was talking about him (of course) and it came out that he was a stubborn shit-disturber who was good at getting people pissed off at him. Not because he was grumpy or anything, but because he knew what was right and he would stick by that (and he often wound up in leadership positions, where that quality often is and often is not appreciated, by different people). We're proud of our stubborn shit-disturbers in our family. And I realized then that the main character in my series has that very quality and, in his case too, it's made him enemies and friends. I'd never put the that character together with my Dad before. I have a whole new appreciation for both of them now.

BJ Muntain said...

Back on topic:

Don Maass used to do work-for-hire novels. Now he's a top agent and the author of many successful writing books, including Writing the Break-Out Novel and Fire in Fiction.

It's good work for a writer. If you like the world and the characters you'll be writing, it could be fun.

But definitely get legal help for the contract. Straight-forward or not, even if you know and understand legalese, even if you're a lawyer in another business - if you're not familiar with publishing contracts, you could be missing things that should be there but aren't. It's well and good to see what's there, but you can't see what's not if you don't know what to look for.

Susan said...

I wrote five novels as a ghostwriter with my writing partner. It was her world and under a pen name, which I was happy about because they were very different from what I usually write (and the types of books I want to publish). But it was a lot of fun, great experience, helped me make some substantial money, and, most importantly to me, helped me get back into the writing game after a few years' hiatus. Along with that, it helped me really cement the types of books I personally want to write.

Speaking from that experience, this seems like a great opportunity for the OP (if the contract checks out--never do something against your own interests, particularly where money is concerned) to write in the genre to really know the genre, have more craft experience, and even begin to build a following. However, I would ask if there's the possibility of using a pen name for the WFH and urge that--this way, you can keep your WFH books separate from your own and still follow the debut path, even if it's a debut in the reader's eyes and not necessarily the agent's, you seem to be seeking.

BJ: I'm so sorry to hear about your father. May you and everyone feeling loss this week find comfort in the love you had and the memories you shared. They may have moved on from the body, but never from the heart. <3

Robert Ceres said...

The thing that might worry me is the “my name, my story,” part. That’s your brand. If writing in John Grisham’s world I would probably be fine with that, but Felix Buttonweezer’s world?

In business you always want your brand name associated with good things. Even the slightest taint of a bad product and you are done for. Why not write under a pseudo name or under Felix’s name? That way you can avoid getting your potentially great brand name associated with someone else’s muck.

If your doing WHF for J.K. Rowling, forget everything I just said!

BJ you are in my Easter prayers. I hope things turn out as best they can considering the circumstances.

Dena Pawling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dena Pawling said...

Almost 10 years ago, I represented a commercial landlord who owned a strip mall. One of his tenants was experiencing a business slow down [this was in the very beginnings of the recession after the bubble of 2006-2008]. This tenant was a good tenant, always paid her rent on time, never caused problems, her customers didn't cause problems, etc. So one day they sat down in a coffee shop [another tenant at the strip mall] and my client gave her a rent concession. For six months, she would pay 50% of the rent. She expected her business would get over the down-turn within the six months, and my client wouldn't have to search for a new tenant at the beginning of a recession.

They wrote this agreement on a napkin. I am not kidding you.

Several months passed. This tenant's lease was up for renewal for another five-year period. The tenant sent my client a notice to exercise renewal. My client calculated the monthly rent for the first year of the renewal period based on the renewal clause of the lease, which included an annual escalator.

Sounds straightforward, right?

The tenant objected.

The original lease's renewal clause stated the rent for the first year of the renewal period would be calculated using the escalator and based on the rent FOR THE FINAL THREE MONTHS of the lease.

This tenant's rent would be 50% of the original rent, plus annual escalator, FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS.

Yes, there were ways to protect my client from that happening while still accomplishing both parties' goals, but he didn't ask me before he did this, and the protections were not included on the napkin.

No good deed goes unpunished.

An IP attorney is a member of my local RWA group. She is an author, and she reviews contracts for authors who don't have an agent. I agree with BJ. You can't see something that's not there, especially if you don't know what to look for.

All standard and/or boilerplate contracts favor the party who drafted the contract. That's not you.

I think writing WFH sounds fun and if I was in your place, I would definitely consider doing it. But even though I'm an attorney, and I review contracts daily, I don't practice in IP law or review IP contracts. I would have NO hesitation in deciding to hire my local RWA member to review my WFH contract. It may not say I'm giving up my firstborn and I would never be able to work for anyone else ever again, but it might not be far from that and I might miss that. This is a business. Make a business decision and consult with an appropriate attorney or agent or someone similar who knows this business.

This is way long so I'll stop now before I buckle my seat belt on my flight to Carkoon.

Good luck and congrats on this opportunity!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have not really considered WFH before. I would probably consider it for my genre of the characters/ worlds intrigued me. I have no familiarity with this topic at all so OP, look to other sections of the reef. I am still hunting chocolate cake. Elusive beast that.

John Frain said...

I am so glad Janet added that last paragraph.

"This seems like a good opportunity to build your writing portfolio..."

Not that I'm in the position of Opie, but it DID sound like a great opportunity. You're practicing with real consequences attached to everything you do. So you're learning plot, pacing, structure all the good stuff PLUS deadlines and organizational skills that a typical debut author doesn't have to deal with.

Except self-imposed deadlines like the one staring at me. Good luck, Opie, my red pen is dancing my way.

JulieWeathers said...

When I was speaking with the TOR editor, he said the 23 years experience at the horse racing magazine wouldn't mean much aside from writing experience. Most horse racing people won't transfer to epic fantasy readers. He was right.

Now, writing for a fantasy gaming company will transfer into readers and in the case of the game company I write for, even Civil War since the core story is about a CW soldier.

The point I'm making is you really do need to look at the big picture. I mention briefly both writing jobs in my queries because it adds to my writing platform. Any professional work should help. I say should because nothing is absolute. Either way, get a professional to look at the contract.

Good luck. What great news for you.

Karen McCoy said...

Julie: Perhaps an epic fantasy horse story is in order?

BJ: Donald Maass is a great example. Will continue to think of you and your family, especially this coming weekend.

I think 2N's needs to get into the T-shirt and/or bumper sticker business for her constant cleverness. "A blessed day to all in this crazy mixed up place we call earth" indeed!

The Sleepy One said...

Jason, WFH isn't always just a part of the proceeds. For example, you can also be offered a flat payment, or a pay structure that includes a set payment plus royalties.

I know a few people who've done work for hire for major (big 5) publishers, and it sounds like a good experience if it's the right fit. One of my critique partners has made a career of it. A different friend used a pen name for her WFH and her name for her novels.

Lennon Faris said...

Every time I read, 'WFH' I read it as 'WTF.' The post and comments are surprisingly funny like that. I haven't any experience on the actual subject so there's my words of real wisdom for today.

BJ - so glad you are finding support.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

John Frain said...

You're so right. I did the same thing with WFH and WTF. Now, reading your note, it's funny for me all over again. A nice reprieve from mind-exhausting work, otherwise known as editing.

Donnaeve said...

Maybe I still have flu brain, (most likely) because honest to Godiva (to use one of QOTKU's expressions and...b/c Easter and...because, hello chocolate bunny!) I can't imagine having enough time in the day to do this AND write my own stuff.

So, therefore. I decree WFH officially as WTF since some of us are seeing it as that anyway, and I sure am, b/c I mean WTF? I can hardly find time to write my own sh*t much less someone else's sh*t. Why can't they write it? Why would they want someone else to write it? I don't get it. Hence, WTF?

Never considered it. But I sure had a lot of fun writing this comment. Back to sucking on cough syrup.

***BJ, thoughts with you as you navigate this most difficult time. Thank you for your kind words of appreciation, although they aren't necessary. Just take care of yourself.

Adib Khorram said...

If it was a property I loved and a world I wanted to play in, I would leap at the chance to do work for hire.

What could be better than getting to play around in a world you know and love? And getting PAID for it?!

Theresa said...

WTF, I'd be willing to give WFH a try.

Lilac Shoshani said...

I also read WIT as WTF...I had no idea why, but Donna's comment opened my eyes. ;-) On a serious note, I completely agree with her.

Donna: get better soon, dear!

BJ: I’m so sorry for your loss. I have deep appreciation for people who know what's right and stick by that. Stubborn shit-disturbers are my kind of people! Sending you hugs and love! ((( <3 )))

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it!

Donnaeve said...

@Theresa - so much for the cough syrup. I almost choked I laughed so hard at that!

Adib, you said, "What could be better than getting to play around in a world you know and love? And getting PAID for it?!"

Oh the paid part, yeessss, nicccceee. But, how much work is this, I wonder? And how would you know if you get their world the way they want their world? Maybe there's a lot of back and forth, i.e. they say, "yes, yes, yes, uh, no," to what you write about...?

I'm flummoxed but I guess I've read about it before and immediately (and quickly) wiped it from my mind b/c it's something I can't see myself doing. I guess there's a lot of it out there. IDK. WTF. I'm tired.

Donnaeve said...

Ah, Lilac! Posted same time as you - thank you! I do feel better than I did, but still sort of limping along.

Kate Larkindale said...

I had the opportunity to audition for a WFH project a couple of years ago. The story outline I was sent to work with was very, very different to anything I'd write on my own, but in a way that was exciting because it encouraged me to think about a world and a story type I'd never written before. I didn't end up getting the gig, but I'm still glad I gave it a go rather than just rejecting the idea outright when I realized they wanted me to write fantasy (which I have never enjoyed at all).

AJ Blythe said...

My eyes glaze over when I read anything legalese, so I would never think of signing without advice. And now I want doughnuts. Not chocolate glaze though. It's Easter Sunday here and the household is already close to Easter chocolate coma.

For those Aussies amongst us - because many are published here without an agent - there are similar services available locally to get your contracts reviewed. At a writing conference I'm going to in August one such person is speaking on "Before you sign: 10 tricks and traps of publishing contracts".

BJ - I'm terribly sorry to hear about your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Happy Easter to everyone. I hope the day fills your soul however you choose to spend it.

JulieWeathers said...


Julie: Perhaps an epic fantasy horse story is in order?--

In Far Rider one of the main cultures are horse lords. Horses become characters in the Civil War book and of course in the Cowgirls book.


CynthiaMc said...

Playing blog catch up between shopping and Mass, waiting for the rain to ease up before the mad dash across the parking lot. After having to park a block away and dodge lightning bolts getting to Holy Thursday mass I was here early tonight.

BJ, I am so sorry. Hugs and prayers across the miles.

Doesn't look like the rain is going to stop, so will have to swim. Sunshine State my Aunt Fanny! We're on for Easter Vigil Mass tonight and 9:30 am tomorrow. If you're in Winter Park, stop by.

Happy Easter, y'all!

Getting a regular paycheck for writing sounds fabulous.

Celia Reaves said...

Carolynn has provided my nomination for a new subheader: "A blessed day to all in this crazy mixed up place we call earth." Amen. Sending hope and peace to those who've shared their life struggles here among friends, and also to those who have struggles still unshared.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Karen M., Lilac, Donna and I decided we are going into the t-shirt business (not really), Donna has the southern franchise, Lilac is hawking shirts on the other side of the world and I'm hefting a wheelbarrow full down to the streets of NYC. Should be fun if I don't get lost or mugged.

Craig said...

If I was a gamer and fell in love with someone else's world I might consider being a WTF. I mean a WFH. Or something like that. To hang out a shingle for it would make me feel like a hooker. I'm sorry and i know that people have and are making respectable livings from this.

I would rather make up my own worlds and take a chance that others might respect them.

Happy Easter to all who celebrate it. Whether it is Christian, Wiccan or Druid I hope you enjoy. I have three more pies to make for friends. It is a pain in the ass, especially since I let a few folks know that I now have a great cheesecake.

JulieWeathers said...

Marsha Skrypuch, whom I adore, follows this blog. She was unfailing kind to me when I was trying to write children's books and so patient to help, advise, and encourage me. She's posted some new pictures on her facebook page of her pysanky eggs. I'll link to it here and hope you can see it without being a friend. Marsha's gorgeous eggs!

Pysanky eggs are often associated with Ukranian people but other Slavic cultures make them also. I have two a friend from Palestine made me years ago and I treasure them like gold.

Sometimes "to write" creates beauty in more ways than one.

Kitty said...

I want to wish Janet and all the Reiders Καλό Πάσχα! My son-in-law is Greek, and he's made spanakopita and baklava for our dinner today.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

May all your eggs be colorful and your bunnies hoppy.

Panda in Chief said...

Julie, I went to see Marsha's eggs. (Boy that sounds weird, doesn't it?) and they are absolutely gorgeous! I always think I'd like to do that, but then I think, "In my spare time? Bwahahaha! What is spare time????"

Happy easter everyone. bring on the chocolate bunnies! (A bourbon filled chocolate bunny would be awesome!)

BJ Muntain said...

I was taught once how to make pysanka, a long time ago. It was a one-shot workshop, which meant we didn't get to actually make a full pysanka. You see, the time factor isn't just in the tiny, intricate details, but also in how it's made. They're not just dipped in black dye and the other colours painted on.

Instead, you start with the lighter colours. If you want white on your egg, you cover the parts you want white with wax. Then you dip the egg in the palest colour you're using. Once that dries, you cover the parts of the egg you want kept that palest colour with wax. The wax keeps the subsequent dyes from attaching to the egg. Black is the last colour you use, and it will cover the parts of the egg that has no wax. Once the final colour has been dyed on and dried, the wax is then removed. The repeated dyeing and drying processes mean that an egg can take days to make.

I have a few pysanka, given to me by a neighbour of my grandmother's. Beautiful work. My mother has a bowl of them, gathered from various sources, including this same friend.

The world's largest pysanka is in Vegreville, Alberta.

This bit of trivia is my Easter present to you all. Hope you all have a wonderful day, whatever your beliefs, and a blessed Easter to all who believe!