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More Work-For-Hire On The Book Publishing Horizon

caution for writersI got this email from Helium this morning:

Hi Anne,

This morning MA-based writing website Helium.com announced a partnership with CT-based RAND Publishing, publisher of The Skinny On™ series of illustrated non-fiction books. Under the partnership, RAND Publishing will leverage Helium’s social publishing platform to identify the most appropriate authors for up to twenty-five new titles, such as The Skinny On Finance for Young Adults and The Skinny on Social Networking. Selected writers will be chosen by Helium and paid between $3,500 and $5,000 per title.  I have pasted the press release below for your reference. Please let me know if you have any questions.



Sure Helium is pleased – so, I’m sure, is RAND. But prospective authors beware. Although the press release doesn’t state it, the contract will undoubtedly be a work-for-hire agreement of some sort. The Skinny On site has asked authors to enter a contest.

And that’s the problem with the work-for-hire. There are no royalties. You do the work, you get paid once and that’s it. Your name may not even appear on the book, although that’s probably negotiable.

Of course, I ghostwrite books under agreements that often don’t give me royalties and usually don’t show my name, but I’m paid considerably more than $3,500-5,000.

When you look at RAND Publishing you find Jim Randel who apparently has made some money writing a book on real estate and one on credit for his own firm, plus another book on real estate for McGraw Hill. I’ll bet he’s earning royalties on all three.

What I fear is we will be seeing more and more of these kinds of offerings. Self-publishing has brought the price of manufacturing books down so much it’s fairly easy to set up a publishing company. With marketing savy and marketing dollars, the company can be a success and never ever pay more than a pittance to writers. At least a pittance when compared to the royalties a well-selling book can bring.

Give it a go if you like. If you “win” you’ll get paid I’m sure. And you’ll be able to claim credit most likely, even if your name isn’t on the cover. But know that work-for-hire is quite a different contract than a contract that gives you an advance and royalties.

Would you write a book on this basis? Tell is why.

Yes, I linked to the press release rather than republishing it.


Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Thanks right back, Anne. I appreciate you opening the discussion, and the open ways you enable thoughtful dialogue on the web. Your site is a great support to freelancers.

    Best wishes,

    .-= Barbara Whitlock´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  • Just found out that writers will be given byline with bio to show proven expertise in the field they are writing in.

    Writers registered at Helium (no cost, simple) can pitch “Skinny On..” story ideas to Helium. Proven expertise preferred, but applications will be considered broadly. Write to me at bwhitlock@helium.com if you’re interested.

    Barbara Whitlock
    New Member Outreach
    .-= Barbara Whitlock´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

    • Anne

      Thanks Barbara… as you can tell from the comments many folks are okay with the work for hire.

  • Barbara

    It doesn’t seem too bad a deal to me. How hard can it be to write a short stick figure book? The current publishing model is broken so it’s going to take progressive businesses like Rand (or someone else) to bring it into the 21st century. The days of advances and royalties are dying along with the traditional publishing companies.

  • Hi Anne,

    Thanks for sharing this info. Realize these Skinny On books are only about 160 pages. I think that’s some decent pay in a shrinking market. Realize that writers will just submit a sample proposal and then they get an exclusive on this. No competing. I’m waiting on word about byline. I’ll let you know.

    Thanks again,

    Barbara Whitlock
    New Member Outreach Manager
    .-= Barbara Whitlock´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  • Work-for-hire has always been pretty common in the book business. Two decades ago I saw lots of small how-to books commissioned for anywhere between $250 and $1000, and most of those cheesy unauthorized celebrity biographies that were common in the late 1990s were work-for-hire pieces. Going back even further, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories are probably some of the most widely read work-for-hire books ever.

    Most of the people I know who have written books on a work-for-hire contract don’t seem put off by the experience. Some just like the thought of being published and are content enough to get a pittance, and others used their publication history to snag an agent and better publishing deals. I’m guessing they’d feel differently if their book sold a million copies and made the publisher rich, though.
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Do kids still read? The decline of the children’s book store =-.

    • Anne

      Wendy, I guess so – for as you say smallish non-fiction with a formula… I’ve never done those but I have a friend who makes a good living with them

  • Yes, I would because it’s just another job. These type of books sound like they have a distinct formula and aren’t requiring that I write the great American novel and then sign the rights away to it. Depending on the actual work they would like to have done, $3500 to 5000 doesn’t seem like a bad gig at all.

    As for the “contest”, I don’t do those. Either you want to hire me or you don’t. There is no way in hell I plan to work hard on a project only to have you tell me that I didn’t win, you’re not paying me and then see my ideas repackaged just enough to avoid plagiarism. In fact, I don’t even apply to gigs to that want me to create a unique sample. That’s called working for free in my book.

    • Anne

      PS, I normally ignore contests too and it sure isn’t clear to me if this gig will be run on a contest basis or what. And you’re right, if it’s a formula it should be pretty easy…

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