Pop quiz: Nancy Drew, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Sweet Valley High, The Warriors… what do these have in common?
Yes, they are all wildly popular middle grade and young adult series — but that’s not all. They were also penned by “ghostwriters.” Wait… What? my inner 11-year-old asks? Carolyn Keene was not an actual person?!?
Well, my grown-up writer self asks — then how do *I* become Carolyn Keene?
The answer: writing work-for-hire.
Recently, I signed on to write a 3-book MG work-for-hire project with the fantastic London-based book packager Working Partners Ltd. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far about WFH with my fellow writers and readers:
- Not all work-for-hire is created equal: You don’t have to look much farther than the whole James Frey “fiction-factory” thing to recognize this. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good opportunities out there. Work-for-hire projects run the gamut — some pay only a flat fee, others offer royalties; some give credit, others don’t. It’s important to weigh your options and make sure any project you take on is worth your time and effort (whether financially or as an experience to grow as a writer). I really like Working Partners because they do offer advances, royalties and credit. Plus, I am working with an incredibly talented team of editors who are all published children’s authors in their own right.
- Work-for-hire is not for everyone: Just as not every job is the same, it takes a certain type of writer to succeed at (and enjoy!) writing work-for-hire. You need to like working collaboratively. You also have to enjoy working within the confines of someone else’s idea/plot/characters. While some writers find this limiting, for me, it’s actually kind of freeing. Instead of worrying about what is going to happen, I get to think about how it happens and focus on voice, character development and dialogue, which I love. Also, if you are a fast writer, work-for-hire is a great way to fill the gaps between your own projects (and get paid for it!).
So how do I sign up, you ask? Well, there are a few different ways to break in to WFH. My agent connected me with my current job; however, there are packagers and publishers who work with unagented writers, as well (Working Partners is one). The process usually looks something like this:
- The sample: Typically, book packagers or publishers will ask interested authors to provide a writing sample to see if you are a fit with any current or future projects. This is the Working Partners sample submission page. Capstone Books also does MG and other work-for-hire. And here’s a great round-up of WFH links from blogger/writer Chandler Marie Craig.
- The audition: If the packager or publisher decides you might be a good fit for a project, they will ask you to “audition.” This generally consists of writing a portion of the proposed project (for my current MG work I was asked to write the first three chapters of the first book). Typically, other authors will be asked to try out as well. The packager and/or publisher then selects the author they think captures the story best.
- Writing the project: If you win the audition (yay!), now it’s time to get writing. Generally you’ll be given a story line, complete with characters and often with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of how the action should play out. Turnaround times on work-for-hire projects are typically short. My latest project, a 20,000 word MG novel, was due in seven weeks. I now have a two-week window to edit and revise. Once that’s turned in, I’ll get the story line for the next book in the series — and another seven weeks to crank that out.
- Publication! (double-yay!)
As with all things in the publishing world, there are ups and downs writing work-for-hire. But all in all, I have found it a great way to gain writing experience, work with some amazingly talented people, and do what I love to do — write.
If you have any work-for-hire experiences, suggestions or links you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below. Or, if you have any questions about the process, feel free to post them and I will answer as best I can. And Happy Thanksgiving, everyone — hope this year has given you much to be thankful for!
Jan Gangsei is in the process of revising her second book for a really cool new MG series from Working Partners, Ltd., but she will be taking some time off tomorrow to stuff her face with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy :).