How often have you heard that? And yet how many writers would like to do exactly that? But writing full time is scary. You can’t possibly survive just from your writing… can you?
In truth, many writers make a living from writing, including thousands whose names you wouldn’t recognize. Most of these writers don’t have the luxury of only working on their own fiction, however. They may offer editorial services, give writing workshops, do school visits, or write articles or work for hire (WFH) books. A combination of these can bring in a relatively steady income, whereas trade fiction tends to have more ups and downs. It’s the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” technique, especially good advice when the basket is as unstable as publishing.
People may use “work for hire” to describe different kinds of work. For writers it usually means freelance work done as an independent contractor. A contract should clearly describe who holds the copyright (usually the employer). Most work for hire pays a flat fee, although some projects may earn royalties. (The US copyright office has legal information on “Works Made for Hire” online: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf)
While some people assume that WFH pays poorly and cheats the writer, some projects pay thousands of dollars and a few even pay royalties. Many successful writers make a satisfying living with WFH. There are other advantages – building a writing resume, getting experience working with editors, making industry connections, learning new things (which you may be able to use in your personal writing), and even having fun.
Former technical/business writer Carol North says:
“Beginning in 1983, I was represented by agents and agencies that found me work for hire (WFH) gigs. I worked constantly; was fully supported on the WFH income; and was sent all over the U.S. on writing assignments; including to Orlando, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, and on and on. I was living in Chicago at the time. I traveled the country on someone else’s dime and made a lot more money than their full-time employees did. Also, I made a lot more money selling my work than I would have retaining the copyrights and self-promoting."
“I wrote short stories in airports, planes, hotels. They’re published. I’m now semi-retired and completing my fifth novel. I enjoy fiction but miss the money I made in tech and business writing. In addition, the techniques, grammar, and style I learned in WFH have proved invaluable in writing fiction."
“My advice concerning WFH is ‘If you can get into it, do it.’”
Some writers may be concerned about WFH because they don’t get to choose the topics (although you can always turn down jobs). You do need to be flexible, interested in a lot of things, and willing to do research. I’ve written articles and test passages on science topics, even though I have no science background. My WFH books include topics ranging from magnets to the environmental movement to the history of cell phones to dyslexia. If you like learning about new things and are comfortable doing research, the variety of WFH is an advantage.
Another option is specializing. If you have an unusual area of expertise, look for magazines and book publishers that focus on that topic. Publishers often pay better if they have a harder time finding writers, so if you have a background or strong interest in, say, chemistry or construction, you could be in demand. Loretta Hall, who writes for publications such as Concrete Décor and Traditional Masonry, says, “One of the best ways I have found to develop new markets is to attend trade shows in my areas of specialty, engineering, construction, and space exploration.”
Work for hire can also involve fiction, everything from “licensed property” books for kids (those tied into TV shows and movies) to series genre novels for adults. Payment can vary dramatically, but $6000 is the number I’ve heard/received for a novel of 150-300 pages. You might get more from a big publisher, but probably not from a small one. The key is that you need to be able to write these books quickly. Not only will the deadlines likely be tight (a few months), but your hourly rate goes up dramatically if you can finish a book in two or three months rather than a year. As for royalties, only a small percentage of novels ever earn royalties anyway.
Educational publishing also offers many work for hire opportunities. These can include fiction and nonfiction books for the school library market, articles, and assessment passages for state tests. Teachers have a head start here, as the work typically requires an understanding of what kids learn about in each grade and writing to a specific reading level. However, I’ve done plenty of this kind of work without a background in education.
Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Rattled follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Connect with her at GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter.