I’m joining the Sub It Club blog as a regular contributor. I hope you’ll hop on over and check it out.
This year I participated in Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers. As part of the process, Julie challenged us to reflect on our 2016 successes so we could build on them for 2017. This is a more positive path than creating New Year’s resolutions, which are often built on negativity and efforts to fix things that went “wrong” in 2016.
I enjoyed the time spent combing through my 2016 journals and reviewing all I was able to accomplish. Julie challenged us to share our lists, so here is mine in no particular order:
- Signing with my wonderful agent, Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary. I couldn’t ask for a bigger cheerleader, better brainstorming partner, or tougher editor.
- Having Lara submit my first picture book to publishers. Though it hasn’t sold yet, we have been close a couple of times, and many editors offered encouraging words about my work.
- Finally holding nine of my books written in 2015 in my hands. They include the six-book Protecting Our People series (Amicus), my first book with Capstone (Special Ops), and my two latest from Rourke.
- Receiving a good review from School Library Journal on the Protecting Our People series.
- Writing six new books for the school and library market, including four for Amicus, one for Capstone, and one for Rourke.
- Researching and/or drafting five new picture books.
- Revising four existing picture books.
- Finishing a young adult novel I started as part of 2015’s NaNoWriMo and partially revising it.
- Reaching thousands of young readers and writers during visits to seven schools and one public library.
- Taking two courses that stretched my writing: Novel Writing through UC San Diego and Renee La Tulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab.
- Reading many books on writing and creativity, including Big Magic, Creativity Inc., Story Genius, The Originals, Year of Yes, Writing Poetry from the Inside Out, On Writing, In the Palm of Your Hand, The Artist’s Way.
Putting together this list has me excited to start work in 2017. What did you accomplish in 2016?
What is work for hire?
Work for hire is when a publishing company develops a book or series idea and then hires an author to write the book. There are many variations on this theme, but here are two of the most common forms.
School and Library nonfiction. Have you ever wondered how all those books about space and dinosaurs get onto the library or classroom shelves? Educational publishers like Capstone and Amicus specialize in creating series of 4 to 8 books focused on a single topic like robots or the Bill of Rights. The publisher drafts guidelines that specify the book titles, page count, word count, reading level, and format of the book. Then they hire writers to research and write one or more of the books in the series.
Licensing. Many trade publishers build chapter books and early readers around licensed characters. Think Power Puff Girls or Star Wars. In some cases, the publisher develops its own characters and hires writers to create the books. As with school and library nonfiction, the publisher comes up with the concept, writes the specs, and hires the writer. From the Mixed Up Files has a great blog post about this type of writing here.
To further complicate things, sometimes book packagers serve as the middlemen for this type of writing. The packagers come up with the book ideas, hire the writers and illustrators, and edit the books, which are published by well-recognized publishers. Well-loved books like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were written this way. Here’s an interesting article.
What’s in it for the writer versus the publisher?
Copyright. In work for hire, the publisher does a lot of the legwork, like creating the characters or developing the idea for the series. Therefore the publisher, not the writer, typically holds the copyright. Because the publisher has done much of the up-front work, the book publishing process moves much faster. I may write a book in the fall and hold that book in my hands six months later. Trade publishing, on the other hand, can take years.
Payment. Payment too can be much faster. Rather than earning an advance plus royalties, many work-for-hire contracts are flat fee. Often you receive some of the fee when you turn in your first draft or maybe when you sign the contract. You often get a final chunk when you’ve approved the layout with both your text and the graphics/photos.
No marketing risk. Because you aren’t earning royalties, you get paid the same amount no matter how many copies you sell. You are free to do as much (or as little) of the marketing as you like.
What sort of skills do I need?
Work-for-hire writers must be willing to write to tight deadlines. I normally get one to two months to write a book, depending upon the length, but sometimes deadlines are much tighter. When you are juggling multiple books with conflicting deadlines, it can get a little hectic. Staying organized is critical.
Flexibility is key too. Editors love writers who are easy to work with and don’t view their words as too precious. You’ll be asked to make changes, and plenty of them. Have a sense of humor. Work for hire is a team sport. If you are too difficult to work with, the editor won’t ask you to write again.
Curiosity helps too. I’ve written topics well outside my comfort zone, but I’ve always appreciated having a chance to learn about something new.
How do I start?
One of the best books for breaking into work for hire is Laura Salas’s Book, Writing for the Education Market. It’s free with Kindle Unlimited. If you are serious, I would make sure to read it. She covers much of what I talk about in far more detail.
Writing samples. You will need writing samples that fit your target market. Do not send an English term paper or an article for an adult magazine if you want to write for second-graders. Write a sample that is similar to type of book you want to be hired for. I started out by writing for children’s magazines. Then I used those articles as my writing samples. I did a few posts about breaking into magazines in 2013.
Finding publishers. There are many places to look for work. Evelyn Christensen has a great list of Educational Publishers (and children’s magazine markets too). Writing for the Education Market is another great source. If you are an SCBWI member, The Book has a list of educational publishers. You may find opportunities in other freelance writing marketplaces as well. Finally, you can contact book packagers directly.
Cover letter. Publishers will require writing samples and an introductory letter. You’ll want to specify the types of topics that interest you, as well as the reading levels you are interested in writing for. If you have educational credits, work experience or other expertise in particular topics, list those in your introductory letter. They can help you get your foot in the door.
Patience. Publishers typically work with writers they know over and over again. They hire new writers when someone turns down a book project or they’ve exhausted their list of experienced writers. In the meantime, publishers and packagers file away your letter and writing samples. Waiting is difficult, but don’t bug the editors more than once a year.
Many publishers assign projects all year long, but others work on a school schedule, assigning books in August and January. In my opinion, August and January are good times to send out packets.
For me, the joy of work-for-hire is the same as any other kind of book publishing. There’s nothing like seeing children reading my books and telling me how much they love them.
We recently returned from a 12-day trip that took us through seven National Parks. One of our favorite activities was writing poetry about some of the places we visited.
Originally I planned to use a technique called “poem sketching” by poet Steve Kowit to help keep the kids entertained. I thought it would be fun to include their poems in a family photo book about our trip. Here’s how it works:
- Someone looks outside and brainstorms four words, for example, canyon, sunset, vulture, joy. Typically three should be objects, the last an emotion or something that gives the word group a twist or sets it in motion.
- Using these words, everyone writes a poem of no more than four lines. It’s doesn’t have to rhyme. Just think of it as a long sentence.
The National Park Service beat me to the punch however. My kids love earning their Junior Ranger badges by completing workbooks about each park they visit. Sure enough, the Grand Canyon book included instructions for writing a cinquain.
That’s Finley’s cinquain. He’s 7.
This activity prompted Cooper (age 9) to write a few haiku and even an acrostic poem.
Forest (Rocky Mountain National Park)
Too much to visit in one day
I think the kids would have rebelled against Mom’s poetry workshop, but when the National Park Service requires it, who can argue?
I’m happy to announce the winner of the InkedVoices Picture Book and Easy Reader critique session with agent Sean McCarthy.
Hip hip hooray for ….
Have fun and learn lots.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by to enter and share my good news.
I recently signed with agent Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary Agency! Woo hoo! Getting an agent is a four-year dream-in-the-making, and I feel grateful to have partnered with such a wonderful manager for my career. If anyone wants to know how fabulous and talented Lara is (and she is fabulous), just check out her bio on the Andrea Brown site.
This turn of events brings some good news for my writer pals as well. You all have served as my inspirations, cheerleaders, and sounding boards for the past four years (kidlit writers are the best!). Thinking my agent search would take quite some time, I signed up for the “Picture Book and Easy Reader Manuscript Critiques” workshop with agent Sean McCarthy through InkedVoices. Now that I’m getting feedback from my own agent, I asked InkedVoices founder Brooke McIntyre if I could raffle off my spot. She graciously agreed, because Brooke is awesome like that too!
The critique session is wholly online, includes a Webinar with Sean, and starts May 3rd. Because I am not savvy enough to use Rafflecopter, if you would like to enter the raffle for the workshop, please just say so in the comments below. My children will be pressed into service and will draw the winner out of a hat. The deadline to enter is Friday, April 15th, so I can notify the winner and connect him or her with Brooke.
Good luck, and please help me spread the word.
In January, Rourke Educational Media released my newest titles in the Let’s Explore Science series. My author copies of Rock Cycle and Tools of the Trade: Using Scientific Equipment arrived yesterday. There’s nothing like holding new books in your hands and imagining them in the hands of young readers.
I’m planning for several author visits in April/May in Simi Valley and Bakersfield. My schedule kicks off with the Simi Valley Book Festival on Saturday, April 9. If you’re in town, come join me for lots of fun. (P.S. I can’t wait to get my own copy of Michael Kogge’s Star Wars book).
Ready to have some fun with your agent or publisher rejections? Join me on the SubItClub blog for a game of Rejection Bingo.