Shedding the Work-For-Hire Stigma

Nice Writers Don’t…

Be A NovelistSome people reading this blog came into the author/writer/publishing scene too late to be aware of the stigma that once was attached to those who were called (in polite terms) “a hired pen.”

I recall a few years ago (well, it’s been over 13 years now) presenting a lengthy, in-depth, detailed teaching on work-for-hire during my writer’s conference itinerary one year. I presented the whys and wherefores, as well as the advantages and disadvantages, of work-for-hire arrangements. At the time I was well qualified to speak on the subject as I’d been involved in such work arrangements for many years.

Because I had not cut my writer’s teeth in the esteemed literary world of writing and publishing, I was unaware early on that such a stigma even existed. Rather like being ignorant of prejudice until you are the brunt of it. But it didn’t take long before I caught the subtle message: “Nice writers don’t… They just don’t. They wouldn’t…”

Voice inflection gave one to know that to sell as work-for-hire would be to tarnish one’s writing reputation forever.  (Perish the thought.)

I guess those people who espoused such opinions didn’t need to pay the rent. But I did. I also had a couple of kids to support.  So if I could write and get paid, I chose to write.

Disagreement on Definition

While all of this seems a little ludicrous now, it was even more ludicrous as people disagreed as to the definition of work-for-hire. What it due to copyright? (You’re hired to write the book so the publisher owns the copyright?) Was it due to payment method? (The hired writer is paid a flat fee up front rather than in royalties?)  Even the elite-of-the-elite disagreed.

What I Learned

Meanwhile, as they fussed over the details, I just kept getting assignments from publishers, kept getting paychecks, and kept writing books. I learned how to interact with editors; I learned how to meet deadlines; I learned how to do extensive research. Oh and here are a few other things I learned:

  • Did you know that Sojourner Truth was a slave from New York state and not the Deep South?
  • Did you know that Harriet Tubman led a sneak attack on a fort in South Carolina and was responsible for destroying millions of dollars of supplies and armaments?
  • Did you know that Puritan leader, Increase Mather, was the first true foreign ambassador for the colonies, preceding Benjamin Franklin by about a hundred years?
  • Did you know that Britney Spears starred in a Broadway play when she was only nine?
  • Did you know that that quartet singing as we know it, originated in the Black Churches before the turn of the last century.
  • Did you know that Oklahoma politician, J.C. Watts, served as a youth pastor for nine years?

I learned facts such as these listed above, and hundreds more, because I chose to take on work-for-hire projects.

Be A Novelist

Today’s So-Called Stigmas

Why am I taking the time to belabor this point? Because while things change; things really don’t change at all. Think about it. What so-called stigmas hover over the world of novel writing today?  You may be able to fill in the blanks if you keep up with the industry at all. What will you do with these negatives? Or what appear to be negatives.

I have only one word of advice. Just do as I did.  Learn and grow, but keep on writing.

Keep your ear tuned to the hum of what’s going on, but keep on writing.

Learn what you can about Social Media and how it affects you as an author, but keep on writing.

Learn what you can about online marketing, but keep on writing.

Learn what you can about digital publishing, but keep on writing.

Learn what other successful online authors are doing, but keep on writing.Be A Novelist

When all else fails – keep on writing!

Oh, and one more thing –

Keep on writing!

PS: By the way, here’s a blog about another author who cared nothing about the “work for hire” stigma and built a publishing empire! Gotta love pioneers like this.


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