Saturday, 22 March 2008

Work for Hire vs. Advance on Royalties

If you read the writing newsgroups, you'll find some writers and aspiring writers have allergies to certain aspects of writing. In the article on Lyphobia below, Dr. Bob Rich mentions how some writers panic when they see adverbs. In yesterday's post I mention I did my first book as a work for hire arrangement. Some writers would howl at the idea, unless, of course, they got offered a decent deal themselves.

Many book contracts offer an advance on royalties. The author gets, say, $10,000 and 6% royalties. As the author, you will get 6% of the profits of the book, but you won't see any more than that $10,000 you got up front until after your 6% comes out to more than your advance. If your royalties never do come out to more than $10,000, you still get to keep the money, but your publisher will be disappointed with the profits and may not hire you for another job.

With work for hire, you get paid a flat fee, and never get any money from that book again. This is because you have signed away your legal status as the creator of the work. You lose syndication and movie rights, and any other potential profits. This is why some writers don't like work for hire contracts.

Personally, I think it depends. The first book contract I was offered was for updating the Insiders' Guide to Phoenix. The flat fee they offered me was good enough to cover the time I spent writing it, plus it got me an important line on my resume that opened up the door to my career as an author. Besides, it wasn't like Hollywood was going to option my Phoenix restaurant reviews.

So if you're considering signing up for a work for hire contract, consider a few things:

1. Is the money offered enough to give you a decent wage while writing the book?

2. Does doing this book move your career forward in a significant way?

3. Is there an option to write for advance on royalties? Usually the answer is no, like with the Phoenix guide, but sometimes a publisher will offer you less money up front in exchange for giving you royalties later. Do some math to see how many copies they'd have to sell before you see any royalties, then figure out if it's worth it.

4. How important are the other rights you lose? If you have a smacking good novel, you might not want to lose film rights, but if you look at the left-hand column, you'll notice that none of my published nonfiction is exactly blockbuster material.

5. Are you acknowledged as the author? While you will not legally own the work, does your name at least appear on the cover? In the case of the Phoenix guide, the answer was yes. I would hesitate to write a book for which I'm not given credit. I'd have to get a lot more money for that. Of course, you can always put it on your resume, but it's nice to see your name in print, isn't it?


laradunston said...

Great advice. I often get readers of my blog ( emailing me to ask about contracts etc, but it's not really the focus of my blog so I've created a list of travel writing links and linked to you.

Sean McLachlan said...

Thanks! You have a great site, so I've put up a link on my travel blog,

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.