Monday, 20 April 2015

Do you want to earn more money writing? Moira Butterfield

I expect the answer to that title is yes. Nicola Morgan recently wrote a great blog about it, with practical and positive suggestions, and I’ve put a link to that blog at the bottom of this one. One of her suggestions is the possibility of writing more by taking on paid fee work. That’s what I do and have done for many years. For picture book authors there are opportunities to do this in board books and early-years educational books. Some of you will be old hands at doing this but for those who like the idea but haven’t tried it, or are new to writing as a career, here are some points I thought might be helpful.

It’s a craft, like journalism 

Writing paid fee work is not the same as writing your own stuff with royalties promised down the line. It’s a different discipline. It’s more akin to journalism because you are commissioned by an editor to provide what they want, and your work can be altered.

It has serious deadlines

Fee work has set schedules, often very tight. They aren’t to be messed with. You can’t decide to add on time because you needed to do this or that away from work, and you can’t plead writer’s block. I was once an editor who commissioned fee work, and if someone let me down schedule-wise I never commissioned them again because I had to carry the can for it. If I ever missed a print date the sales team and the production team would kick my boss who would kick me twice as hard because it would cost my company money. If you can’t, hand on heart, write under pressure to meet a date, you shouldn’t take on fee work.

Having said that, suggested fee work schedules can be ridiculous. Say no to those. They bring only stress and bitterness. (Ask if there is more time before you say no, though, just in case). 

Fees – don’t roll over and do it for nothing
Fees are tight and getting tighter, and some publishers try to take the mickey. There’s no pot of gold. For an insight into the money side, and into working with fee-paying editors, read the excellent ‘tell it like it is’ blog by Anne Rooney - Again I've added a link at the bottom of this blog. 

To work out if a fee is fair, get out your calculator and punch in the hours you think you will need. Multiply this by your hourly rate (you don’t need to tell the publisher what that is, by the way. It’s your business, no theirs.) 

You sign away rights
You will be asked to sign away rights in flat fee work. There’s some excellent material about this on the UK NUJ website, also with a useful guide to fees being paid in the UK. If there are similar sites in other countries, and you know of them, please do let us know about them in the comments section.

You don’t get the last say
Your editor may ask for changes. The sales team may ask for changes. You can point out why you think they’re wrong but in the end they get to do what they want. If you hate what they’ve done, you do have the option of making sure your name does not appear on the work. 

You may wish to use a pseudonym for fee work, and a different name for your own work. I'm hoping to do this myself in the near future for fiction-writing. 

There is often hassle

There is often hassle because fee-based projects sometimes evolve in-house as you’re writing. You need to be professional on these occasions, however unreasonable demands may be. It’s sometimes very tempting to shout ‘stuff it’ but never ever do. It’s always better to have dignity on a professional situation.

Here’s a little taste of things that have happened to me in just the last couple of months. It’s normal for fee work.

* Page counts were changed more than once. It’s ok. I can handle it.
Foreign publishers buying rights from my UK publisher demanded changes at a late stage (this has happened twice in the last 2 months). In both cases it turned out not to be too onerous, just annoying.
An incorrect brief was sent to me by an editor, and so a big bookplan had to be redone. It’s ok. We all make mistakes, and I hadn’t begun writing.
* One editor was unpleasant to work with. Some people need to be avoided and you tend to find out the hard way, but that's the same in most professions I guess.

You have to stay calm and did what you can to move the job on, within reason.  If you take on fee work, be prepare to handle a bit of messing about (no need to roll over, but best not to throw hissy fits, however deserved). 

You may work with lots of editors, some great and some not.
When people ask me ‘who’s your publisher’ the answer is ‘many’. Some are great – polite, focused and creative – and I’d do anything for them. Some are not. You’re likely to come across more of both types if you work with more than one company.

Publishing parties, book tours and festival appearances organized by your publisher. Forget it.
Doesn’t happen. You’ll even have to check they got your name right on Amazon, and the date your book is published. However, you can do your own school tours and earn money on the back of the books you’ve done, royalties or not. See Nicola Morgan’s blog for advice on that. And you can get PLR for library-borrowing in the UK, which over time can really make a difference to the fee. Other countries have their own schemes for this.

A non-picture book I wrote this year. A lot of fun to do. 

Time to do your own writing? Er….
Doing fee work sucks up your time and your creative energy. So if you take on lots, don’t expect to have much time left for your own projects. You need to find a balance, and I haven’t, which is why I’m manically writing this blog at the last minute. I’ve just counted up the books I wrote from April 2014 to April 2015 and even I am shocked and a bit too embarrassed to write the number. Some are history books, some are sets of board books for under-5s. There’s part of a poetry book, a practical nature guide, a body book and a book on the weather... That doesn’t include the editing work I’ve done on other people’s projects, and the development work I’ve done. It’s no wonder I’m struggling to finish the novel I’ve been trying to write.  Just bear this in mind before you plunge into fee work.

I regularly write educational history. 

You get to have a lot of fun
I get some fantastic projects offered to me that I really enjoy. This last year I’ve discovered the incredible worlds of the Stone Age and the Bronze Age – and now I’m really hooked on them. I’ve been offered a poetry commission for the very first time. I got to write a guide to Barcelona. I’m currently writing a series on children around the world, and loving it (though the schedule is nuts). 

I contributed to this new poetry
anthology, published by Collins 

…and I’ve had a picture book accepted, so I can still hold my head up (just) on this marvellous blogsite.  Now all I need to do is find a way to stay awake through the night to get that novel done….

Would love to hear your views/experiences on taking fee work, and ask me any questions you want. It's not for everyone, that's for sure. 

Here is Nicola Morgan's extremely helpful blog on earning more money:

Here is Anne Rooney's blog on working with editors and costing a project:

Moira Butterfield



Lynne Garner said...

I've taken on fee based work for my craft writing but never my fiction (although I'm open to the idea). Thankfully the books that have been published were a dream to work on and the team I worked with were fab. However last year I was offered a project to write a sewing book which would be branded by one of the very well known large high street stores. I spent hours on the project, paid for a trip to London (out of my own pocket) and with each call or email the spec changed and the deadline was moved. Thankfully in the end they cancelled the project because of the cost (both I and the publisher put up our costs as we'd all have been working 23 hours days to get it done in time). For my troubles the amount I received just about covered the cost of travel and the time spent in the meeting. So I gave a huge sigh of relief when it was cancelled. But as I've said I'm open to offers to fee based work as on the whole it's been a positive experience.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thank you, Moira, for this. You haven't mentioned how you actually go about finding this work. Is it usually just given to those people who are already doing it (and whom they know to be reliable)? Having said that, my head is still spinning from the number of books you've done in the last year! I really admire your organisational skills and ability to finish projects quickly -I don't think I could cope -certainly not with the number you've done! It's a really interesting read and thanks for the links. I'm looking forward to reading them soon.

Moira Butterfield said...

Yes, I get repeat work from editors I have worked with before. I also do publicity shots each year (no idea if they work but you never know). I think it helps to be able to show some kind of writing track record so that people know you have the discipline and professionalism required. A picture book author might well be of interest to an educational publisher, for instance, so it's worth contacting them with a writing CV of some kind.

Moira Butterfield said...

Interesting, Lynne, and a good example of the roller-coaster ride that is fee-based work. High street stores are very very hard to please, and tricky to work with. I'm a firm believer that work is never wasted, so I think you should take your development work, tweak it and offer it elsewhere!

Jane Clarke said...

Thanks Moira, very useful info and links.