Work For Hire Books – One Writer’s View

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As a writer, I sometimes have issues with *work-for-hire books.

Even though many of my hard-working writer friends have gone this route which often made up most of their early sales, if not their ONLY sales, and are proud of that, and I know full well it’s NOT easy to write to someone else’s formula, within a crazy tight deadline.

But like with a lot avenues one can take in this business, not everyone can do it, and that’s OKAY, though the “wayward businessman” in me still finds it hard to walk away from a market that needs writers, even if I know I don’t have the interest or skill to write for it.

*NOTE: For those of you non-writers, work for hire books are often on a very tight schedule, often long open-ended stories, books on average written within weeks or months of each other, as opposed to the YEARS non work for hire books can take, like my debut middle grade novel (pub. date unknown even to me, right now at the time this blog post was originally written, not bragging, just making a valid point…)

Now I know in other mediums, such as film or television, there’s inherent collaborations involved, even in the scripting stage, where multiple writers work on ONE screenplay for ONE film or television pilot (Which may or may not be the first episode of the finished show), but many writers like me prefer working on novels because we like having more control of the story we tell, and I can understand the frustration with work-for-hire books for writers who are struggling to have their original work read and represented.

Not everyone can afford to self-publish right, and in the U.S. at least, having an agent is becoming more necessary if you want to have a fair chance at going the traditional route with a publisher, and not all small presses are as opened to unagented writers as they once were.


Aside from aiding authors through the business aspects (Which some of us AREN’T as great at on our own for whatever reason, but still TRY because we must), they also give editors at publishers a way to screen submissions they receive so they’re less likely to get manuscripts that can’t use, again, for whatever reason, which isn’t always that “This is horrid” answer writers may first think.

Sometimes it’s just timing, oversaturation of a genre, too many similar books in the market, either in general or just with that specific publisher, the list goes on.

My point is that like in the writing process, there’s more to a great book in reader’s minds than the writing, even though that DOES matter, too.

While some writers feel readers don’t care about how stories are written in the ways authors do, I know many readers who aren’t writers or in publishing who have HIGH standards for language, even if story is most important to them, so I don’t always feel the “Story Trumps All” mindset is accurate or fair to describe readers anymore than writers, and it certainly DOESN’T change the fact that most writers have to turn in fairly tight and realized stories, no matter how much editing or revision we do later, and that’s something I don’t think  many lay readers and story-centric writers understand.

But to play “Devil’s Advocate” it is true that things can be well-written but not a story. I just don’t think writers can escape quality of the writing overall to get agents, editors or lay readers on their side as much as some like to think. Or at best oversimplify from the writer’s view.

 after recent events post chatting with Janice about storytelling vs. writing. As she stated above, the reason some books succeed despite less attentive (Note I didn’t say horrid) writing, is because the voice of a character or group of characters make up for that.

As a pre-published or non-brand name writer struggling to be read, this is frustrating at times, but for readers (Though I know some critical readers who aren’t writers [or in publishing] that would disagree), it’s not always as big a deal.

Don’t forget, we as authors want readers to be engaged, and we don’t have to write elegant prose to do it. (But I personally do like well composed prose, that doesn’t mean story matters less to me, I just like books that can do both, that’s all…)

For many writers, including myself , who struggle to write solid stories under our real name, and can’t/don’t want to hire out “staff” writers feel a little off put by the ever rising surge of popularity of work-for-hire books, such as Goosebumps, Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High, while those of us outside that market are struggling to break in, and though I’ve learned in the right approach and in the right hands, it doesn’t have to be as bad as I feared (As I noted in my review of the first Geronimo Stilton, which is also an overview of the series, that may or may not be work-for-hire, so don’t hold me to it), from a lay reader’s standpoint, the writer in me still has issues to work out there…

But what do you think?

How did you react when you found out a series you love is WFH?

Did you find there are more well-written WFH than you first thought? Do you feel the gems in this arena rise above the “junk?” (That’s subjective to point, of course)

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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  • I usually feel bad for writers whose WFH books take off because it usually means the author gets nothing but the flat fee he/she was paid to write it. That saddens me.

    • I know what you mean, Kelly, but at the same time, many writers we know often get their early sales via this market, and lots of writers who ghostwrite for series like “Nancy Drew” or “Sweet Valley High” often credit their later success to writing their original work for readying them for some of the challenges they faced in the business.

      Writers still have to write well in the best of these series, and at a speed I personally would not be capable of or comfortable with.

      I can’t yet balance quality with speed. Plus, remember authors like Ann Martin who are hard-working, solid writers who fell into her series being work-for-hire because she could no longer keep up the demand for books, even before the spin-offs started.

      She wrote the early books of the main series and it snowballed (Sales wise) from there, I don’t know how royalties worked for her when the series began being ghostwritten, and all those spin-offs emerged, but one of the main reasons the series ended was because she wanted to write stand-alone novels that she alone wrote and shaped for publication, and only agreed to do Main Street (Her other series) if there were limits on the total number of books, so she could write/edit them all herself (For both income and personal integrity reasons) and age her characters rather than remain static as with “The Babysitter’s Club.”

      If I ever do work-for-hire books, it’d have to be something I love to push myself that hard for a flat fee, and sometimes writers just need whatever income we can get, that’s certainly where I’m at when trying to think of ways to build an income beyond my novel writing.

      That said, some authors can get small cut of royalties if they’re the main ghostwriter for a given series, it would just be less than a book of our own that doesn’t have the particulars of work-for-hire projects on average.

      It’s not easy to write well to a formula, especially if the voice of those books is so unlike your own, and while I know some writers who work-for-hire believe their voice is there in spite of the formula they needed to follow, that requires a skillset I know I don’t have right now, and would struggle to get it.

      But a skillset I believe you have more than me. Given how versatile your writing is. Not to take away from what you learned before your first sales.

      Impatient as I am about some things, and hard as it is to wait long lulls as my forthcoming novel chugs down the line, I better see the gift time has given me (And YOU for Touch of Death (YA) and your picture books) versus if I had to write two or more books in s work-for-hire series, something that writers like Jan Fields knows all too well, and while we may disagree on many aspects of writing, she’s doing the best work she can and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to get her non-work-for-hire books published.

      While I’d rather be known for my own original work, writers like Ann Martin and Jan Fields remind me that there is legitimacy in work-for-hire, for both reader and writer, and I’m not the snob about it I used to be.

  • I personally admire those authors who can write for hire because, so far, I’ve been too chicken and unsure about my writing to even try it.

    At this stage in my life, I’d rather “write for Allyn” and be able to do it when I feel like it with no real deadline. It’s funny that in other things I love deadlines and can meet any deadline necessary, however with my writing… it just doesn’t flow as easily if I have a deadline.

    Anyway, to me writing is writing and good writing is good writing whether it’s WFH or not.

    • Thanks for commenting, Allyn, I can relate to the fear of trying to do “For Hire” books, but for me, it’s more lack of skill and NOT great at writing to strict formulas, and I’d rather write, and I mean that in the most anti-snobbish way possible.

      As for your closing statement-

      “to me writing is writing and good writing is good writing whether it’s WFH or not.”

      I get what you mean by that. I’m not trying to devalue that.

      As a lay reader that’s true.

      But for me (As the WRITER) it’s not always that simple.

      I was just making the case that writers read differently than lay readers (Who aren’t authors or in publishing) do, and sometimes writers have to look at books differently, you know?

      A vet’s going to look at my dog’s health in a different way than I as his non-medically inclined “human” will who lives with and loves him every day.

      So, WRF books are the same thing, it’s about the context, and I was not bashing WFR in general, I was really expressing my more informed, but overall mixed emotions towards the medium as a READER, as a writer it’s always going to be more complicated, FOR ME, and I can’t help that.

      All that said, as you and Kelly Hashway (Who commented on my review for the first Geronimo Stilton book, there are good WFH books out there, I just wanted to show the mixed feelings the WRITER (Who wants to publish) can have on even the good stuff, I say it because I’m sure there are other writers who feel as I do, I can’t be the only one, and this post was to acknowledge and show that. Not to bash WFH in general. Really.

      If I was personally better writing to a formula I’d consider doing some WFH, both for the income (Flat fee is better than nothing) and showing I can put books out, but I would not keep up with the manic pace series are on now, that said, only if I had the chance to write some Geronimo Stilton books would I be motivated and confident enough to crank them out at that pace, because I’m already a “Fan” and have owned and read nearly all of them, I’m certain I own over half the 55 books released in America so far (Started in Italy and it CRAZY popular there) and I would be okay with a flat fee because I’d do it part because I LOVE the series, and the chance of writing in that series is for me (As a fan) worth settling a flat fee for, and at this point, a flat fee’s better than no payment at all, because fun aside, writing those kinds of books with tight deadlines warrants payment of some sort, after all.

      As much as new writers get told to “OFfer a lot of our work for free” as a way to break in, we can’t do that forever, and that’s the mindset I’m speaking from. Hope that makes sense, but thanks for commenting, I really appreciate it, I’ve mostly gotten spam for the last week or so, and it’s why I monitor comments before they appear on the site.