Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Work For Hire... Respect for Whom?

I have one picture book published with a medium-sized NY publisher, a handful of magazine sales (to well-known children's magazine), and do a lot of work-for-hire writing for packagers (such as licensed character books, novelty books, etc.). Some writers I know think trade editors look down on writers who do this type of WFH, and they go to some lengths to hide their WFH. (Using pen names, not mentioned it on their website or in cover letters, etc.) Others feel that WFH is a good thing and they're proud to mention it on their websites and in cover letters. I'd love to know your thoughts on this.
I know some WFH writers who don't want their names on the books because they're unhappy with the changes their editors made, but let's assume we're not talking about that.

I'm sure there are some editors who look down on WFH work. I would hope that it's not many—surely everyone knows Ann Martin wrote piles and piles of formulaic Babysitter's Club books before she went on to write Belle Teal, The Doll People, and A Corner of the Universe.

So while a solid history in WFH or series books doesn't necessarily say a great deal about your work's literary merit, it does say that you're someone who has proven you can work to deadline and provide workable text.

I would hope most editors consider WFH as journeyman's work: work which, for a number of authors, can be a meaningful apprenticeship in the trade.

17 comments:

christine tripp said...

Funny but I never would of even thought to ask this question!
To editor's that really felt this way, I would have to say to them... "and what, your self employed or something???"

How in the world would anyone expect a writer or illustrator to survive financially before, during and after working on a trade book (I mean their first one's)? I can see me living and paying the bills with that HUGE advance (for a year of work) now... NOT!!!
Would an editor that would turn their nose up at the thought of an author doing WFH be happier thinking this person was supporting themselves as a Walmart cashier? Wouldn't it make complete sense that whatever job an artist needs to take to keep going till "the day they MAKE it" be somewhat or completely related to their craft??? DUH!
Would this same sort of editor look down on an illustrator that had worked previously for Disney or for an AD/Graphics firm (all WFH but with much lower pay, little to no creative expression and less time off:) or an author that once had been a staff writer for a newspaper or magazine??

I like to believe there would be very few Editors this snotty. The ones I know are completely human, down to earth and the bottom line for them would be, not what you have done but what you are presenting them now.

Brian Floca said...

The problem, for illustrators, at least, is that art directors very reasonably tend to hire you for what they see that you can do, not for what you conceivably might do. And while sometimes you have to take whatever work they’re writing checks for at the moment, if you do end up with a lot of work out there with a mass market sensibility, then that becomes part of your identity as an illustrator. It becomes what people think you can and want to do, it becomes what you get hired for, and the cycle repeats.

It’s nobody’s fault, but it can be a real trap.

Anonymous said...

It's good to know EA sees positives in WFH, but I don't mention it when subbing trade mss.

Will my WFH factor into her decision to reject or aqcuire my ms?

Brian's point concerns me, too. I don't want an editor judging my ability by my WFH books.

There are reasons NOT to mention WFH. But are there any reasons why we SHOULD?

Anonymous said...

Why can’t it be enough to write high-quality titles for an educational publisher who works hard to put out excellent books? Yeah, I’m proud of my WFH, in and of itself. And to editors it shows I’ve been around the block, paid some dues. I most definitely note this part of my publishing history when I’m subbing my own projects!

Padma said...

Hiya!
One clarification.
A good editor lets you see changes, a bad one doesn't. I've had editors make changes to my WFH which I didn't appreciate, but I also had an editor (admittedly not someone I'd ever work with again) make changes to my TRADE books which I appreciated even less, also done without my consent or approval or knowledge.
All I'm saying is, I've had some excellent WFH editors and one not so excellent trade editor.
What it all boils down to, in my opinion, is the person - the editor, the writer, the writing itself. Not the category it belongs to.

Nicola said...

Ouch. I'm an editor at a tiny Antipodean educational book production house (try that for the bottom of the publishing heap). The idea that our WFH books could impact negatively on authors' and illustrators' careers makes me want to:
a. grind my teeth
b. reach for the tissue box.

We work hard to create good books. We know that we provide bread-and-butter money for a lot of authors and illustrators while they work on projects that are closer to their hearts. That's cool.

We also celebrate when our newer authors and illustrators move on to (sigh) greater things. One of our authors recently signed for a series with a major publisher. To be immodest, this is at least partly due to the hours of editorial work he and I did together on his WFH books. It was an apprenticeship. He's a talented guy. We wish him luck.

Another major publisher has approached one of our illustrators (because we foolishly showed them her wonderful, delightful, so-clever work). She's only twenty years old. I'm glad we gave her a break, and I hope she goes far.

I have no solution to offer re the editor who considers a WFH history to be a negative, but I do think that he or she is a head-in-the-sand idiot.

We'll just keep on providing the bread and butter.

Brian Floca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Floca said...

Reading a couple of these comments, I realize I should have made a greater distinction between work for hire and mass market. In my own experience they have often overlapped, but I realize that they don't always, and I didn't mean to slur everybody out there using a work for hire arrangement. Apologies!

Anonymous said...

>.surely everyone knows Ann Martin wrote piles and piles of formulaic Babysitter's Club books before she went on to write Belle Teal, The Doll People, and A Corner of the Universe. <<

Clarification: Ann Martin conceived that series. It's wasn't work for hire for her; she was the mastermind. Other writers were hired to write some of the actual books; for THEM, it was WFH.

So, in fact, AM was a commercial genius. Any publisher would have been glad to have her pitching a series to them.

christine tripp said...

Brian, even without the clarification I think you made a valid point. I am sure an illustrator can be typecast, just as say an actor who is always doing comedy, wants to be offered dramatic rolls but no one can see past the "funny" work he has done.

When you speak of Mass market, are you meaning an illustrator who has been making ends meet by drawing in other illustrators styles, ghosting etc (My little Pony, Rosemary Wells books and the like?)

I can see that could be a problem. I would just perhaps leave that work out of my portfolio, as I would art done for say Disney, as it would serve no useful purpose in securing a trade book in any case.
When we talk of just straight WFH ed books, they could be any style of course and I have one ed book that I personally feel was my best work. I have 2 trades only and I don't like the art in either one. So... I would show the art from the ed book, just because I think it reflects on me, who I am and what I like to do best.
Nicola, the best AD I have had has been in Ed/WFH. Actually we should not even be admitting to WFH... (in some groups we'd be shot by now:)

Editorial Anonymous said...

Anon 8:56, Yes, I know those weren't WFH for her. I brought them up because they're of the same quality and quantity of much WFH work... So someone with a background like that shouldn't be dismissed if they come to you with a stand-alone novel idea whose premise sounds quiet and maybe kind of tough to sell-- it just might be the next Newbery Honor winner!

And I agree with Christine that an artist should chose the pieces to go in their portfolio that show a wide range of styles-- but heavy on the styles you really want to be working in. I wouldn't, though, suggest hiding a background at Disney if it was in the animation department. People who have worked in animation are, in my experience, great to work with. They have skill, can usually do several styles, and they've been through the pressure cooker. They can get really good stuff done really fast.

Anonymous said...

"They have skill, can usually do several styles, and they've been through the pressure cooker. They can get really good stuff done really fast."

Gee, that sounds a lot like any number of WFH writers I know (myself included)! :-)

christine tripp said...

> I wouldn't, though, suggest hiding a background at Disney if it was in the animation department.<

Not hide the fact that they worked for Disney (or any other animation studio) I meant I would not think there would be a point to add the art samples of work they did while at Disney to their portfolio, if the portfolio is to be geared to looking for trade work.

Anonymous said...

Gee. I always thought "work is work" and "money is money" in this biz. I am happy happy happy to get work that pays. And Ann Martin, she rocks. I only wish the authors who ghost wrote some of the Babysitter books got more credit.

Anonymous said...

Are some packagers considered the 'good' ones to work for in children's while others are frowned upon?

Anonymous said...

Nicola, you sound like a wonderful editor! I think I'd be delighted to work with you.

Brian, no offense taken here, but thanks for the apology. And a huge congrats on a well deserved Cybil award!!

Nicola said...

Gee, thanks for the kind comments a couple of you posted here. I wasn't fishing for it, but you've sure made my day.

And to Brian, I definitely didn't take offense either. I was just letting off steam. Cool apology though.