Writing or illustrating for cash

September 17, 2009

CASH JPublishers, and Educational Publishers in particular, are spending big money by paying writers and illustrators upfront fees in exchange for the assignment of rights. This is an opportunity for talented writers and illustrators to make a living. But what are the traps? Here is a SWOT analysis from the point of view of a freelance writer/illustrator – with some insider Publisher tips.

S=STRENGTH

Getting paid up front means food can be purchased and stored in the fridge. Rent can be paid. Cash flow is the key to every business. As a writer, you know that, but oftentimes creative people, for all their talents, find find basic commerce a drag. The ability to turn your hand to educational or other content to a specific brief, with narrow research time, no fuss and short deadlines is tantamount to cash flow. Further, every time you get a gig, your your name is in the public space.

TIP: Have a look at the major educational publishers’ websites. There is a wide range of products you could consider contributing to. These include children’s literacy-based readers, school and college texts, study guides and supplements. If you write well, or draw well, find an educator who knows something about a subject area, match your skills to a category I just mentioned and look for a gap in the market. The results could be surprising.

W=WEAKNESS

Assigning rights means you are forfeiting a royalty and copyright for cash up front. The metric for cash is usually a minimal, break-even print run x ARP / your contribution. This means, the fee equates to a publication not making a whole lot of money. As a result, you negate the risk of massive hours down the drain but miss the chance at bigger money that comes with higher sales.

TIP: If you assign rights, you should reasonably expect to retain the moral right to be named as the author of what you wrote. Look for this in any contract you may sign. There’s no point writing if you don’t get a mention.

O=OPPORTUNITY

One successful freelance gig=more offers. A good writer could reasonably expect to book a year’s work in around 8 weeks if they knew:

– the educational market as well as I do
– how to combine with educators with little commercial experience in order to supply Publisher needs.

This post is not going to unfold all of this but I’ll start with a tip.

TIP: Have a look at government departments in your country/state responsible for education and curriculum change. See what areas they are looking at. These are exactly the same areas the Publishers are looking at. Make enquiries to Publishers you find active in these curriculum areas to see whether they are seeking good all-round writers. Remember, your pitch will be strengthened if you combine forces with an experienced educator. You write the copy, they write the questions and activities. If you are an illustrator, combine with the writer and the educator to build value.

T=THREAT

If you always write for cash, you may undermine your passive income opportunity. Royalty payments are a passive income opportunity in the sense that, with a successful publication, you continue to be paid while a book is selling. If you are only known as a freelance writer, you lose the bigger opportunity of becoming a capital A Author.

TIP A capital A Author will seldom write under any agreement other than a royalty-based contract, but an emerging writer fond of food and shelter will need to be flexible.
My advice is to build a portfolio of successful cash-based contributions and use this to help drive a royalty based deal over the line. Freelance gigs are always useful – try and keep both types of gig rolling out simultaneously, building your name and value one word at a time.

Photo by Franco Folini

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2 Responses to “Writing or illustrating for cash”


  1. Smart and pithy post, Ben. Almost makes me want to write a book. 😉

    I really like the presentation of the article, and the new look site!

    Best, Robin


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