Via Media Bistro’s blog, this entry about work for hire versus royalty deal, comments inspired by a column from The Publishing Contrarian, Bring Back “Work-for-Hire” Authors.

I’m not sure how many ways I can say “uggh.”

The Contrarian suggests that authors should get their money up-front because they’re really not likely to earn anything on the back end.

Certainly, this can happen. Books don’t always earn their advances, and publishing is a bit like playing roulette (or a crapshoot as she says), but I’m reasonably certain that JK Rowling, Dan Brown, and a thousands of others in every section of the bookstore are better paid because of royalties, and I think that most authors are looking to make the same gamble.

The Contrarian seems most concerned about the emotional pain of waiting to be paid (or not paid), and the emotional highs and lows of watching a book languish with low sales.

If you want to avoid the highs and lows of writing, then maybe it’s time to find a regular job. I know that lots of publishers are hiring.

In my experience, the work for hire deals I’m offered don’t necessarily eclipse the license deals to the point that they’re worth taking.

I’m not against work-for-hire at all, in fact one of my clients signed a work for hire deal last week. It’s a decent deal that will pay the bills and leaves us in good stead with the editor — if I was to suggest a truism it would be that “helpful authors get more work.”

The Contrarian says that the advance is a “loan.”

Not true, an advance is a payment for a license to specific publishing rights, those rights may or may not include foreign rights, overseas English language rights, serial rights, film rights, etc. These rights typically expire when the book (or sub-license) goes out of print.

Another agent rightly points out that you can earn royalties over multiple periods, but if you take a work-for-hire deal you pay taxes on that amount all at once.

Ownership counts for something to most of my clients. There are plenty of work-for-hire deals out there if you want them: try the magazines, write white papers, become an on staff tech writer, work with a book packager, work as a ghost writer or ghost editor.

Work-for-hire authors are a commodity, royalty authors are partners.

Work for hire is for employees, royalties are for free agents.

Royalties inspire creativity.

Royalties ensure the publishers can take chances and share the wealth down the road.

Royalties allow authors to share real wealth on mega best-seller books.

Royalties can become annuities.

You can live on work for hire, you can get by, you can get steady work, but the only way to get rich — yeah, that’s right, if you’re smart and lucky — is to take royalties.

And if the Contrarian is unhappy with her small royalty payment, how happy will she be when her work for hire deal makes millions for the publisher while she took her safe work for hire fee? Will she be any less unhappy? I don’t think so.

I totally understand the heartbreak of small sales, and I’m not against work for hire when it works, but it’s a silly argument to make, which is why Said Miss is posing as the Contrarian I suppose.

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