Archive for November, 2008

Subsidiary rights

Your book may enjoy a life well beyond that of conventional bookstore sales or of being merely pages bound into a paperback or hard bound cover. In general—and there are very specific legal definitions—subsequent permission to publish and market a work to a specific buying public or in a format other than its original book form can loosely be termed a subsidiary right. And such a right is a commodity that can be sold, giving your book greater income producing potential beyond its initial publication.

Other formats can include movie, TV, and now Web adaptations; translations; audio or video recordings; book club editions; merchandise tie-ins; premium offers; and, of course, ebooks. You can find more information at the Publishing Law Center Web site.

I once ghostwrote a book titled Fire! Survival and Prevention, which the publisher, Barnes & Noble Books division of Harper & Row, sold to manufacturers of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers to give away to purchasers of their products. To our (mine and the publisher’s) surprise, the book was also picked up both by Doubleday and Literary Guild Book Clubs for use as a pro bono premium to their subscribers.

Lucy Shaker’s book Looking Back, Looking Ahead: A History of American Medical Education, one of our Adams Press books, generated interest both from a medical college and an insurance company as a premium gift. Another Adams Press book, Kathryn Clarke’s novel The Breakable Vow, is the foundation for a multimedia presentation that includes the book itself, an instructor’s manual, audio tapes, CD, workbook, and a facilitator-led presentation that is marketed to state attorneys general, law enforcement agencies, and mental health professionals for use in workshops focused on dating and domestic violence. After selling 12,000 copies herself, the author of that self-published work sold her book to a traditional royalty publisher.

You can probably think of many, many tie-ins based upon books. Some titles have become entire industries all by themselves: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; Steven R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People; and the books and book-related products of Martha Stewart, Wayne Dyer, Suzanne Summers, Deepak Chopra,  and countless others.

Very often the opposite happens, and books are commissioned by organizations and individuals who have already achieved success in their own field and want a book to add to their product line. ComPsych, for example,  is the world’s largest provider of comprehensive employee assistance programs. Adams Press publishes books for them to offer as resources to their client companies, books that are not available to the general public; so far we have written, designed, and printed Paving the Way to a Smooth Relocation, Living the Healthy Life, Charting the Course to College, and Solving your Day Care Dilemma—with more on the way. The Adams Press logo appears nowhere on the books; ComPsych is the publisher.

Similarly, we produced Charles Remsberg’s new book titled Blood Lessons: What Cops Learn from Life-or-Death Encounters for Calibre Press, whose books are among the product lines sold through the PoliceOne Web site. JK

Are you a writer? Really?

Wondering what to do while you’re waiting to sell your first million books?


Write to build credentials, confidence, and prestige.

Write for practice. Write for experience. Write for money.

Think of yourself as a writer. Tell people you’re a writer. BE a writer!

When asked, or when you find the opportunity to slip it into a conversation, describe yourself as a writer—but not a freelance writer. If you think you need to add a qualifier, say you’re an independent writer or an essayist or a novelist or an author. Why? The perception of freelance writers often is that they’re out of work and trying to make some money until they can land a full-time job. They get the same respect as someone who says he or she is working as a temp. You know, and I know, that temps generally work just as hard—sometimes harder—as their coworkers who are “on staff.” But that dismissive attitude is always there: Why doesn’t he or she have a real job? The same applies to freelance writers. Which is not to say you can’t be employed in a related or totally different field and still be a writer. A lot of successful writers (and painters, musicians, and other creative types) have done just that.

Independent writers are viewed as professionals who take their work seriously; it’s how they earn their living as self-employed contractors. Many independent writers (or illustrators or actors) earn some or most of their income doing something else while devoting as much time as they can to their creative endeavor. The impression you should strive to project, though, whether you’re writing full time of part time, is that this is your business; this is what you do. You are a writer.

Improve your skills
There’s no question: The more you write, the more comfortable and capable you’ll become with your craft. Good (and marketable) writing is both an art and a skill—an art insofar as invention and creative expression are concerned. Many of your skills as a writer can be learned, however, and are not necessarily wholly dependent upon actually possessing a great artistic talent. You can learn structure, syntax, and diction. You can learn grammar and how to produce a workmanlike product. Sure, I’m assuming here that you have at least a modicum of native ability and a proven capacity to use words to convey abstract ideas. After all, you certainly wouldn’t undertake to do any serious writing if you didn’t have at least some measure of facility with words and a good foundation in the mechanics of spelling, punctuation, and usage. Lacking those abilities, you’d undoubtedly be happier and better suited to following a different path.

Although practice doesn’t always make perfect, it does help improve both your skills and your marketability. The better writer you become, the more likely you are to gain the respect of your readers, and the sooner you can begin earning some (more) income from your work. Exactly how much might there be to be earned? A lot depends upon the type of writing you choose to do. Poetry, essays, and short stories? Very little. Journalism? A bit more. Business writing, such as newsletters and brochures? Still more. Web support and technical content? You’re moving up. High-end advertising, on-air scripting, speech writing? A very comfortable income.

Corporate clients usually pay more than not-for-profit organizations. If you can consistently turn out winning grant proposals, whether for commercial corporations of nonprofit institutions, you’ll never go hungry. If making your mark in a particular discipline is your highest priority, choose to woo clients who not only can use your services but who can also direct you toward others, especially respected leaders, in the field. If earning maximum dollars is where you want to concentrate your efforts, join and use influential professional societies, build relationships with key decision makers, maximize opportunities, and brush up on etiquette and self-presentation. JK


No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.

Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)

How much do writers earn?

There are differing levels of compensation for writers depending upon the type of work they do. Although a number of factors tend to define a writer’s income—type of industry/client, geography, economic climate, among many—it is possible to apply some generalizations. For example, a good, high level speech writer usually can expect to earn more than a commercial script writer. Similarly, script writing pays more than copy writing . . .

which pays more than technical (computer-based or related) writing . . .

which pays more than instructional (staff training) writing . . .

which pays more than public relations . . .

which pays more than magazine writing . . .

which pays more than book editing . . .

which pays more than newspaper writing . . .

which pays more than copy editing . . .

which pays more than proofreading . . .

which pays more than even the pittance that some clients are willing to part with. I once had a potential client (it didn’t work out) tell me, “You know, I’d ask my wife to do this job. She’s an excellent writer. She used to teach third grade.”

Many public and private service organizations pay competitive rates, but be wary of agencies that tell you, “We can’t afford to pay very much because we’re not-for-profit. ” Just because they’re not-for-profit doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be as well. Choose your charities and “good works” carefully. Is the organization paying standard rates for other services and commodities while expecting their creative suppliers—writers and artists—to make unreasonable sacrifices?

A good friend and a seasoned writer was confronted with this not-for-profit argument while being interviewed by a person looking for assignment writing help and help to work on brochures, annual reports, and other general assignments. Always cool in such situations, my friend looked around the client’s well appointed Chicago Loop high-rise office and began offering compliments about the agency’s location and tasteful furnishings. “So,” said she, “I’m sure the office building manager, phone company, and electric company all give you substantial discounts because you’re not-for-profit, right?”

“Oh, no,” said the client. “We would never expect that to happen.”

“But you do expect me to discount my writing services because, as you say, you’re not-for-profit. Perhaps you can explain that contradiction to me.”

She decided not to accept what the client described as a “prestigious assignment.”

Successful writer-client relationships are built upon mutual respect and trust. JK

As an independent writer, how much should you charge?

In order to make your writing as an independent contractor equal your income as a full-time employee, apply the following formula to your current salary:

Salary + benefits + expenses divided by your hours worked/week = earnings per hour.

Then add at least 50 percent to your current salary to cover the cost of your doing business when you begin working as your own boss. This includes mortgage or rent payments (here’s the tool to see the numbers – to maintain your home and place of business; utilities; telephone, fax, online and other electronic connections and maintenance; equipment and supplies; postage/UPS/FedEx/messenger services; transportation; subscriptions, memberships, and training; and whatever else may be required to enable you to function professionally.

Once you are no longer on your employer’s payroll, you will have no insurance coverage, sick leave, paid vacation, retirement, or any of the other benefits that you may now enjoy. You will need to replace them, and the way to do so is by factoring their costs into your fee.

If you are currently working a 40-hour week to earn a salary of $36,000 a year, your formula will look like this:

$54,000/year ($36,000 + $18,000) or $1,038/week divided by 40 hours = $26/hour.

A salary of $50,000 per year translates to $36/hr; $75,000 a year equals $54/hour.

Of course, you cannot bill 40 hours of your work each week–you’ll be lucky to bill half that many (see below); full-time writers usually bill around 1,000 to 1,500 hours a year. Therefore, in order for your independent writing income just to equal, not exceed, your current full-time salary, you must double the above hourly rate, and roughly $50 to $100 per hour becomes the absolute minimum you can charge. Anything less means decreasing your standard of living.

Here’s the tricky part: Tell a client that you charge $75 dollars an hour, and right away he or she will mentally multiply that amount by 40 hours in a work week and get $3,000. (People can’t help themselves; it’s a reflex.) Then your potential client will multiple that $3,000 by 50 work weeks in a year and get $150,000, which may be more than the boss is earning. “Wow!” the client thinks, “I can’t hire someone for more than Charlie makes. He’ll have my hide.” And you’ve lost the job.

TIP: Don’t reveal your hourly rate; roll it into the overall cost of the project. Figure your time by the hour and charge by the project. Renegotiate if necessary (see below).

You can bill only about half the time you spend “at work” each week because the rest of your time will be spent

*marketing your business (no one else will do it for you)

*improving and updating your skills (you’ll be your own training department)

*researching current and potential clients (vetting will be solely your responsibility)

*making copies (you’ll become your own support staff)

*going to the post office (support)

*maintaining your computer and other equipment (support)

*shopping for supplies (support)

*keeping your books and records (you must become, or hire, your own  bookkeeper)

*invoicing and collecting from your clients (support)

*worrying about where your next assignment will come from (it’s lonely at the top).

Two final points: When estimating a project fee, don’t forget to factor in research, rewrites, meetings, and travel time and expenses. As a writer you’re selling your talent, skill, experience…and your time.

If your client balks at your price, don’t reflexively lower it to get the job. If you immediately lower your fee, the client will assume you were charging too much in the first place and will lose confidence in you. Instead, offer a compromise: longer deadline; fewer deliverables (suggest the client provide research or proofreading); bartered product or service in return for writing. JK

It’s not so easy being green

When writers think about carbon footprints, eco-friendly tools, and living a green life, what they may consider conscientious and responsible decision making sometimes turns out to be problematic. For example, Apple’s MacBook computer,  while at least eco-observant, appears to fall somewhere around mid-level greenness. MacBook incorporates a few new materials to replace toxic innards found in older computers, but embodied energy and its aluminum case detract from its overall environmental benefits. JK

The three Bs

Road trip! Last week we (Ann and Tom) traveled from Chicago to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend a two-day book manufacturing seminar hosted by Edwards Brothers Printers at their headquarters. In addition to enjoying the fall foliage of upstate Indiana and downstate Michigan, we spent two packed days reviewing best methods for preparing manuscripts, pricing paper, selecting  printing processes and bindings, and specifying shipping. The seminar was just what we needed as part of our ongoing commitment to continuing education and staying abreast of new technologies.

As the seminar wound down on Friday afternoon, the inevitable question popped up: What is the future of the printed book? Can the bound book survive today’s communications technology or is the book becoming an endangered species?

CEO and President John Edwards did not hesitate to affirm the continued existence and popularity of the book: “As long as we have the three Bs, the book will survive.”

The three Bs? Bedroom, bathroom, and bus. AK