pearls and perils of publishing

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Versatility, part 2

One of the most interesting qualities about versatility is that once we decided to write nonfiction as well as fiction, opportunities to do both began to surface. Rob and a psychic friend wrote and sold The Rainbow Oracle, a divination system based on color.

We took several projects that were work for hire – you get your name on the book, are paid a flat fee, but no royalties. We did three of these books. It’s a good way to establish credits and hey, it helps pay the bills.

The first one we did was The Everything Dreams Book,  followed by Trish’s The Everything Astrology Book, which was her first astrology book. The third one was The Everything Spells and Charm Book.  There are some major drawbacks to work for hire: the lack of royalties, of course, particularly if the book sells well, and the fact that you don’t own the material.  If the publisher decides to bring out a new edition of the book, you probably will get first dibs on the revisions. However, when this happened with the Everything Astrology Book, Trish turned the project down. The amount of work they wanted for the revision just wasn’t worth what they were offering.

We’ve also done our share of ghostwriting. This type of work can be lucrative, especially if it’s a celebrity project. But it can also be frustrating. For awhile, we worked with a book packager – a person who approaches a celebrity about writing a book, finds the writer for the project, then sells the idea based on a proposal. The frustrating part of this is that the writer writes the proposal – for free – and then you go back and forth with the packager and the celebrity, tweaking the story. You can spend weeks spinning your wheels on something like this and there’s no guarantee it will sell.  We wrote about one such experience here, with actor Jamie Cromwell.

Fiction is probably the most challenging type of ghostwriting. The celebrity usually has a firm idea about what he or she wants in the book and if your vision of the novel doesn’t match the celebrity’s, then nothing works. However, if there’s a middle person involved – like the editor who has bought the book, then you’ve got someone in your court to stand up for your version of the novel. That's what  happened when we ghostwrote a novel for an infamous celebrity with her own TV show.

Sometimes, though, the celebrity is just willing to let the writer create the story without much interference. That was the case for Rob when he wrote two novels, PSiNET and JUST/IN TIME with Billy Dee Williams. They were stories Rob wanted to write, he got a byline,  and with Billy Dee's involvement, a contract was in place with a publisher before the book was written.

In today’s market, writers have to be even more versatile than when we started out. The publishing industry, like so many other long-established industries, is in turmoil. E-books and the popularity of Nooks, Kindles, iPads and other electronic reading devices are changing the dynamics of publishing.  Maybe we’ll reach a point someday where the only print books are kept in libraries. Until that time, E-books make it possible for writers to self-publish and yes, there are some success stories – like this one.   And because the prices of e-books are so much lower than the cost of a hardback or, in many instances, even a paperback, writers published through traditional means gain new readers.

With programs like smashwords , authors with out of print books can bring them back into print and sell them in digital format.  Or, writers who want to self-publish can do so through such programs.

In other words, everything is shifting and writers have to adapt – or find some other way to make a living.  

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