Don't do it, I counseled.
Easy for you to say, the writer allowed. You have a track record.
But listen, I said, there are times when it absolutely isn't worth it. If they were gonna give you big bucks for a flat fee? Yeah, that's something about which you'd have to think. But they aren't. Your end is all the work; their end is almost all the money.
Some years ago, my agent was approached by the assistant of a well-known fellow in the writing and publishing biz. For this discussion, let's just call him ... Big Name Icon.
Biggie was contemplating the creation of a new cross--platform universe–books, comics, TV, movies, games, T-shirts, like that, and would I be interested in becoming a minority partner in the project?
Why me? Because of my credits in shared universes: Conan, Aliens, Star Wars, Clancy. They thought I had the chops.
Well, thanks, I was interested. Say on.
Here's the deal: You would create a bible, write the first novel, upon which the rest of the universe would be based, and work hand-in-glove with Big Name Icon Himself! Sit down, kick ideas back and forth, get in on the ground floor. This could be huge.
Cool. What are we talking about for, you know, my end?
The assistant named a figure. After I picked my laughing self up from the floor–the amount was less than I was getting for my own midlist books, I allowed as how that seemed, I dunno, a tad low. Want to explain why would I go to work for somebody else for less than I was making on my own? Where I didn't have to answer to anybody for any thing?
Well, Big Name Icon, who created other major universes, got stung back in the day, and he's not as well-heeled as everybody thinks he is. We don't have a deal with any publishers yet, so he has to pay you out of his own pocket.
Oh, okay, I understand that. I'm willing to take short money up front for a piece of the action on the other end.
Um ... well, see, Biggie got stung on that, too, so he's not really interested in giving away points.
Huh. "Minority partner" doesn't seem to mean what I thought it did.
So let me see if I have it straight: He wants to pay peanuts for me to create his new universe from scratch, write a hundred-thousand-word novel, and not allow me to participate in the profits if it takes off?
Well, yes, but think about it: You get to work with (can I get a WAH-WAH ECHO SFX HERE?) Big-Big-Big-Name-Name-Name-Icon-Icon-Icon! Hand-in-glove! And first right of refusal for additional novels.
For the same piddly flat fee?
Well, after things take off, I'm sure that can be adjusted.
Oh, okay, so we are talking about writing escalators into the contract? They sell like ice water in Hell, the fee goes way up for each subsequent one?
Well, we don't want to, you know, nail it down quite so tight.
Hmm. I think I do know. From where I sit, what it sounds like to me is you want me to hand you the bar of soap and bend over.
I'm sure Big Name Icon won't have any trouble finding people who would fall agog on themselves for a chance to drop his name in conversation, but you know what? I'm not them. Thanks for dropping by; don't let the door hit you on the on the way out, hey ... ?
There were and probably always will be people who will try to convince you that all-for-them-and-none-for-you is a great deal. Don't do it.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds as if you are about to get the splintery shaft? You probably are ...