Sunday, February 10, 2013

Writing for Money

The Brass Ring (photo by Audrey Lawson)

Got asked about work-for-hire, in connection with writing scripts and/or shared universe tie-ins. Why one would do it, given the hassles?

Lot of reasons, from money, to getting to play with an icon you like, to bumping up interest in your own stuff. Writing for a living as a freelancer is an iffy business. For beginners, making a sale is the brass ring*, but once you grab that, the merry-go-round is still moving, and you have to figure out a way to stay on it as it stops and starts. 

Earlier in my career if I was offered work and the money was okay and it was remotely possible that I could get the project done, I always took the job. Because there is a stage where you worry that if you turn anything down, you won't get any more offers, the tap will turn off, end of career.

Later, I got to a place where I would weigh the alternatives. How hard and how quickly was it going to be necessary to do the job? And now and then, I'd weigh those and it wasn't going to be worth my time to take the offer, so I would reluctantly turn it down. Low money, short turnaround, other work in the pipeline? Sorry, can't do it. 

Then I moved along, and the offers didn't come as often, but some of them were potentially very lucrative. And I found myself considering the money and effort versus the time–sometimes the money was really, really good, but I could tell by the interactions with the folks who'd sign the checks that it was going to be a ballbuster. That wading neck-deep through a lake of bubbling feces required a whole lot of incentive, and I was less and less inclined to do so. Life isn't getting longer.

Yeah, if I work on my own novel that will go straight to epub, I won't make any money, relatively speaking; on the other hand, I will enjoy the experience ever so much more, and that counts for more than it once did.

It's always a matter of putting it on the scale when you do work-for-hire, in somebody else's universe. It's their toy, they get the final word, you know that going in, so you decide based on what you most need. Sometimes, I most needed the money. Working in somebody else's universe got me the name-change, from "Steve Perry," to "New York Times Bestselling Author Steve Perry." Not only good for swelling the ego, but a direct connection to the wallet. That on the cover sells books. 

Sometimes, I most needed the feeling of nobody looking over my shoulder.

Usually when I work with somebody offering editorial suggestions, be they actual editors or simply those who control the property, I look at these suggestions through a simple heuristic: 1) If it will make the story better and I can see it? I'll probably do it. 2) If it doesn't make the story better, but also doesn't make it worse? I'll probably do it. 3) If it makes the story worse? I will resist doing it as much as I can. 

Sometimes, due to the nature of being a hired gun, you have to go with 3). You don't have a choice, it's their way or the highway. If such becomes intolerable, then best you don't put yourself in the position where you have to take that option.

I'm getting there a lot more often than I used to get there ...

* Brass Rings, in this context, were dispensed from a device next to a carousel. As you went by, you reached out, sometimes having to lean dangerously, to grab a ring. Most of the rings were, in the classic dispensers, of iron. If the one you grabbed was brass, it entitled you to a prize, usually a free ride. You don't see these much any more, and that's mostly a liability issue. Lean too far and fall off, back in the day, you'd pick yourself up, laugh, and climb back onto the ride. Now, you'd sue everybody from the ride maker to the operator to the guy sweeping the parking lot. 

When I was a kid, there was a guy came to town with a big truck full of mules, a dozen of them. He'd set up a big corral in an empty field, saddle the mules, and you could climb on on and ride it around in a big circle, something like a buck for fifteen minutes. The other, riderless mules ran along. If you were hare-brained like I was, you could jump from mule to mule, since they tended to clump together as they walked and ran around in a big loop. I never fell off, but if I had, the chances of me getting trampled were pretty good. The operator, when he saw us, would yell, "Hey, don't do that!" but we did anyway, and he didn't toss us out.

Can you even imagine somebody offering that kind of experience today?


William Adams said...

My initial thought on seeing the title was that you were another fan of Bill Mauldin, whose autobiography was entitled _The Brass Ring_.

The Daring Novelist said...

Funny how those disincentives work....

Lately I find myself writing what I want, and doing book covers for money. Both are satisfying, neither make me rich.

Ian Sadler said...

Off Topic.

Hi steve,

You need one of these


Steve Perry said...

Ian --

Looks like a pretty stout gig bag, but I confess I see the top-loading feature as kind of spendy. I think the temptation would be to leave the sucker standing up once you load it, and that boot won't keep it from being knocked over.

A hardshell is a lot heavier, but I can stand on mine and I would rather haul the weight than worry about the guitar inside.

If I could justify the price, I'd get a carbon fiber case, if I was traveling. Trouble is, those -- the good ones -- run a couple grand ...

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan, but I'm old-fashioned. Once I add you to my "favorite authors" list, I want REAL books, something I can hold in my hands, put on my bookshelves, and take down and reread (and reread!). I work in I.T. all day - electrons just aren't entertaining to me.

Steve Perry said...

I prefer a nice leather-bound book to the iPad, too, but I'm a dinosaur, and when my generation is gone, ebooks won't bother a lot of young folks.

Nor should they.

An ebook is just as real as treeware, insofar as once you read it, you have experienced the tale.

Books as objects are fine, but for me, the book as story is more important. I've always bent pages, dropped them in the bathtub or gotten coffee rings on my books.I have some that are collectible, but only a few.

When you remember the tale, do you recall the turning of the pages or the font more than you do the content? I don't, so I'm reading more stuff electronically than in paper. It's convenient, I can do it in bed with the lights off, and I can keep a hundred -- a thousand -- books in my hand at once. Stop in the middle of sentence, look up the meanings of a word, go online and check facts, all with taps of a finger.

A while back, I started putting ebooks up for sale, and got some notes from folks who allowed as how they were fans of real books. If I'd offer them as POD, they'd snap them right up!

So I did. And they didn't. Because the paper versions cost three or four times as much as the e-versions.

Meanwhile, I've sold a steady supply of ebooks, some of which traditional publishers didn't want, so if you want to read them, its epub or nothing.

My next Matador novel will be epub because my publisher didn't want to do any more of them. It's for my fans, I won't get rich from it, but it will be out there. Those who need paper for the experience are going to miss out on it. Paper isn't going the way of buggy whips any time soon, but epub has a quarter of the book market and is climbing.

Welcome to the future ...

Unknown said...

Wow! Did no realise your publisher was not interested in more Matadors! Must be an idiot--of course reading on various blogs about the Amazon/Haché queer fluffier it seems as if they all are. Stross writes on his blog Ebooks are now 40% of the market! and rising.
Can't wait for Churl!