Tag Archives: pay for writing

Ghostwriting: The Great Fallacy

I often see on Craigslist and other places where someone wants to write the story of their life or perhaps their one great novel, observations on the mating rituals of hummingbirds, or the meanings of shadows cast by the great pyramids. Anything. Everyone does have a story in them and if there is only one it is the story of their life. However, many people write their novels without comprehending the writing and publishing process, without taking training or otherwise learning the ropes. Would you want a pilot who had been trained first? Would you want a surgeon who just knew he had it in him? Writing, like any craft or skill takes training and practice. Few of us are naturals.

Some people recognize this. They realize they don’t have the skill to write the story they want to tell, or they don’t have the time. So they want a ghostwriter, who is someone that writes the story but someone else’s name is put on the book. Ghostwriters are also used for a lot of those novels that have a famous movie/rock star’s name attached. In very few cases has that star actually written the book. In some cases the star may have actually come up with the idea but has no clue how to write the story. William Shatner’s Tekwar books were not written by him though I believe he did give input or supply at least some of the plots. But his name will sell whereas George Smith might not.

Some people who want someone to write their life story (or other interesting event) might post for a writer. And they’ll often offer, as compensation, a percentage of sales. I wonder how many people actually ever get someone naive enough to fall for this venture. There are several things wrong with undertaking such a job. If you’re an aspiring writer, you want to write your own ideas. If you’re a writer, who writes articles or even books, well, you want to make a living off of your writing. If Jane Doe got George Smith to write her biography, George not only has to be a good writer himself, he has to devote a great deal of time to listening to Jane’s ideas and life history going back and forth with her to get or clarify details as well as probably her reading over the manuscript and making him change piece upon piece. She might also have scrawled notes on all sorts of scraps of paper that have to be deciphered and put in order.

The hours involved in such a venture can be astronomical and to work on spec is highly unlikely and pretty well stupid. If someone says to me well, I’ll give you 50% of the sales or what I get paid, you better have a contract and a good fairy. Here are the factors to consider on the way to getting published. Is the writing good enough? Is the story interesting enough with the right amount of information and detail? Is it something others will want to read? Is it a story that a publisher will want to buy? Will it sell many books? Presume that you won’t sell more than $2,000, work out the cover price after looking at other books that are similar, then subtract 40% right off the top. After that, consider that the publisher still has to pay the printer and their staff and you get only a small percentage. Perhaps it is a percentage against royalties. Perhaps it’s a flat rate. Perhaps it’s print on demand and they only print ten copies at a time at $20. You get maybe 40% of net earnings. I’ve sold ten at $200, which means that 40% is $80. What percentage does that writer get and is it worth it?

The problem is, unless you’re writing a famous person’s bio or have signed a deal with a major publisher who guarantees you this much to write the novel, writing someone else’s story is a crapshoot. I would never do it unless I was paid a rate, a very high rate, either by hour or by page. And if I’m writing my own novel, just how much time do I want to devote to someone else’s? I can’t say I would never do this but I certainly would never be a ghostwriter for the dream of sales.

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The Demise of the Printed Word

When I say printed word, I mean that literally. Not the electronic word nor the spoken word but everything from books to newspapers are in jeopardy of a discontinued existence. Nearly everyone these days has a computer and is connected to the internet, even the poorest people. In essence the computer has supplanted the TV and in fact could take over that role, completely being one system for everything: music, TV and internet resource/communications tool.

Many of us don’t enjoy sitting at our desks, reading or even watching a computer screen for hours. But then we have laptops so you can move to a more comfortable setting. Imagine a large, wide-screen TV and your console (read keyboard) at your couch, remote and wireless. Weird future? No, we have this ability right now and it will only be a matter of years until we see this as a common evolution.

On top of making computer usage more comfortable, there are a myriad of PDAs (personal digital assistants) or whatever fancy name they’re branded under. These are the small, light, handheld devices to which you can download images or text. Some people are already reading stories on devices as small as Palm Pilots or the slightly bigger ebook styles that would be the equivalent size of a thin paperback. So it won’t matter what you want. There will be some form of electronic medium on which to view images, listen to music and read written works.

What still stands in the way of full electronic immersion for the common person is that the cost is somewhat prohibitive, not every book you want is available, the tactile feel is very different between paper and plastic/metal and we don’t always like reading onscreen. One trend that has become prevalent with computers and the internet is our short attention spans. People like short paragraphs to read and stories of a certain length. Fill the screen with a huge block of text and our attention deficit minds wander off to another webpage or site. We’re not willing to sit as long to read onscreen. How that will translate to palm readers overall remains to be seen.

You could say the internet is perpetuating a lack of concentration and patience. So how long a paragraph can someone put on any of these reading ebooks and still keep someone from wandering away? I doubt Victor Hugo will read well on an ebook format, but I could be wrong. So what we’ll have is shorter and shorter sentences and paragraphs and perhaps even books, which could lead to a new fad in literature, that of simplified writing. There are already twitter websites. That’s worrisome in itself for the intricacies and depths of plot.

Even more problematic is the future for writers. There will be more internet publishers, not willing to actually hire a copy editor and pay them a decent wage to correct a manuscript. Instead, they’ll offer the editor a portion of the net sales, so the copy editor or proofreader will work for free or even peanuts unless the book sells through. Authors will not even get an advance against royalties but again a share of the books that have actually sold. They’ll write first and maybe never get paid later or be paid a couple of bucks.

Now most writers have written first, and sold later so that, you could say, is the same as it’s always been. But copy editors don’t work for free and writers now can “sell” their books to a publisher and still get less than they should if they sold to a traditional publisher. With low cost output to the epublisher, an author should get a much larger percentage. If the epublisher also does print on demand paper publishing than there should be a separate rate for that as the overhead would be slightly higher for shipping and printing. But how well does an epublisher advertise or do they leave it up to internet searches rather than promoting an author? This too can make the difference between putting your book on a dusty eshelf or having it actually sell.

What does the publisher put out? Very little in costs. They acquire the book and the editing for free and run a website that lists these items, where people can stop in to buy them. Perhaps the publisher must run the manuscript through their program to format it properly but once you have it set up, it’s not that much work.  If a novel is bought, the publisher gets the lion’s share and some of the rest of the money is divvied up to the author, editor and perhaps artist. This is a way to have authors work for free.

This may sound like a prediction but it is already happening with many epublishers. As well, with news readily available on the internet, actual newspaper sales are dropping. Some newspapers have stopped paying freelance journalists. Why bother when everyone and his robodog is sending in articles? Writing has only been a rich profession for a few but it may well become one of the poorest paid professions, if pay still enters into it.

My advice to all writers: don’t give up writing but don’t quit your day job either. Be very careful what epublishers offer. Ask them about advertising, marketing and where your books will be shown. Do they actually copy edit (everyone’s books can use a copy edit)? Do they also offer paper copies and what percentage can you expect? Also is that percentage of books produced or sold and of net or reatil price? Very important, that.  The electronic future does not seem to offer riches to authors.

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