This article was originally published in Children’s Book Writer. Publishing professionals mentioned may have changed jobs, so please do your research before submitting any work.
When people first dream of writing for children, they typically imagine crafting original novels or picture books. However, few authors can sell enough original work – or earn large enough advances – to support themselves. Many writers who make a living from writing supplement their own projects with writing for hire.
For writers, the term “work for hire” (WFH) usually means freelance work done as an independent contractor. Most WFH pays a flat fee, although some publishers pay royalties. Payment can range from a few dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the project.
A contract is necessary to clarify the legal status of the work, including who holds the copyright – usually the employer. A written agreement also clarifies other terms. “Make sure your fee is clear and ask ahead of time about how soon you’ll be paid,” advises Shirley Duke, the author of many nonfiction books. In addition, “Get a contract and check out the publisher or packager to make sure they are reputable. Ask [your colleagues] if anyone has worked for them before.” These precautions ensure a satisfying experience for everyone.
Books for Teaching Kids
Educational publishing provides many WFH opportunities for children’s book writers. These books are frequently nonfiction, are often designed for classroom use, and are targeted at specific reading levels. For example, ABDO has three divisions: ABDO Publishing produces nonfiction for grades PreK-12; Magic Wagon produces fiction and nonfiction for grades PreK-8 and includes picture books, beginning readers, graphic novels, and chapter books; Spotlight licenses popular fiction.
Magic Wagon accepts original manuscripts from authors. Stephanie Hedlund, Editorial Director of Magic Wagon and Spotlight, says, “As a series publisher, we want to see an outline of how a submission can be a series of four to six titles.”
Only about 5% of authors are hired through original submissions, however; most ABDO books are developed in-house. “We accept author resumes and review them for work-for-hire assignments,” Hedlund says. “We are always looking to add graphic novel authors and illustrators to our author stable.”
Many educational projects are produced through book packagers. Bob Temple, President of Red Line Editorial, Inc., explains, “The lion’s share of the projects that we handle are complete, beginning-to-end book development projects for educational publishers. We work with publishers to develop ideas, then produce the books using our in-house staff and freelancers, including all editorial and design work.”
Book packagers use many freelance authors. “We have a large database of authors who have worked for us in the past, or have been recommended to us, or have sent us their information,” Temple says. “When we have a new project, we search for authors who have experience in the subject matter, reading level, writing style, etc., that the project calls for.”
In this internet era, WFH jobs can come from anywhere in the world. Bender Richardson White is based in the UK but works with American and Canadian publishers. Editorial Director Lionel Bender says the company handles, “Both single titles and series of highly illustrated nonfiction for children grades 2 upward, mostly for the schools and library market but also some trade books.”
Fiction writers can also find opportunities. Alyson Heller, Associate Editor, Aladdin Books/Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, says, “Our work-for-hire projects are mainly with chapter-book and middle-grade works, particularly with our series publishing. We also do some in-house developed original stand-alone titles (also known as IP), and we use work-for-hire writers for those, too.”
While educational publishing can provide steady work, writers must develop specific skills in order to be successful. Classroom nonfiction requires detailed research, often with every fact footnoted. Writers may be required to provide an index, image captions, and extensive back matter, such as a timeline, glossary, additional resources, and more. Some publishers even ask the writers to do photo research.
Writers must also understand reading levels and be able to target them. “The ability to take sometimes difficult concepts and write them at the proper reading level is very important,” Temple says. “The ability to meet deadlines is crucial, as is the ability to communicate well with our staff. Another key skill is the ability to research a topic thoroughly. Also, our deadlines are generally tight, so the ability to do all this with some speed is helpful, too!”
“I’m looking for authors with huge imaginations who write quickly and consistently,” Hedlund says. “My favorite authors to work with understand writing for children and are able to get creative but keep the vocabulary, tone, and content for our young readers.”
To work with Bender Richardson White, authors need to accept a detailed brief and follow it closely. Bender also offers a reminder: “You are part of a team, along with the designer, editor, picture researcher, which sometimes means being flexible and compromising.”
Compass Publishing produces educational materials for students learning English as a second or foreign language. These books offer additional challenges, such as writing from a limited vocabulary word list. Senior Editor Casey Malarcher says they like to see writers with, “EFL/ESL teaching experience, experience in writing educational materials, and familiarity with current practices and trends in EFL/ESL instruction.”
Because these books are used in classrooms in Asia, the Middle East, and South America, in addition to multi-cultural classrooms in the U.S., Compass looks for certain kinds of writers, Malarcher explains: “Writers who can envision how their materials are actually applied in classroom settings where both teachers and students may need extensive support and guidance, and writers who are sensitive to cultural aspects of both their work and classroom settings where their work may be used.”
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Chris Eboch is the author of You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.
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