If you regularly look at the Sunday New York Times Book Review Section and the column “Combined Print and E-Book Best Sellers,” you’ll notice something that should interest you if you’re an aspiring author or writer-for-hire.
Often, up to a whopping twenty-five percent of the top twenty nonfiction books listed are written with the help of a professional writer, e.g., by John Smith with Susan Jones. The credited authors and copyright owners–those whose names immediately follow “by” on the book cover and title page–may be celebrities, famous professionals, or unknowns who have accomplished remarkable feats or have unusual stories.
Before they begin the publishing process, most of these authors may lack time, publishing industry know-how, or the writing skills that are required for publication.
Perhaps you are more like them than you realize. You, too, may have at least one good non-fiction book hovering in your imagination—maybe even a prize-winning idea–but you are either too busy to write or simply don’t consider your writing skills equal to the task of pursuing publication. And you may be right to be skeptical!
In today’s highly competitive publishing world (traditional or digital), the author must win the reader over within the first few paragraphs and show that both his content and writing style are worthy of the reader’s long-term attention.
But here’s the kicker! As an aspiring author, you don’t have to quit your day-job to write the book yourself or jump-start a writing career in order to publish. Take the hint from the New York Times best seller list–assuming you have a story worth telling, you need only be savvy enough to team up with a professional writer to produce either a fascinating proposal for an agent’s consideration or a compelling manuscript for self-publication. A team approach allows both “creators”—author and writer–to display their complementary strengths.
And that’s where a publishing consultant or literary attorney comes into play. A detailed agreement does more than just recite a price and schedule for completion. Like a good business plan, an agreement should give both author and writer-for-hire the map they need to reach their shared destination.
- Do you have a production schedule for various phases of the writing process—e.g., a proposal, an outline, chapter segments and drafts?
- If the two of you disagree about content or other publishing issues, how will the two of you resolve the conflict?
- Will one of you need to travel in order to meet with the other or can you communicate by phone, email, and Zoom?
- What costs are associated with the project and who will pay them?
- Will the writer for hire accept a deposit, charge a flat fee, or share in any advance and royalties?
- There is particular language that the write-for-hire contract must include to make it clear that the author will be the copyright owner—has it been included?
- Will the writer share credit for the work, be a “ghost,” or only mentioned in the acknowledgements?
- Most important, what happens if either party dies or is disabled?
- Is there an escape clause for the writer as well as the author?
Writing “with” is a business, but there are personal considerations to keep in mind. If you’re the author, does the subject matter require that you give the writer access to private diaries, letters or emails? If so, include a provision requiring the writer to maintain your confidentiality except with regard to the passages you agree to include in your work.
Don’t ignore an inspiring concept for a book, blog or magazine article because you fear that you lack sufficient talent, skills or know-how. Stick with what you do best—telling your own or another’s personal story, describing unique views about a hobby or profession, or sharing a transformational experience–and let a professional write it down.