May 2010

Today, I’d like to join up again with Nancy Sanders to have her continue our conversation about work-for-hire vs. royalty writing.  Nancy writes primarily for children, but work-for-hire and royalty contracts are available in both children’s and adult markets.

Often, writers don’t consider work-for-hire contracts when they think of writing a book, yet they can offer many benefits over royalty contracts. Today, Nancy will discuss what some of those benefits are.

By the way, I must apologize that on my first post of Nancy’s interview, I had some interesting tech problems and was not able to add Nancy’s picture to my post. This time, it seems to have worked!

Here’s Nancy…

Nancy I. Sanders

It’s nice to be back on your blog again, Renee! Thanks so much for having me join your readers and share my perspective on work-for-hire versus royalty contracts. I’ve signed lots of both, so I’ve had experience on both sides of the page. Today I wanted to share about some of the benefits work-for-hire contracts can offer a writer.

There can be key benefits to work-for-hire. One is that most work-for-hire assignments have fixed guidelines and a pre-arranged format writers are required to follow. Some writers prefer this. Editors who work with writers on these assignments also realize there is a learning curve for those who are new to their publishing house. They’re often willing to help and train newbies—an added bonus! It can feel like signing up to take a writing course, but being paid to take it.

Other benefits are that you learn to write what an editor wants and work on a tight schedule. Plus, it helps acquire published credits. These are essential ingredients of building a successful, solid writing career.

The one main concern you want to be careful of when signing a work-for-hire contract, however, is to never agree to write about something that is near and dear to your heart. Don’t sell all rights to the picture book about your nephew’s first birthday party or a middle grade novel series with your twin daughters as the main characters. Save those books for royalty-based contracts where the copyright is registered in your own name.

To get started with work-for-hire contracts, most publishers will expect to receive a query letter stating that you’re interested in being considered as an author for a potential assignment. List any published credits you already have. They’ll also need to see samples of your work, but if you haven’t yet written in their specific genre, mention in your query that you’re interested in preparing sample text for their review for a potential upcoming new project. That way, you can fine tune your writing sample directly to their in-house style and format. And if they like your sample, you just might be offered the contract to write that project.

[I’d like to add here that I believe wfh assignments are an excellent way to break in to a publishing house. In my opinion, it’s much easier if you are given an assignment and told how it is to be written than to try to break in as a new author by sending out proposals in hopes something will catch someone’s attention.

I realize that some writers hate the structure of wfh and would rather be free to create the way they want to, but even with royalty publishing, you still have to adhere to the editor’s guidelines and format.]

Thanks, Nancy for shining the light on work-for-hire vs. royalty contracts!

-Bestselling and award-winning author Nancy I. Sanders has signed numerous work-for-hire books as well as royalty-based contracts. She is the author of the ground-breaking new book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, Award-winning Finalist of the National Best Books 2009 Awards.

For today’s post I’d like to bring back author Nancy I. Sanders. Nancy has written dozens of work-for-hire as well as royalty-based books, so I thought she would be a great person to help explain not only the differences with these two types of publishing but also the pros and cons.

Please welcome Nancy back to my blog…

It’s great to be visiting your blog today, Renee! Thanks for asking me to participate in a discussion about work-for-hire contracts versus royalty contracts.

Many passionate opinions abound as to whether or not a writer should sign a work-for-hire contract. A work-for-hire contract basically means that you agree to write a manuscript and give away all rights to it. Your manuscript becomes the property of the publisher and as such they can do whatever they choose with it. Many writers feel passionately that work-for-hire contracts should never be signed.

On the other hand, some writers love the world of work-for-hire publishing. Assignments can come at a steady pace. Deadlines are fast and furious. Nice paychecks arrive in the mail on a frequent, regular basis. These writers usually don’t like royalty-based contracts because they’ve learned from experience that it may take years for cash to trickle in from royalties on a book that doesn’t sell well.

Work-for-hire can be a great source of quick cash in the world of publishing, but it might be to your advantage to establish a balance of work-for-hire contracts along with royalty-based contracts. In between your work-for-hire contracts, take time to query publishers who offer royalty-based contracts. If you can land contracts for several royalty-based contracts each year, along with several work-for-hire contracts, it can help you financially in the long run. The beauty of writing royalty-based contracts, other than the all-important reason that you get to keep the copyright to your own work, is that over the years, as you build up your published credits, the royalties start adding up as well.

Stop back tomorrow and we’ll discuss some of the benefits—yes there are actually benefits!—of signing work-for-hire contracts.

Nancy I. Sanders is the author of the ground-breaking new book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, Award-winning Finalist of the National Best Books 2009 Awards.

The semicolon is a strong member of the punctuation team, serving a multitude of functions. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what to do with them, so you will either see them thrown into sentences randomly or perhaps not at all.  Here are a few places where it is correct to use a semicolon:

•  Linking  independent clauses that carry equal weight:

“She was a star athlete; she even considered trying out for the Olympics.”

• To bring clarity amidst a series of commas:

“Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the 70s was an amazing team. Some of its stars included Johnny Bench, catcher; Tony Concepcion, shortstop; and Pete Rose,  left fielder.”

• Between adverbs that join independent clauses:

“The roads are really icy tonight; therefore, I  won’t be attending the dinner party.”

Do not use semicolons…

• In the place of colons to introduce phrases, a list, or an independent clause:

“There are only three colors I like:  purple, blue, and turquoise.”

I’ve frequently seen the semi-colon used in place of the colon in such situations, but that is not correct usage.

• Instead of commas between a dependent clause and the main clause:

“He got a ‘C’ on the test, even though he studied all night.”

For a complete review of  semicolon usage, look at a style  manual, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Style Manual, or any grammar  guide. Used properly, the semicolon adds clarity and pace to your writing. Used incorrectly, it can bring confusion to your sentences and create distractions.

In my previous post on writing for the online audience, I talked about key words (making sure you have direct, relevant words in your titles and subheads), making your article easy to read (by using bullets, italics, or bolding to capture attention), and using effective formatting (making sure there’s plenty of white space and short paragraphs).

Today, I’d like to add 3 more tips that will help strengthen your online style and effectiveness:

1. Be direct and brief. Leave the storytelling effects to the print media, because with online writing, readers want their articles quick and to the point. In fact, it’s been found that most readers don’t spend much time actually reading online articles at all. They simply scan and skim them to see if what they need is there. If not, they’ll move on.

This has 2 implications for you as a writer:  (1) make sure your important points are easy to find in your article, and (2) don’t let your article get bogged down with unnecessary verbiage.

Think action-oriented when writing online. Get the info into the readers’ hands as quickly as possible, lead them to act on it (if you’re driving them to your website or to a P.O. S.), then get them out! They’ll be forever thankful!

2. Break some grammar rules. Just like you need to leave your flowery prose in your poetry book when you step into the Web, you can also afford to leave behind some grammar rules you’ve learned along the way for the sake of your readers. For example, it’s OK to allow the occasional sentence fragment, if it means it’s helping you be brief and make your point quicker.

I would still suggest using strong verbs instead of passive ones, and writing in understandable sentences, but it’s OK if you end your sentences with a preposition and use “who” instead of “whom” from time to time!

3. Focus on your readers’ needs at all times. Sometimes when we write, it can easily end up being more about us if we’re not careful. Everyone has a story they just have to tell or information they want to get out. That’s fine…for print. But online, it’s all about the reader. What  types of searches are your readers’ doing to find you? What information are they looking for? Make sure you’re delivering what they came to your article to find. That’s one sure way to make certain they come back!

Thanks for joining me for learning about online writing. If anyone has other tips that have worked for you, please leave a comment and share!

Whether you write website or blog material, online articles, or have an online business, writing for an online audience is its own kind of animal. Many of the classic writing rules get tossed aside once you enter the world of the Internet.

Let’s talk about a few tips that will help make your online writing more effective:

1. Think bite-sized. You may have noticed that print magazines all seem to be going the way of the USA Today newspaper, with short paragraphs, text boxes, and bullets. In fact, I recently heard that USA Today is the country’s top newspaper–and I believe their format is the reason why.

People don’t want to spend a long time on any one article, and if there’s too much solid text, they’ll forgo reading it altogether. While you’re starting to see this more and more with print media, this has always been the case with electronic material, and if you want your writing to grab an online audience, you must follow suit.

In particular, keep your paragraphs very short–2-4 sentences tops. And skip a line space in between your paragraphs to increase the amount of visible white space in your article. This keeps your readers from feeling too overwhelmed when they first size up your article to determine if they want to dive in.

Break up your text even more by adding italics, bolding, and numbered or bulleted lists. And, if you have a lot to say, you may want to consider breaking your blog or article into several installments, if that’s possible.

If you’re writing website material, don’t overload each page with too much information. Try to keep each page focused on one aspect of your site. Have one page for your services or products, another for contact information, another that discusses your company’s history, and so forth.  I’ve been to some sites that are so cluttered you can’t find anything. I get very frustrated with such sites and typically leave without getting the information I need.

Also, for websites, make your site visually appealing by having ample white space, very short paragraphs, and lots of  quick snippets here and there that will keep your readers’ attention. No one wants to scroll through line after line of learning how you started your company in your garage and then went bankrupt five times before having the awesome company you have now. Less = more!

2. Pay attention to your key words and titles. Because search engines track down titles and headings more than what’s in the body of your text, be careful how you title your articles and what words you use in your headings. Coming up with clever titles for your work can be fun, but if it’s not drawing search engines to your site, those titles are useless. For online work,  be direct in your titling, and leave the cutesy titles for print media.

This strategy also holds true for any website or blog site. Make sure you’re using plenty of key words that will help promote your product or service on each page. Don’t bury your product descriptions and key words in the body of your text somewhere. Make sure the key words for your products are in your titles and headings as much as possible without looking ridiculous.

One more tip about titles: Studies have proven that articles on “How to _____” (anything) or “Ways to _______ ” (anything) are some of the most popular for online searches. So if you want to write about writing for children, your title should read, “How to Write for Children,” or some variation thereof. You can always conduct a search yourself for your own product or service and see what titles and keywords show up the most.

That’s it for now. Stop back later this week to learn more tips for writing for the online audience.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the point of view, or POV, that you choose can help you present your story in a fresh and unique way. I often think about the stories in the Bible about Jesus. For the most part the Bible is written as a third-person narrative. But, how would it have been different if we could have witnessed Jesus’ acts through His first-person accounts? Instead of only seeing His actions, we then would’ve known His thoughts and feelings about the people He encountered, His time of prayer before His crucifixion, and what was going through His mind when He raised Lazarus from the dead! It definitely would have presented us with quite a different perspective.

Changing your story’s POV can change everything! But there are some things to keep in mind:

1. Keep POV consistent. In fiction, it’s OK to change your POV from chapter to chapter, or even from scene to scene, but make sure it stays the same within scenes, lest you confuse and frustrate your reader! When you do change between scenes, it’s helpful to let your reader know and make it clear you’re changing by using transitional sentences and wording that lets them know they are now in a different character’s head.

As a general rule, in nonfiction, you should not change your POV. Most nonfiction is written in third person as it can become distracting to the reader when you make yourself a part of the narrative. There are some instances where first person can work, like when you’re conducting an interview, for instance. But whichever POV you choose for nonfiction, keep it the same throughout.

2. Choose the right POV. How do you know which POV is the right one? Often it is dictated by the character himself. It’s usually best to choose the character that has the most at stake in your scene, especially if other characters are impacted by this one main character as well. It can be more difficult to follow if the reader can only see through the eyes of a more minor character.

Another approach is to choose the character that you want your reader to identify with the most. You control what your reader thinks, feels, sees, and hears through the character you choose. Choose the most appropriate character based on what you want your reader to feel.

3. Try varying POVs before deciding on one. We sometimes think we know right away which POV we should use for a scene, a nonfiction story, or even an entire book. Before settling on one for certain, try different ones just to see how it changes your story. If you’re writing a nonfiction piece on a common topic, approaching it with a fresh POV can make it seem brand new!

Be sure to check your scenes and stories for consistent POV. Then, go back and try shifting POV to different characters. See how it changes your story. You might just like the difference it makes.