Friday, February 10, 2017

SUCCESS STORY: Patti Richards and Work-For-Hire Writing Projects

You all know Patti Richards as one of our Mitten blog editors. She trumpets the good news and hard work of our SCBWI-MI members in two quarterly features, Hugs and Hurrahs and Writer Spotlights. It's been awhile since we've shared a Success Story interview, and Patti is the perfect candidate. It's her turn to shine! Patti kicked-off the new year with the release of her newest non-fiction book, ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING.

Tell us a little about your book.
ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING (Red Line/North Star Editions, January 2017) is part of the Cutting-Edge Technology series produced by North Star Editions. There are eight books in all that cover everything from apps and coding to drones and social media. They had two titles for me to choose from and I took the social networking title because that’s an area where I’m very comfortable. Specifically, my book is written for kids age 9 to 13 and defines social networking, how instant messaging works, the social media choices that are out there for kids, how to stay safe while online and future trends in social networking.

This book was a work-for-hire project. What does that mean?  
Work-for-hire writing is a bit different from the usual way writers submit a manuscript and wait to hear from a publisher or agent. With work-for-hire, the publisher determines the titles they wish to publish during their editorial year. Then they reach out to writers who have submitted resumes and writing samples or who have been recommended by another writer. If the writer is interested in taking on the project, the company sends a contract that outlines the terms of the agreement and payment.

Once the writer signs and returns the contract, she receives instructions on how to proceed. For me, this included an outline, suggested subheadings, submission formatting and those all-important deadlines! I got all my instructions in late May and had two weeks to complete the first draft. I waited about a week after submitting the first draft for my editorial notes (which required a complete rewrite because I’d miss some important style-guide points…ugh), and then the final draft was due about two weeks later. So the entire process from start to finish took approximately six weeks. That was last summer, and the book was released a few weeks ago. For most picture books the entire process can take two years or more from the day the contract is signed.

Are there pros and cons for this type of writing?
I really don’t see a downside because work-for-hire projects accomplish some important things.
First, it’s a paying gig, and those can be few and far between in this business. There’s nothing like knowing the work you’re doing is work you’re actually getting paid for as a writer. It’s a confidence builder in an industry where “atta girls” can be scarce!

Second, it forces you to work to a style guide and deadlines. It’s very common for those new to the business side of writing to chafe under deadlines. For me, deadlines are a part of daily life, and basically, if you don’t get it turned in on time, you don’t get paid. Learning to write under this kind of pressure sharpens your writing and editing skills in a way nothing else can.

Third, you get a hold-in-your-hand book at the end of the process and a new credit for your resume. It might not be the next Newbery Award or an idea that was born in your writer soul, but seeing a project like this through to completion and getting to open the box with your author copies inside- well, there’s just nothing like it!

As far as cons go, it’s difficult to find any. You’ve done the work (maybe faster than you would otherwise), it’s a substantial credit for your resume, and you have a book out. Some might shy away from this type of work because there are no royalties involved in work-for-hire projects. Once you get paid you don’t earn any more money and you have no rights to the content you’ve provided. I would say, sometimes you have to be willing to do things that look a little different than your dream in order to realize that dream in the long run. Writing is a business and making smart business decisions as you go along will serve you well in the end.

How did this opportunity come about for you?
I’m constantly looking for sources of paying work since I write for a living as well as working to get my children’s books published. As I’m working on writing web copy for clients, I’m researching places that do work-for-hire projects, whether they’re in the children’s market or other markets. I submitted my resume to Red Line Editorial the first time in October of 2014. I never heard back from them, so I resubmitted my resume in March of 2016, and this time, within 24 hours I was asked to send writing samples. Once I sent those and they liked them, I was put on their contributing writer list. That means if they come across a title for which they think a writer would be well suited, based on experience and the writing samples, they reach out. That happened for me just a couple of months later.

Do you have a responsibility for marketing/promoting these type of books?
No, work-for-hire projects are usually for schools and libraries and are marketed to teachers and librarians directly by the company. I can certainly promote the book through social media and my website/blog, but there’s no official book release party or that kind of thing for these projects; although there’s no rule that says an author can’t do that.

Do you have any research tips? And what about organizing all of this information (and on a tight deadline!)? Do you use a program like Scrivener?
Research for me has to go pretty fast, so I don’t use a program like Scrivener. I stay organized by simply cutting and pasting the URL from my sources into a Word document so I can keep a running list. Then from there I use a free bibliography generator like Citation Machine to produce a bibliography in whatever the style the publisher wants- MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.

This project required footnotes/endnotes, and for that I simply used the reference option in Word. I cut and past the URL while I’m writing into the endnote and then go back later and format the note correctly. For me, it’s better than stopping and starting all the time.

I also had to produce a glossary of terms and provide additional reading options for the “To Learn More,” section at the back of the book. So for these types of projects it’s pretty old school when it comes to research and sourcing, although internet resources make the entire process much, much easier!

Do you have any advice for others who would like to find work-for-hire writing projects?
As with other types of writing, researching the kinds of titles companies like this produce can help you craft samples that show you can do the work. One of the first things I did when I got this contract was to order a book written by a friend of mine for this same company so I could get a vision for what the final product would look like. I needed to see it before I started on my own title. Learning to write to a particular style may seem restrictive, but being able to adapt at a moment’s notice lets editors know you are a professional and someone they want to work with again and again.

As far as finding this type of work, Google is your best friend. Use keywords like “work-for-hire writing,” “work-for-hire writing for children,” “educational publishers,” and “educational book publishers,” and you’ll get lots of hits. From there, the submission guidelines, FAQ’s, Contact Us or About Us pages will tell you how to submit or where to send your resume and writing samples.

Thanks for helping us learn from your experience, Patti, and congrats again on your new book! You can learn more about Patti by visiting her blog, Sensibility and Sense, A Perfect Blog for Imperfect Writers. Patti offers paid critiques, resources for writers and insight into the world of writing for children.
The annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York begins today! Safe traveling to everyone attending, and we'll share some reports from our MI attendees when they return.

The SCBWI-MI Written Critique Program is underway and going strong! Learn more here.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Congratulations Patti on your latest accomplishment. Thanks for sharing your success.

  2. Congrats on your new book, Patti. And it's really interesting how you can get these type of projects writing for children. I write for a web marketing firm now pretty full-time as a contract writer. I agree with you that it is cool to get paid regularly for writing.

  3. Congratulations Patti. Thank you for sharing this information. This is incredibly helpful!

  4. You go Patti! Great info, now you should write a guide for the 50+ generation :-)

  5. Patti, do you have any advice about how to make sure the work-for-hire company is legit? Are there ways to check them out? So many come up when I googled some of your suggestions and I just wondered if you knew about that.