Fiction writing for work-for-hire

Browsing through my friends list when I should be working, I saw a pretty interesting post by Alana Joli Abbott. It was in reference to some fiction guidelines (and some good comments on) that the resurrection of Dragon Magazine came up with for fiction writing. In short, 0.03 - 0.06 USD per word and work-for-hire.

Now, I write work-for-hire a lot. And, ignoring the complaints about paychecks, I get paid to do so. A lot more than a couple cents per word. And my attempts at being all professional (or making money or a small measure of fame off some writing) is relatively a recent occurrence (this year, excluding a couple of efforts). But, work-for-hire is a scary thing. It is giving up everything you wrote. Not really being able to post it on your website, not really being able to do anything with it, even years later. Those are things that are kind of scary, but you don't always think of. All that for change. It is almost like, getting a bit of money to get your name out there and nothing else.

I submit to the White Wolf fanfiction contest, which pays nothing and demands all rights, but I do it for two reasons. One, to get my name out there. And the other is to come up with prior art in the very rare chance they have a novel contest. So... mostly to get my name out there and to write more. However, it is also a free download which means I can point people to it when I do want to show off my writing skills. I don't feel bad when I can just download it legally and print it. Or even have a link to it that doesn't require people to pay for it.

I also have a commissioned business running around, well not more of a business, but I charge 0.02 USD per word to write a story and it is work-for-hire. But, almost every single story I write goes to one person and never goes beyond it. I have never seen one of my commissioned stories out in the "wild" as it were, except for the ones I've been given permission to post. And there are a lot of them, but they are private, so I don't mind charging so little.

On the other hand, there is a price to pay just getting your name out there. In my first novel, call it TMG, I set out to get published. That was my own goal. It wasn't the original plan, I just wrote a 43k word novel and then has this epiphany that if everyone says they like it, maybe I could get it published. So, I took a few months to turn it into a 119k word novel and sent it out. Amazingly, after two rapid-succession rejections, the third place said "sure!" I didn't know what I was really getting into, but since my goal was to get published, I didn't really pay attention to the 6% royalties (came out 0.32 USD/book), the complete and utter lack of control (an entire set of rights, including movie, survived past the contract's decommission), or my complete and utter hatred of the front cover (0.21 USD/book to the author and I hate, hate, hate it). I didn't really understand what I was doing because I just wanted my name out there. So, I did something close to what Dragon Magazine is asking people to do and gave up effectively everything just to see my name there. For a pittance.

In this case, it had a bittersweet ending: the company went out of business. After a year or so, I got a check for 21 USD and never heard from them again. A few years later, of checking their website every damn week, I found out they were bought out by someone else. I was both relieved that I didn't sign away everything and completely and utterly depressed since they were the only place that has every published me.

I can't help feeling that, given the writing market as it stands, that work-for-hire in that situations can ever be good except for the bottom line of those publishing. Writer's need credit. They need to not give up everything just to see their name in print (though, it was and still is a rush, I'll tell you that, but the rush fades long before the frustration does). I got very scared when I saw what happened to TMG, more so when I was abandoned by my publisher, and relieved when it fell apart. Since then, I've been a bit more pickier about where I send things, not to mention into a much more crowded and competitive market.

I think about sending things to White Wolf. I've chosen not to start a really cool project for the Exalted universe simply because I can't use it to really further my writing career. Yeah, it's be a cool novel, but White Wolf has the rights, so I set the notes aside and hope for the day they coming knocking at my door (won't happen), announce something in a forum (probably won't happen), or announce it in a place I won't know to read (most likely to happen). I submit to the fanfiction contest because it gets my name out in a manner I am fully aware of, but that's probably about it. I do work-for-hire because people like it (and it pays about a hundred times more than royalties). I'm trying to set out to make a name for myself (as me) in writing, which has the conflict of getting people to know me and actually making money off it. Well, fame would be nice too. For the fanfiction contest, it isn't a big deal. But, if White Wolf charged for the quarterly, I wouldn't do it. Not for what I consider a reasonable amount of money (and 0.03 USD isn't it).

It might mean I never get published, but it seems like there are lots of opportunities out there and one of them will finally stick for me. And this time, I won't give up everything just to get my name out there. Did that, enjoyed the rush, ready to do it right this time.

Case of the Morning Zombies (Edit #1, 0 of 37 chapters)