If you’ve been writing for very long and have tried to get published, you may have come across a phrase that has been tossed around for quite a while–“working for hire.” Some in the writing biz see this as the Big Bad Wolf of publishing, warning newbies off of it’s temptations from the beginning. The nay sayers say that when you work for hire, you forfeit all your rights to your work. That’s true. But what they don’t tell you is that you also get paid a chunk of money for what you do, sometimes far more than you could ever earn when writing for royalities. This is how it works.
If you’re writing articles, you need to study the situation before deciding if working for hire is for you. It all depends on what type of article you’re writing. If it’s one with a limited market–say, about a particular business in one city–then the possibilities of you selling that article again are slim. So in this case you should take the money and run.
On the other hand, if your article is about a topic that’s hot and applies to several writing markets–the places where you sell your writing–then you shouldn’t work for hire because you have a potential for making a lot more money in the future from that article.
If you’re writing short fiction, then the market is wide open–what paying markets there are for these–so, again, you shouldn’t work for hire because you should be able to sell that story again and again.
The same applies to books although on a much larger scale. For non-fiction books, it all depends on the subject matter of the book and the demand there is for it by readers. If you’ve written a book that has limited sales appeal and someone offers you $5,000 to write it, chances are that you’ll make more by accepting the $5,000 as a work for hire agreement than you ever would with royalties. A book has to sell a LOT of copies for you to make anything from it beyond the advance because you first have to pay off the advance with the percentage you get for each copy sold. This can take a long time.
Novels are another story. In most cases, publishers only pay an advance with royalties for them, so working for hire doesn’t enter into the picture.
Whatever you decide to do, weigh your options first. Will that book you’re writing really sell and pay you beyond your advance, or would it be better to take the $5,000-10,000 you’re offered to write it and live comfortably. Regardless of what the ivory tower literary types think, writing isn’t about starving.