Every week or so, a potential client asks me whether one of our writers would be willing to work on spec, to accept payment when the book gets published, to work as a partner, or some other euphemism for assuming the risk of the client’s project.
For anyone considering asking me this question, here are my top reasons why this makes about as much sense as investing in the moat-digging business:
- The writer is your supplier. Would you ask a plumber, landscape architect and roofer to accept payment on when — and if — your house sells?
- Asking a supplier to forego payment in the hopes of making a bigger ROI when you publish is essentially asking them to invest in your idea for a book. These are writers we are talking about. They have dozens of their own ideas they would rather invest in.
- It takes time for a book to get published. Unless you happen to be a former president or major league MVP, your writer could starve while waiting for you to publish.
- The reality is that most books will never see the light of day. What? Does the writing suck? Not with our writers! Does the idea suck? Actually, almost everybody who comes through the door with the greatest idea ever…has a pretty good idea for a book. Maybe not the greatest idea ever, because the Bible and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy have already been written, but nevertheless the ideas are pretty good. But it takes perseverance to keep knocking on doors, like the folks at Chicken Soup for the Soul did, year after year until finally a publisher agrees to give it a go. And our writers don’t feel like gambling a couple months of pay that a client might just be the rare gem able and willing to do that.
- Believe it or not, life gets in the way. Clients disappear all the time. Seemingly reliable clients. It’s really amazing how often people who decide to write a book get stricken by disease, get surprised by divorce, lose a very close relative or simple vanish without a trace (Yes, this has happened several times!).* In fact, if the insurance companies had access to my statistics, it would be justifiable cause for them to cancel your insurance right now on the spot, as well as the insurance of everybody related to you. Your writer doesn’t want to do a month of work for you and hope you’ll stick around, ignoring everything else in your life.
- If you are writing a book hoping to sell it, you are undertaking a business venture. Every business venture requires start-up capital. Even a hot dog stand. What makes this business venture so attractive is that $10,000 or $20,000 is peanuts. You won’t get a fast food franchise for those pennies.
- Our writers are professionals, not part-time college students looking to puff up their CVs. Please treat them like professionals.
There probably are many other reasons why our writers don’t want to work for free, hoping that at some point in the future they might get paid. I fact, I suspect that when they read this post, I might get a few more ideas. And I might add them here.
* One client who vanished into thin air, a really nice gentleman, popped up again eight months later. A car crash, a marital breakdown, a move to a new city…and he was ready to start up again. But most MIA clients never turn up again.