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In a quandary? Don't know what to do next? If you have writing and publishing questions, but don't know whom to ask, post your query here, and I'll take a shot at answering it or send you to somebody who can. Scroll through the bulletin board. The information you need may already be there. Email your own questions to tom@PubMart.com. New questions and answers will be added weekly to the top of the list.

Q. Fran writes: I'm a freelancer who frequently does work on assignment for businesses and individuals in need of editorial services. What kind of agreement do I need to have with them to protect my interests?

A. You would do well to develop a simple contract and have it signed before undertaking a project. Anyone who objects to this is someone you don't want to do business with.

The agreement I use covers the following points:

1. Precisely what I will do for the client. I take care to define the job carefully.
2. What the client must furnish me so that I can do my job.
3. What the client will pay me for my work. I usually set up the fee in thirds: one third on signing; on third on submission of first proofs, and one-third on delivery of the final job. I take "on delivery" seriously. I need money in had before I deliver the product. If I am agreeing to print something (a ghost-written autobiography, for instance, through a POD printer) I require full payment for the printed books in advance.
4. I define what extra charges will be. For instance, I charge $60 and hour for author's alterations.
5. If a delivery date is specified, I always state that I will meet the date specified, unless . . . . And I define exceptions. Some examples of these exceptions include the author's failure to deliver materials in a timely manner; author's failure to return proofs within a set time frame, force majeure, events beyond my control (a real weasel one) etc.
6. I define whether or not the job is a work made for hire.
7. I state that in the event that the client, of his own volition, cancels the job, then money paid in before cancellation is not refundable
8. I detail miscellaneous charges to the client: when he requests next day FedEx, for instance, or ten proof copies (he has to pay for the production)
9. I state that in the event of a dispute, litigation must be carried on in my state of residence. Believe it or not, this can all be written in a non-threatening and matter-of-fact way. I have never had an objection to this agreement, which I have been using for years. The most frequently invoked protections are the hourly charge for "author's alterations" and missed deadlines due to illness or delays on the client's part. You can also include a final entry called "Other Terms and Conditions" and leave a space. You can often enter an note or two here at the request of the client that will go far toward satisfying him without being in any way hurtful to you.

I am not an attorney, I hasten to ad. You should draw up an agreement and have your lawyer look at it. The attorney probably won't know squat about the writing and publishing business, but should be able tell you it the contract will bind the agreement in the way that you want.

Q. (I have had dozens of questions like this one from Athens, GA.) What does POD mean, and what is "POD publishing?"

A. POD stands for “print on demand, ” and is essentially a means of production, enabling a publisher to affordably print as few as two or three dozen copies of a book. However, the phrase has come to be used in two distinct ways, and it is important to distinguish between them.

1 POD as a means of production. Many publishers, of which my company -- Venture Press, is one -- now utilize this technology to print small runs of books (25 books or more) for niche market sales or to test the market before ordering longer runs. This saves an enormous amount of money on books that, for some reason, do not find their market or which are not well received, well reviewed, or reviewed at all. The vast majority of published books sadly fall into this category. Just a year or two ago, a publisher would have to print several thousand books without knowing whether or not they would ever sell. POD technology is a great boon my company; we can take more chances on the books we publish because we have so little cash tied up in each one. And it is a book for our cash-flow management. When times get hard, and revenues dry up, we don't have hefty printing bills outstanding.

A very successful POD model, in this sense, is that of Lightning Source of LaVergne, Tennessee. LS is a POD publisher and is also a subsidiary of Ingram, the biggest distributor of books to bookstores in the US. Lightning Source prints books for Venture Press in ultra short runs. It also fills orders for our books which come in to Ingram form bookstore and online customers. LS is a printer, not a publisher.

2. POD as self-publishing through such firms as iUniverse, ExLibris, etc: We can take iUniverse as a model for this usage. iUniverse invites writers to send in their books. iUniverse promises to "publish" these books, formatting the interior and designing a cover at an affordable price. These interior and cover designs are formatted, fitting into standard templates. iUniverse is the publisher. It assigns an ISBN to the work published and has a contract with author specifying royalties to be paid on retail sales and income sharing on sales of subsidiary rights-if any retail sales or rights sales do in fact occur. iUniverse promises to make the author's book "available" in bookstores and other outlets. Note that this does not mean that the books will actually on the shelf. It simply means that the author's book will be listed in the Books-in-Print database, and so available for special order whenever a customer asks for such an order. However, there is not likely to be any promotion to make the reading public in general aware to the availability of the book. Because iUniverse is not selective in what it publishes, busy reviewers are not likely to give its books more than a glance, if that.

When it does print books, iUniverse uses Print-on Demand technology. iUniverse does not own printing equipment, but farms their printing work out to Lightning Source. So how does iUniverse make money? It sells printed books directly to its authors at discounts ranging from "19% to 50%." Lets say that the print version of your book retails for $19.95 and is sold to the author at a 40% discount, or $11.97 cents. If this hypothetical book has 200 pages, Lightning Sources charges IUniverse, at the very most, $3.90 for printing. Thus iUniverse nets a profit of $8.07 on books sold to its own authors. Let's say, further, that IUniverse has 1000 authors each month, each of whom orders 25 copies of his or her book for friends, relatives, and local reviewers, then the income is substantial. One thousand multiplied by 25 equals 25,000. This figure multiplied by $8.07 equals $201, 750. This produces an annual income of $2,421,000. When you consider that iUniverse, since it is a POD publisher, has no investment in inventory, no need for warehousing or fulfillment services, and that the whole enterprise, once set up, can do business almost entirely in the thin air of hyperspace, the net profit is substantial.

Q. Mark writes from Tulsa: "I write good, strong copy and I ask my clients to pay for it. I'm a little concerned that people who aren't writers won't quite understand the difference between "good" copy and "bad" copy -- especially when I ask them to pay more for it.

A. Some strategic thinking is required here. Getting a person who doesn't know anything about effective writing and mediocre writing is like trying to get a tone-deaf person to buy a really good piano when cheap, out-of-tune ones are available for a pittance. You have to talk about the sheen of the mahogany and the status-value of the baby grand. Here's what I've learned about this problem: Stay away from "good" and "bad" labels and stick to things the client can understand. For instance, "These canned releases have appeared in hundreds of other places, too, that you really don't want to be associated with." Or, "In a pinch canned food is good. I even have some in my hurricane emergency kit. But canned food is canned food, and gourmet is gourmet. Affluent people know the difference -- both in food and in writing. That's why they read The New Yorker and not the National Enquirer." Or, "Writing that works tells a story, otherwise it's like reading a list of ingredients on the back of a cereal box."