Outsourcing risk

Starting out as a travel writer? We’ll run it for free! Think of the profile we’ll give you! Before you know it editors will be banging down your door.

Oh, but yeah, we can’t pay sorry. We’re a startup and have no funds alocated for writers right now, but that will change one day.

Sound familiar?

I was pointed to a blog post the other day about a traveller who was trying to break into travel writing. Following the theory of building clips and profile she wrote for some sites for free. As time went on, she also wrote for websites that do pay, and which can serve as a staging ground for better paid writing, including respected travel websites like Bootsnall and Matador. Down the track she came across a bunch of her writing that she’d done for free for some expat website (which, until reading this story, I’d never heard of) bundled into a Kindle book that the publisher was selling.

Not surprisingly, she was unimpressed. You can read the full post here.

I’ll not name the publisher concerned, though if you Google the “author name+kindle ebook” you should be able to narrow the list pretty quickly.

When you boil it down, the publisher had conceptualised a product which they thought held water, but they were not willing to put their money where their mouth was. Instead they preyed on writers like the abovementioned, who were looking to break into the scene and were willing to write for free.

If the publisher thinks the idea floats, they should be willing to carry the risk. If they can’t afford to pay someone to do the work, then they should do it themself.

As a writer who is just starting out, if the publisher doesn’t have the resources to pay you, what do they have the resources to do? Do they have budget to edit/layout/promote your work?

Separately but also recently, I was approached for advice by another writer who was considering writing a portion of a travel ebook in return for a percentage on sales.

Once again, the publisher was looking to outsource risk. If they thought an ebook covering market food around the world was going to go gangbusters then they should put their money where their mouth is. If they don’t think it is going to go mental, then they should say so up front.

I’m not saying never work on a percentage — in the deadtree world many authors do — but do your research first.

Ask them why won’t they pay you up front, enquire after estimated sales and what sort of promotional activites they are planning. Is the cut on RRP or on price after the affiliate cut (which can often half the price of an ebook). What about rights?

Why am I having this little hissy fit?
Because it annoys the hell out of me!

We’ve always paid our writers — in the early years, yes, an absolute pittance — but we always paid. Back in the day, when we couldn’t afford to pay anything at all, I did all the research myself. As the company has grown so what we pay has grown and today we work to improve the lot of our team of writers (who we dearly love) whenever we can possibly afford to.

My point though, is, everyone can afford to pay something. As a publisher, that’s where you start and you build on it from there.

If you’re a writer, especially one starting out, be very choosy about who you write for on a free basis. Always ask to be paid and be wary of rights grabs and elusive promises of gold sometime a long way from today.

Further reading
Travelwriting 2.0
Travelbloggers Facebook group