Work for Hire

Writers who do work for hire are sometimes considered to be rather marginal. I’ve done it, when I was asked to do it by an editor, and I was paid quite well for it at a time when I couldn’t seem to sell any fiction. Believe me, that work was not at all marginal. It was a text book on computers, not programming, and I revised half the chapters to bring them up to date. That was a long time ago. I’m proud of what I accomplished, but I don’t include it in my bibliography, and when I was asked some years later to do it again, I refused. That refusal ended my career as a non-fiction writer.

Writing fiction for pay — not the same as being paid for what you publish — is suspect. Are ghost writers really writers? Are lesser-known writers who are paid by famous authors to flesh out their outlines really writers? How about artists for paint for hire, like, say Michelangelo, or Joshua Reynolds? 

I was hired, in a way, to write three novels based on the “V” tv series. I did not enjoy doing them, but one of them turned out to be a best-seller. I was asked to contribute to the Elfquest anthologies, “Blood of Ten Chiefs,” which I did enjoy, and was included in all five of those which were published.

How about those who are under contract to magazines or newspapers to write fiction, such as Dickens or Dostoevsky? Are they working for hire? How about the writers who are contacted by a book editor, who wants stories based on an idea he had. I have several on my shelf. Were they working for hire? A number of writers were told by a magazine editor to write a story based the cover illustration he had. Where do they fit in?

I think you can see what I mean. The line grows blurry. I think it’s just a line in the sand. If you write, you are a writer.


  1. We’re all “for hire.” You can’t feed, clothe, and put a roof over your head with work you don’t get paid for. As much as I wish it were so, we have not yet gotten to a point in our society where a writer can spend decades perfecting a single manuscript, producing nothing until it’s perfected, and still manage to get fed, clothed, and housed. Ultimately, we all become “for pay” writers when we can get the gig, that is.

  2. I’m distinguishing work for “hire” from work for “sale.” But of course, we’re all getting paid, whether we offer or are solicited. Or, at least, we hope we’re getting paid. When I worked on the computer book, it was solicited, and not my choice, I needed the money. When I wrote Jewels of the Dragon, it was my choice to write it and submit it and it sold. But as I said at the end, while some people think work for “hire” is not the same as that done by “choice”, it’s a difference that doesn’t really exist.

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