Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Writing by committee
I’m writing some sample chapters for a series fiction packager at the moment. In case you haven't heard about this kind of thing, here's a quick lowdown. There are a small number of companies out there who come up with a story/series concept as a team effort. They develop it very carefully in-house until they have a detailed breakdown of the content, chapter by chapter. A brief is then then put out to a bunch of writers who produce some sample chapters for free. The one whose style and handling of the story is seen as the best fit will be paid to write the whole book, often with a view to writing a series. The packager then sells the whole thing to a publisher. Many of the series you’ll see in the average Waterstones, especially in the younger children’s category, are created in this way and the name on the cover is usually a pseudonym.
What’s in it for the writer? A bit more income, mainly, something most writers are in need of. I met the author of one very successful series of this kind recently and she told me it’s basically a ‘nice little earner’, even if her name isn’t on the cover. I’ve also come across several writers, successful authors in their right, who didn’t get chosen after submitting the initital chapters, so I don’t have high expectations, but I’d love to get picked. In theory, unagented/unpublished writers can be considered for these projects. All I know about that is that I heard nothing when I approached these companies pre my contract for Dark Ride, but when I mentioned wanting to do this to my agent, post-contract, things happened very quickly.
Not having to think about a plot has been enormously liberating for me and I’ve had a real blast writing these chapters. You’re given such a detailed outline of what to write, you can just concentrate on voice and style and all the twiddly embellishments that bring a story alive. I’ve enjoyed it enormously and the best bit is that if chosen, you get paid regardless of whether the packager sells the books to a publisher.
I know it isn’t always a straightforward ride and writers may be asked to submit several times to get a style exactly as its wanted. That all has to be done for free. But if you do get beyond these initial hurdles, writing for a packager could be another very useful source of income, as well as an interesting excercise in how a story can be created.