Wednesday, January 7, 2015

From Resolution to Reality: Becoming a Working Writer in the New Year

Enjoy this inspirational and practical guest post from RYS Judge Jennifer Swanson.

This is it. This is THE year that all your dreams will come true. You WILL be published!  How many of you have put that at the top of your list of New Year’s resolutions? Come on. Raise your hands. I bet there are a lot of you out there that did.

Well GOOD FOR YOU!  Making a commitment to your writing is the first step to improving it and actually making things happen. But the reality of the writing life is that a lot of the times you have no control over whether you get published or not. Finding the right agent or editor for your work can seem as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. In other words – not easy at all.

Your manuscript is great, funny, timely, But… it just doesn’t fit my list.  OR  I already have a client that has a similar piece…. OR (my favorite) I just didn’t connect enough with the character/story/theme…  ☺ Ever heard one of those? I’m sure you have.

So what’s a writer to do about it? Give up?


Why not take a different approach this year. Make your goal to become a WORKING writer in 2015.  What’s that? A person who actually gets paid to write books. That’s what I did a few years ago and it’s been paying off ever since.

I  am the author of over 20 fiction and nonfiction books for children. My secret? They are all Work-for-Hire (WFH) books. I get paid to do what I love—write books for children. 

What is WFH?  

WFH means exactly that.  A publisher sends you a contract to write a book to specific guidelines under a set timeline.

Who Uses WFH Authors?

The biggest employers of WFH are educational publishers and book packagers, although pretty much every major publisher has a WFH division.  

Educational publishers are companies that write specifically to sell to schools and libraries. These books will probably not be found in book stores. They are very concerned with writing to exact grade and reading levels.

Book packagers are companies that are hired by other publishers to create books for their list.

Major publishers usually use WFH authors for trademarked series like ones about super heroes or say Nancy Drew type books. These books are formulaic and stick to the series guidelines although each book has a new topic.

How do I find a WFH company?

Here are some great links to look over:

How do I approach a WFH company?

Prepare a resume package to submit. A resume package consists of the following:

  • Query letter outlining why you are interested in working for this company. It helps if you have read a couple of their books or can point to a series they are doing that you are interested in working on.

  • Resume of your writing credentials. Include anything you’ve had published, even if it’s just on a blog. If you don’t have much, then put what you do – your job, your interests, whatever. It should be in a standard resume form and look professional
  • Writing samples --  these are really important. Two samples is optimal, although check the submission guidelines, some want more or less. These pieces need to SPARKLE. This is your chance to shine so be sure you send your best stuff.

Why do WFH?

Published books of any kind add to your writing resume. Many of these WFH books will be reviewed, which also helps. Several of my books have received highly recommended reviews from School Library Journal and the National Science Teacher Association. A few have even won awards and one received a starred review with Booklist!

The depth and breadth of my resume has impressed trade editors enough that now I have several of my own trade books under contract. And the best part is that I also have money now to invest in continuing education—I go to conferences, I take writing classes, and can afford to join professional groups like Publisher’s Marketplace.

Most WFH publishers are PAL publishers with SCBWI so you get all the perks that brings. You can go out and do school visits with your books and sell them at events, and so forth. Yes, you are a REAL author!  

Good luck to everyone this year. I hope all of your writing dreams come true. May 2015 be your BEST year yet!

A self-professed science geek, Jennifer Swanson is the author of over twenty nonfiction and fiction books, including award-winning and starred reviewed ones. She has her books coming out with National Geographic Kids (2015 & 2016) and one with Charlesbridge (2016).  Follow Jennifer on Facebook for more information about WFH writing. Jennifer now offers critiques of nonfiction picture books, mid-grade proposals, and work-for-hire submission packages. Finally, if you are looking for more guidance, she will be teaching a class with the Children’s Book Academy in June titled “Writing for Love and Money: From Trade, to Educational Publishing and Beyond”


  1. Excellent post! Thank you Jennifer and RYS!

  2. Great post! Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Thank you, Jennifer! and RYS! Great information - gives me something to think about!

  4. Great information! Congrats on the contracts with National Geo!

  5. I hadn't thought much about WFH before; thanks for detailed instructions on how to proceed and congrats on your upcoming books and contracts!

  6. Another avenue to explore. . . Thanks for the info, Jen!

  7. Glad you enjoyed it. Happy Writing!

  8. Thanks Jennifer, another avenue to pursue. Happy New Year

  9. Thank you for the very useful info, Jennifer. Happy New Year!

  10. Thank you so much, Jen. I have been wanting to turn my passion for writing into something I can earn money doing..your information comes at a perfect time. :)

  11. Thanks for the direction and information. I look forward to reading your books.

  12. Great post! Thank you for all the information, Jennifer!

  13. Jen, I am beginning to look into this concept. Lots of great info in your post here. I am a former 7th grade English teacher and school librarian, so this SHOULD be right up my ally.


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