Many of you heard about the current scandal in Romanceland of a publisher suing a blogger. And while the logistics and finer points of the law suit are already discussed on blogs and twitter feeds, there’s one thing implied that I think is incredibly relevant to anyone in a “freelancer” position: multiple sources of revenue. Or put simply: eggs in multiple baskets.
A bit of background about me: before I became a full time cover artist, I was a hot shot web developer working the typical grind of unpaid overtime (otherwise referred to as salary). Two weeks after I came back from maternity leave, the company where I worked for six years, laid me off. (And yes, it was perfectly legal the way they did it.) This is where I decided not to fall for the fantasy of depending on a single company or entity for my income because sh*t always happens.
In terms of publishing, we live primarily in an online world. We don’t personally know a lot of people we do business with, and it can be fairly hard to enforce an audit clause or sue someone for non-payment if their business is in another state, much less a another country. (Or someone could have an accident or a family tragedy and not be able to be online for a while. Short of stalking their personal friends, how would anyone really know what happened?)
Sh*t happens – and it’s best to think ahead. Yes, read your contracts, do your research, talk to happy and unhappy people who have dealt with a company. But in this world of many MANY different means of publishing, you have the means to diversify your portfolio.
If you are an author you can write for multiple publishing houses and self publish as well. No reason why you can’t have two different series at two houses – some houses specialize in a specific trope or subgenre, and it would be smart to tap into audience wanting what you got. Word of warning: some houses may try to prevent you from diversifying with first look clauses or other shinaniguns. First look clauses may be reasonable for a series, but in either case, READ your contract, and have that contract reviewed by people knowledgeable in the industry. Shameless self promotion: I just interviewed the lovely LaVerne Thompason about contracts (and this self described recovering lawyer knows a thing or five!) in the November issue of InD’Tale mag, so do check it contracts are a topic of interest.
Same diversifying scenario applies to artists and editors: there’s no reason to work for a publisher and have your own clients. Some houses may preclude that by non-compete clauses in their contracts, but there’s always room to negotiate.
Make a decision if the steady work offered by the publisher will be worth turning down other possibilities in the future. Sometimes you don’t have a choice to wait for a future “if” when you have an opportunity to have something “now” – I’ve been in that situation. See if you can negotiate the length of the non-compete, or the category of professionals with whom you are supposed to not to engage. In case of editors, you could theoretically agree only to not to work on a genre the house specializes in. And maybe you can negotiate to keep your current clients so not to lose that income in the future.
Finally, think outside of the book publishing world. Cover artists are also awesome graphic designers who could work for local businesses. I know some AMAZING editors who honestly would waste their time chasing down commas and instead would be extremely beneficial “book doctoring” manuscripts with suggestions of where to strengthen conflict, where to add character development, etc. Authors could write articles for various websites and online magazines. Yes, I’m completely generalizing, but the point is, there are opportunities, even if vetting and exploring them takes time. This is why advanced planning is crucial.
Those of you who are in a predicament now are no doubt rolling your eyes at me, thinking it’s easier to say then do. Yes, this is true – all this requires set up, planning and time, and those things are hard to come by when one is scrambling for their next monthly bills. Nevertheless, I do hope this will give freelancers some ideas how to protect themselves in an uncertain future and never find themselves scrambling because of a single entity or client who control one’s entire livelihood.