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Work For Hire Revisited

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by Meredith Rutter, President, Publicom, Inc.

Publicom works with many writers, editors, designers, and artists under Work for Hire clauses as part of the way we operate when providing publishing services to textbook publishers. We are under a Work for Hire contract with those educational publishers ourselves, and so we must have our individual contractors sign similar agreements with us.

Yes, the hourly rates are somewhat high. However, we are paying for professional services. Plus, these independent contractors need to manage their own overhead, including insurance, taxes, and other self-employment costs, out of that hourly income. Also, they have to work project-to-project and thus have to try to live in between projects. The longer in-between goes,
the lower their true hourly rate becomes when viewed at year’s end. (Related, part of a freelancer’s self-analysis needs to be whether they’re any good at selling themselves and thus have enough work enough of the time to stay in business at a competitive rate.)

For someone buying the service, it becomes a choice on any given educational textbook project whether it makes more sense economically to hire for a piece of work or to hire for an employee who can learn the ways of the company and add to the company’s knowledge-base from project to project. The latter costs less on an hourly basis but requires a longer-term commitment to that person. In the trade business, royalty becomes a third option.

When Publicom puts in bids on particular projects, we build the costing from the ground up, knowing what it will take, for instance, to write a typical textbook page in grade 3 mathematics and applying the going writers’ rates to whatever number of hours we estimate (based on some understanding of which publisher we’re working with, also, since some publishers or projects will
require more revision efforts than other publishers or projects, and so on). It’s an art to build these bids, believe me!

Anyway, because it’s a competitive bidding situation, we use the going rates, apply our own overhead factoring to those, and try to get the project awarded to us-not only on the basis of being middle-of-the-road in our costing, but also on a clearly better defined and planned process than our competition may be describing in their own bid submissions. For the publisher back in-house looking at our bid, the hourly factor is not “in their face”; instead, they are looking across the board at what it will cost to take a piece of the overall project outside.

For a small publisher (like we are with our VanderWyk & Burnham arm) or for a self-publisher, the hourly rates are in our faces and we need to view them as reality figures. It comes down to whether we’re willing to do the extra work ourselves later at night in order to save some cash, or whether it’s worth having some trained professional spend a bit of the funds-whether the time and space it provides us to think about other issues is worth it in each case. The other option with writers and artists (not so much with editors and designers) is to offer a piece of the royalty pie.

Typical hourly rate ranges we assume here in the Northeast (which I assume will be about the worst case):

  • $35-50 project management
  • $25-50 desktop page layout
  • $25-40 writing
  • $25-35 developmental editing
  • $20-28 copy editing
  • $15-22 proofreading
  • $12-20 word processing

The upper ends of the ranges are the most experienced professionals in the textbook-publishing world who don’t need to prove themselves anymore. The lower ends of the ranges may be just-out-of-school types or may reflect easier page layouts in trade books than in textbooks, and so on. There are always many variables.

Text copyright Publicom, Inc.

Publicom, Inc. is a book packager to educational publishers. It is also the parent company to VanderWyk & Burnham, a publisher of trade books of human interest with educational merit. VanderWyk & Burnham book titles include: BRING ME THE OCEAN: NATURE AS TEACHER, MESSENGER, AND INTERMEDIARY and SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT: ONE FAMILY’S STRUGGLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES. They can be reached by email, publicom@tiac.net.

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