Monday, September 28, 2015

How Do Commissioned Book Projects Work?

Let's face it, a full-time author is never going to have a stable income from book royalties unless you're J.K. Rowling. So what's a writer to do? One option is to do school visits and talks, but most schools in Singapore are reluctant to pay decent rates; the other option is to take up commissioned projects.

My fellow authors, Emily Lim and Linn Shekinah have successfully published  commissioned picture books for the Singapore Zoo and the Public Utilities Board among others. But writing a commissioned project is far different from writing your own story. Your a hired gun so to speak and you may or may not have the final say on how your project turns out.

So how does a commissioned project work? What can you expect? I guess it varies from project to project, but here's the general gist:

1. You're either asked to submit a proposal or the client/publisher will approach you about working on a project. 

2. You'll be provided with a project brief which includes topics to be covered and the timeline. 

The Brief

3. The client may then ask for a sample of your writing or an outline for your story idea for consideration.

The Outline

4. Once offered the contract,  then you will have to negotiate your terms of engagement: 

Fee: For a commissioned project the author is usually paid a flat out fee rather than royalty payments. 

Rewrites:  I usually limit the number of rewrites to two. You don't want to end up in endless rounds of rewrites!

Kill Fee: In the event that the project fall through and your services are no longer required, you should insists on  a Kill Fee clause in your contract. That means you will still get paid something for your time and effort. E.G: A couple of years ago, I was commissioned by a financial institution to write a series of comic book stories based on their original concept. The project fell through but I was still paid for my effort.

5. Once a draft is approved, the illustrator begins to sketch the story out.

A tight sketch

 The blue damselfly was later
changed to a red dragonfly.

Final artwork.

6. Be patient and compromise. You don't have complete artistic control over the content of your project as the client is paying you to tell their story. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't compromise your creative integrity. 

With this project, Gardens agreed to use the characters from my existing Sam, Sebbie and Di-Di-Di series, so I guess I had a slightly easier time than other writers as I was already working with the familiar.  

Having said that, the project was not without its challenges.  How could I make the educational topics entertaining and fun without being overly didactic while sticking to the client's criteria? Thankfully I was lucky to work with a brilliant editor, illustrator, project manager and publisher, so that was sorted out as much as possible.

The whole project- from concept to completion - took up almost an entire year. The books were published early this month and are sold exclusively at Gardens by the Bay at $S58.00 for a set of four. So if you would like a set head on down there today!

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