Taking commissions?

How do you feel about accepting commissions? As in, someone tells you a story they want to read and then pays you to write it? What would you charge? Would you be able to set up your own stipulations for what stories you will and won't work on?

I've made a pretty hard stance on not writing other people's stories for them. I have a hard enough time writing, period, and it's difficult for me to work on even the things I want to. That difficulty increases for things I'm not interested in, which pretty much every idea and request I've gotten from others falls under. I know I've disappointed severals of my readers over this little neurotic tick of mine.

That said, if you're the kind of writer who doesn't mind doing the labor of executing someone else's ideas, I definitely say go for it. Everyone has a story in them, proportionately few have the time, skill/talent, patience, know-how, etc, to actually put that story to paper/the screen. Depending on how you decide to charge, you could probably make a decent chunk of change being someone's ghostwriter.

I've been putting some thought into ghostwriting. I've always said, advertising and networking is my big weakness and the main reason my self-publishing efforts failed. Sometimes I think if I could find somebody more socially savvy than me to promote and sell the books, while I sit back and get paid to write them, I wouldn't entirely hate it.

Yeah, the most successful authors/artists have good marketing behind them, whether its being accepted at a traditional publisher, getting an agent, etc. Its rare to find the necessary combination of good artist and good businessman in one person.

It's weird. All the advice that I've read about marketing says to go where the readers are, but the only places I can find that actually allow authors to advertise their books are filled with nothing but other authors. No readers.

Well, presumably a marketer/agent/whoever would be able to help find those markets, but yeah. A lot of it these days seems to be networking and getting into good graces with established creators, who will then recommend your work to their finds, and then pray your book goes "viral" as it were. Alternatively, getting on social media and then establishing yourself as a media presence somehow, particularly through YouTube, although again, you still basically need to win the viral lottery, or get noticed and boosted by established people.

I'll hop back to your original questions...

1) How do I feel about accepting commissions?

Well, if I were to ever get any offers, I'd jump for joy, to be honest. I come to this whole writing thing from already having done other creative fields, such as illustration, scriptwriting, film work, graphic design, and even some music. Commissions are the bread and butter of surviving in the creative fields. It helped me keep food in my belly during art school, and gave me some spending money for books while at university.

The sad thing is, while working on the writing thing, I haven't been directly approached at all for commissions. That is, not like I used to when I did more illustrative work than written work. I have done a bit of ghostwriting and freelance work before and have some good and bad memories of the whole thing. When it comes to freelance, I prefer only established companies or personalities because they are far more professional (and most importantly, you actually get paid and some bit of credit for your work). Ghostwriting is a good means to an end if you get project managers that are professional, and well, those are few and far between these days.

I keep my eyes out on community forums for commissions or co-author projects, though. Sadly, in the last three years of looking, most of those are abysmal. You usually get some idealistic kid who thinks they have some super-great idea, and they want you to do all the work, them to get all the credit, and then when push comes to shove, they will outright refuse to pay or acknowledge your work. I saw a lot of this in the illustration and graphic design world as well. People want something from you, but they aren't willing to either give you credit, or payment. Sorry, it's one or the other, not both.

1.5) An aside on the rules of commissions...

The general contract basis for commissions and ghost-work is that the actual person putting in the work (creator, freelancer, artist, etc.) usually works for the following things: Money (the obvious one), credit (their name on the work), and exposure (access to new projects).

The rule for hiring someone to do something for you, at least in the artistic fields, is that the person requiring the artist must provide at least two of the three things above. That's a basic fair trade for work. If you can get all three, you're set and definitely take the job. If someone only offers one of the above three things, they're going to fuck you right in the ass (pardon my English 'Vulgate').

If someone wants you to produce something for them and all they offer is exposure, then blacklist them, call them mean names, post their messages on social media, and tell all your friends to avoid that scammer like the plague. Exposure usually is icing on the cake, not payment for anything else. There are whole threads and accounts for exposing really scammy people that try to exploit talent in such a way: For Exposure on Twitter ( https://twitter.com/forexposure_txt?lang=en ), Clients from Hell ( https://clientsfromhell.net ), Choosing Beggars on Reddit ( https://www.reddit.com/r/ChoosingBeggars/ ). There are others, but a good example one for some rules and caution is r/Freelance ( https://www.reddit.com/r/freelance/ ).

It's always important to have a solid contract in place for any work that is going to be time-intensive, be worth any money, or that the client isn't completely trustworthy (usually isn't related to you by blood or a close friend whose house you can egg if they don't pay up). A good example of how to do things is the website Fiverr and most of the writers/artists there. There are some freelance websites out there that offer ghostwriter services, but a lot of them are really skeevy so YMMV.

Now, back to your questions in the OP...

2) What would I charge if I were to get any commissions?

I'll quickly mention some stuff off the bat, first. The current 'minimum wage' for professional writing is $0.06 USD per word. This is primarily for short stories between 2,000 to 17,000 words. The rule with this is also clear credit given to the author, and a one-year exclusive publishing contract that reverts back to the author after that year (and may have stipulations for anthology work or re-publication at a later time with due notice). This is what most writing societies (SFWA, HWA, etc.) demand from publishers. An 'ideal wage' would be $0.08 to $0.12 USD per word, but you're probably going to have to have an established name, strong writing portfolio, and an agent to get that out of short story work.

The acceptable 'slumming-it-with-tips wage' for amateur and semi-pro writing is $0.02 USD per word. This is what is known as the -bare minimum- you should accept from anyone who is offering payment for your services (-especially- ghostwriting work). If someone owns a magazine that is somewhat established (more than 100 readers) and has a budget, if they offer less than 2 cents a word, they are bending you over the table without lube.

Now, the above having been said... Not everyone who comes to you for a commission will be a publisher with money to throw around. If it's just an avid reader of your work, or a start-up magazine, or someone who can't really pay you that much but seriously wants your talent, is willing to give clear credit, and offer you extra projects if you do a good job... You can accept far less and still be okay.

A lot of writers undervalue their work and that hurts the rest of us trying to make it in this artistic medium or industry. Most people won't scoff that if you want an artist to make you a full-color digital painting for your book cover, you're going to need to shell out $160-$300 at the bare minimum. If you want a professional artist, you're looking at $600 on the low-end and $1,000+ on the high-end. Hell, if you want a professional comic artist to do a single page of art for you at a comic-con, you're looking at between $2,000 to $10,000. We all also accept that most editors out there get to charge what they want for their services. Some on the low-end can charge upwards of $1,000+ for a novelette (100-200 pages), most often charge far more. The catch with that is... As authors, we -need- those people for their services.

Because authors are willing to undercut each other just to get any money at all for our writing, and in the world of self-publishing through Amazon and the like, well we've kind of made our services redundant. Case-in-point, the established professional wage for pulp fiction authors in the 1920's was $0.02 USD per word. This was back when you could buy a car for $265 in 1924 and a decent-sized family house for $2,400. Yet, in the modern day where the average car is between $22,000-36,000 and the average house goes for $300,000-600,000... We're still asking about the same for writing. In short, and here's the TL;DR of it... We're all getting shafted. Hard.

You could actually pay for several months rent, food, and bills on selling a single short story to a crappy pulp magazine or Reader's Digest rip-off. Now, we're all working for chump change, spending weeks of our life writing stories that might buy us half a latte at Starbucks. That is of course, if we're -lucky- enough to even get paid for our work!

Ignoring the above cries for a revolution in writing that will never come, I have to admit that if a person were to come to me asking for my writing, I'd still jump for joy.

Personally, it all depends on the circumstance. If it's a reader of mine that likes my work and wants me to write a short story for them in the vain of one of my projects. Say a side-or-alternate story for them with my characters and world. I'd do it for free.

Someone wants a fan-fic or shipping story done, I'll do it for free, but I retain clear credit for the work.

If someone wants a vanity story that isn't too demanding. A self-insert that they can share with friends and family. A little story they had in their head and want to see on paper but they won't be getting any money for it from someone else... I'd probably do it for $20-80 depending on length and complexity.

If someone want's a huge novel background story for one of their D&D characters or a novelization of their RPG game or something like that, probably around $20-80, again, depending on complexity and length.

If someone wants my work for a start-up magazine, or amateur publication, you're looking at a base rate minimum of $40 for flash fiction, $80 for short story between 3,000-8,000 words, $100 for 10,000-20,000 words, and $200 for novelette-sized. As well, you -better- give me clear credit for the work.

The absolute minimum I would do anything ghost-written for is $400 for up to 60 pages. You want more than that, you pay a portion up front as a retainer, and we sign contracts with some sort of legal representation present.

Also, if the work involves erotica of any type, it's a safe bet I'm going to ask for 20% more on all costs.

3) What are the stipulations for what I will and won't work on?

I'm open to anything, to be honest. I'm more open depending on the client. If it's a reader of mine who just wants a piece of my work, I'll do just about anything. If it's another author that wants me to supplement their work, there are only a couple of limitations I can think of for safety reasons. If it's for a publication, I'll bend over backwards and do whatever I can. I'm flexible like that (to a degree).

I'm open to any genre, any setting, any types of characters. The only limitations I have are concerning direct fan-fictions (I don't like doing them and have so far avoided doing them in my writing career), because it's working in someone else's sandbox. If someone who owns an IP gives me permission to write in their setting, with their characters, or within their IP, I will gladly do so and don't really count it as fan-fiction.

I'm open to romantic or erotic stories as well, although I do have some stipulations that I won't go into that I won't list here for politeness sake. The severely repugnant stuff involving illegal stuff, I won't touch at all. Please, don't even ask for it.

I have no qualms about length of projects either, but if you're asking for full novels or a series, we're going to have to talk about costs rather seriously. You'll be paying a retainer to hold onto me for the project, because I have a lot of other stuff I could be doing with my time. I'm already behind on the projects I have going, after all.

Ultimately, it depends on the source for everything. If it's someone eager to have some work done, I'm more open. If it's a semi-pro asking for help, I'll gladly do it based on my relationship to them. If it's a pro asking for more, then I'll treat you as a pro, and you better pay up and hold your end of the bargain. I'll bend over backwards for friends. I'm not so flexible for strangers.

4) About marketing woes...

I've read what you've mentioned above (Mr. Bolander and Sharkerbob). I can commiserate as well about how backwards marketing is right now.

If you want access to readers, well, too damn bad, you're not allowed to shill to them or try and get exposure with them.

If you want to actually try to get your work out there to people, you'll end up preaching to the choir by sharing your stuff with other writers only. The sad thing is, either the writers already know your stuff if they're good with you, or they see you as competition and want to make you go away.

The whole thing is like herding cats, but each cat as a polarized magnet strapped to their head and you've got an opposite magnet strapped to your chest. Even if some of the cats get close, they get rocketed away from you and you have to start all over again.

Maybe if we authors actually pooled our resources to make a venue that brought readers in so we could all share the pool, we might get farther than we are now. We'd all be providing something to readers and each other. Instead of squabbling sometimes in Amazon forums, or outright ignoring each other when we find another author writing in the same vein as a project we're working on at the moment. Or whatever else ego stuff that causes authors not to work together.

Just like we need to stand by each other and put our feet down on established payment for our work, we also need to help each other out. Web Fiction is still a delicate and niche form of writing. We all need exposure and support. We have good places like here at WFG to help. I don't know, maybe if we made a kind of Web Fiction Magazine or something tied to WFG, we might be able to reach new readers and help everyone out. It's just a stupid idea.

@Sovereign, a few years ago I was watching YouTube, where a bunch of game critics and comedians got together and made "NormalBoots", where they were all part of the same company, I guess you could say, and helped promote each other and sometimes did crossovers, but were each still their own thing. And I got to thinking, what if I and a few other webserial authors did the same thing? Just made a single website that we all had access to, each of us had our own page for our own stories, but we all did it under the same "bigger" name?

@Adam - Take the following with a grain of salt, but it sounds like a fine idea in theory, but one I see struggling to succeed.

I have to wonder how much more effective such a site would be beyond WFG or RoyalRoad or other such things that already exist for Web Fiction. If you wanted to do the "YouTube Crew" model for something as niche as web serials, you would need a real powerhouse assembly of the top writers to start it off and bring in their massive readership. To maintain quality, they would probably not want to just take on everybody, but want to be picky with who they got, which wouldn't help that many people, or if they were willing to take in everybody, we'd just end up with another WFG, I think.

You'd also want someone "on staff" dedicated to running the website and marketing it. Could be one of the writers, but not necessarily. I also wonder just how much variety the readership would be interested in. If you had a classic fantasy author, an "anime" style isekai author, a cyberpunk author, a superhero author, and an anthro drama author all together, is there much crossover potential?

The other thing to consider is that sites like NormalBoots and TGWTG/CHannel Awesome kind of already had their day in the sun. With YouTube being essentially the monopoly on video sites, most people just go to YouTube now, rather than flock to other websites. You see people networking a lot on YouTube, and you've got groups like the Procrastinators who do a joint podcast and then all have their own channels, but a lot of their audience is channeled through their YouTube presence.

I'm not sure how that really works with web comics or web serials, but I kind of feel like it wouldn't have the same effect. I think the best thing to do is for people who have an audience to try and promote other authors they like through links on their serials, or using social media like Twitter and such to try and spread word around. I feel like these collaborative sites also work better when you actually have joint projects in the works, like at least a podcast or something, so that would bring fans of the community together.

Unless you have two or more authors willing to actually do a joint writing project together, you can't easily do the sort of crossover shenanigans that video reviewers can that introduce fans of one person to other people as a sort of "preview taste."

I'm going to bow out after this and I don't want to cause a 'sidetrack' on the United Web Serialist's Revolution or whatever.


That is an interesting idea. I can see the ups and downs of it just like Sharkerbob mentioned already. It's something to think about.


I agree with a lot of the points you mentioned and cautioned. If such a model were to be adopted, I would have to suggest the TGWTG/Channel Awesome sort of model for it to have a chance at working. I know there's some drama about Channel Awesome from the past, that was due to bad personalities and too much top-down dominance, but the basic platform idea still has promise.

The only way it would work is to avoid the checkered mentality of too much or too little. The idea that might work is an integration with a community like WFG... A kind of WFG 2.0 in a way. The idea of just having 'one fantasy author' and 'one sci-fi author' won't work. The elitism of it, I have to admit, I have a severe allergic reaction to, but practically... It would just become another ego-wank like most curated websites. You'd end up with a bunch of dominant personalities at the top only letting in their friends or people they want to manipulate and use. You need a more -open- sort of society. The only limits being quality and what the readers want aimed at specific projects.

RRL is pretty open as a writer's society. Anyone can get on and there's no limitation on who writes what. However, that readership is aimed at specific genres (the VRMMO, LitRPG, Xianxia sort of crowd). You try to write a literary fiction or a traditional fantasy there and you have a lot stacked against you. You can still move up and get readers, but you'll be seeing things in the two or three digits as far as committed readers, whereas specific stories that appeal to that marketplace will get -far- more support.

What we need is a community that takes the strengths of what we have now with WFG, the strengths of what we see elsewhere like RRL, Wattpad and other venues that work, and integrate it for a new marketplace of readers that want what we can provide. RRL has their LitRPG. Wattpad has their romance stories. Archive of Our Own has fan-fic. We need something for the more 'traditional' writers who don't write in those areas. We need something for those who write supers, sci-fi, horror, comedy, fantasy, and the genres you'd think would be big but are sadly under-represented in the web serial spheres right now. Everyone else has moved on, and we seem to be in the dust.

What you mentioned with mutual support is absolutely vital for all of us right now. Guest posts, cross-promotion, using social media to promote not just yourself but other writers as well so we can pool audiences is important. I ranted about this before on here, but a rising tide raises all ships. We need to not fight and compete as much between each other. I know a bit of competition is necessary and healthy, but we all come here to write, not to pick fights. Writers are just as much readers, and we enjoy reading each other's stuff, so why not share other work with other audiences. Let the readers pick what they want to read rather than trying to corral them all in a pen (email lists, and the like).

When it comes to things like YouTube... the reason it works better and brings in more people than traditional media (cable TV or newspapers for instance) is because of the -involvement- with both the viewing community and the artists providing the content. That's what people want right now. They want diversity in what they can read and experience. If one author they read only updates every Wednesday, then on Thursday they want to read someone else. They get really into Worm, and they want to try out other supers stories. They get inspired by one web serial and want to seek out other genres in the same medium. It's like how D&D5e is kicking ass right now by bringing people into a community that they can interact with, with podcasts like Critical Role and the like.

RRL provides that kind of interactive community, it's just aimed at a different demographic than we have here. We need that level of interactivity and sharing. The old model has gotten us pretty far, but it wouldn't hurt for us all as a community to brainstorm how we can reach the next level in the next few years.

Anyway, I'll bow out now, pardon the ramble.

@Sovereign - Yeah, you put it better than I did. I mostly know about this kind of stuff just through osmosis of creators talking about behind the scenes stuff, I don't have experience with such networks. It might be interesting to try out, but perhaps further conversation on the matter should be its own topic.

Otherwise, said my piece on the commissions thing, too, so I guess I'm out, too. :P