How many people would ask a contractor to remodel their kitchen (a $20,000 job, or more), and expect the contractor to agree to be paid when you sold your home for a hefty price several years down the road? More significantly, how many contractors would take such an offer, knowing that the real estate market could tank, leaving the seller with less money than they anticipated and none left to pay your bill?
As writers, we very often engage ourselves with people who are dreaming big, some even teetering on the brink of amazing possibilities…or insanity, or both. If we network frequently, or immerse ourselves in the social media, we are likely to stumble upon numerous folks with great ideas for books, screenplays or theatrical productions. Many of these are fascinating, well-intentioned individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. Most are convinced that they have a unique story that will take the world by storm. Sadly, most are wrong. I can say, without hesitation, that there is one person in every office in America that will say: “Someone should write a sitcom about what goes on around here.” I think HR folks are even mandated to hire such a person.
There is nothing wrong with dreaming big. We all dream we’re going to win the lottery one day, even those of us who rarely ever bother to buy a ticket. The problem, however, begins when we bring others into our dreams, and expect them to share our passion and conviction.
In the real world, any dream worthy of such passion should be a dream for which one is willing to make a sacrifice. If you dream of being a dancer, you work hard, and pay for dance lessons. If you are going to start a business, you secure funding to get it off the ground. If you are going to find someone to write or edit your book, or book proposal, you need to have money with which to pay them – just like you need money to pay that contractor you want to hire to remodel your kitchen. People who do not have the money to pay you are not making a sacrifice. Instead, they are expecting that you will sacrifice your time, which equates to hours NOT spent earning money.
Yes, there are exceptions. Fledgling young actors may take a role in a movie to get a screen credit and interns take unpaid jobs to get a foot in the door. You might write a few articles on spec when you first start out to get some credits. These, however, are (hopefully) a means to an end based on YOUR dreams of success, and not the dreams of someone else.
Backend-only deals are, in effect, someone asking you to bet on their passion, which are (95% of the time) not bankable ideas. They are asking you to put aside your income for their dream of making it big. And, in the process, they are assuming that you need no money to pay your bills, or support yourself or your family.
Pay Yourself First
There’s an old saying in business…pay yourself first. In the writing field, that means, before you accept any type of backend deal, make sure you are being paid fairly for your work. Determine how much your time is worth, and set a low figure that you absolutely cannot go below for the hours it will take you to complete the task at hand. If, for example, you determine your lowest fee is $5,000, ask for $7,000. If you truly believe in the project and the person has credibility, you may then settle for the $5,000 plus something on the backend. But, do your homework first. I’ve been promised great royalties from publishers only to find that their latest “so-called” bestseller is at #927,000 on Amazon’s book sales rankings.
I’ve seen too many people get hustled into such backend deals with lots of promises that never come to fruition. And, this certainly is not only true of the publishing field. In fact, when the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, many employees were left with nothing to show for the marvelous profit sharing options that lured them into Internet start-ups that offered big dreams but had little capital.
Don’t let this happen to you. Use the contractor analogy if necessary, but explain to people offering backend deals that this is how you make a living and that you cannot take on projects based on the hopes that money will come somewhere down the road. I can assure you that your landlord, bank, utility and phone companies will all back you up. Unless Steven Spielberg, or someone with an equally impressive portfolio, is attached to the project, avoid the lure of big backend deals.
Rich Mintzer is the author of more than 60 published non-fiction books and runs his own ghostwriting service called Your Book Your Way for individuals and companies looking to write their own story. https://www.richmintzer.com