Exploiting Authors By Using the Job Market as a Slush Pile

I’m fascinated by this wanted ad literally hiring writers to write very specific fiction, and repelled by pretty much everything else about it.

I ran across the ad from ABOVE STORY on Indeed (archive.org link), hiring fiction writers to write novels on contract to topics (and outlines) specified by the "publisher" [1]. I definitely have some ideas how this could be turned into an ethical and good business model.

This arrangement, however, is not that kind of model.

There are several red flags that caught my eye.

  1. The ad lists a price of $15 per 1,500 word chapter. That’s a cent a word. “Semi-pro” rates start at two cents a word.

  2. 15,000 words are due every week. That’s 2,142 words every day. In comparison, to win NaNoWriMo you only need a rate of 1,667 words a day.

  3. When, exactly, is editing supposed to occur at this rate? Given the example on Libri (see below), it appears that work is posted almost as soon as it’s delivered.

  4. The company describes themselves as a “literary agency” on their website with some softball “questions” [2], but clearly is acting as a quasi-publisher.

  5. Always be skeptical of “top selling” rankings when they’re in a very niche category or the place doing the rankings isn’t listed. (Relevant quote from the website: “Most of them ranked #10 top selling on various APP reading platforms.”)

  6. Since the contracts aren’t public, I can only go by what’s on their web page, where they say “Some ghost writers have earned almost USD$20,000 from this project.” That claim has some severe survivorship bias, but it also calls the writers “ghost writers” immediately before saying “Wanna have your name seen by millions of readers?”. The one free-to-read example I found online on Libri does not have an author listed anywhere I can see – including on the displayed front cover.

  7. The last time I talked about “work for hire” rates with anyone was six or seven years ago, and that started around eight to ten cents a word. I can only imagine that it is considerably higher in general now. I do not know if this is work for hire, since I can’t see the contract.

  8. To be absolutely fair to ABOVE STORY, they do specify that you do not have to pay first and that they are the ones to pay you. So they aren’t an outright pay-to-play scam like so many others. The fact that they have to proclaim that on their main page is roughly like an employer saying “We are not going to poison you!” at your day job. I mean, that’s great, but…

Could something like this be a legitimate model? Absolutely. In fact, it could be an absolutely great way to disrupt the entire traditional publishing model – and one that trad pub business could adopt without utterly dismantling their existing infrastructure, and allow them to pivot to get books and short novels to market more quickly than the normal turnaround time of several years.

But that’s with appropriate payments, authors reserving rights, editing of the finished work, and so on.

As it stands, this ad (and ABOVE STORY) seems deeply exploitative and a bad idea at best.

Featured Photo by ?? Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

[1] Being a publisher and providing publishing services are VERY different things. See https://ideatrash.net/2011/08/publisher-vs-publishing-services.html, https://ideatrash.net/2013/01/are-you-really-publishing-house.html, and https://ideatrash.net/2013/03/the-bit-to-focus-on-about-hydras.html

[2] To answer the “lingering questions” on ABOVE STORY’s website: