The Future of Publishing - the future of writers?
From my experience, and talking to other writers at the meeting, theirs too, fee-based writing tends to be incredibly mixed in terms of rewards, especially when it comes to 'new' media. I started writing material for CD-ROMs almost 15 years ago for a little software outfit in Prague. Back then, it was all very new and we were very much feeling our way. We didn't know quite what we could do, how much work it would involve or how much money the final product might go on to make. Inevitably, it turned out to involve a huge amount of work for relatively little reward - although I can't really complain because my modest fee for the work went towards the fees for the first part of my MA and kick-started my move from teaching to publishing! What surprises me though is that publishers still haven't worked out how much work is involved in many of these products and so what an appropriate fee might be. This combines with the fact that most work in publishing happens in such a rush and a panic that there's rarely time to get fees or contracts established before you actually get started on a piece of work. Thus the rates of pay - when you come to divide up your fee by the hours you ended up working - can vary wildly. Very occasionally an editor overestimates and it works out quite well, but more often than not, an everchanging brief drags the work out and the hours pile on and you see your hourly rate drop and drop. So that on one recent major project (that I won't name!) I found by the end that I'd earned all of £10 an hour for all my efforts!
And what's the effect of all this? Well, for me, it means I'm more cautious about taking on this type of writing work that's interesting, but potentially not economically viable (and always involves more work than you originally agree to!). I'm erring towards jobs that offer a clear hourly rate rather than a fee - which leads me back to lexicography, corpus research and editing rather than writing. And if other writers follow suit, who will take on these jobs - new and inexperienced writers, who are lured by the glamour but then equally move on when they discover they can't afford to keep giving their time away so cheaply? Increased turnover of writers may mean fresh ideas, but what about consistency, quality or continuity on big projects?