So there are some of you out there that are still dead-set on becoming writers. You’ve been on Facebook, seen the adorable memes your friends have posted about how professional writers are amateurs that didn’t quit and everything else, bought books like “Bird By Bird” and “On Writing” (and you’re totally going to get to reading them someday 😉 ), you’ve got ideas, even read blog posts on the subject, as well as posts on what the industry is like, and you’re ready to stand up and say “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any-”
Wait, sorry, that reference doesn’t really apply here.
So instead, let me tell you about the 30,000 word novella that I’ve been working on for the last three weeks that none of you will ever get to read, and part of the professional writer experience that we all know about, but probably don’t think about that much.
Today, I’m going to talk about commission writing and a few things you should probably know before you get into it.
1. You Will Never Make As Much As an Artist
This is 101. This isn’t bitching, this is reality you’re going to have to accept. You. Will. NEVER. Make. As. Much. As. An. Artist. Commission work is one of the few industries where artists actually have the upper hand. Art is, let’s face it, instant gratification, and a picture may be worth a thousand words, but an artist will get paid, on average, a hell of a lot more than you’ll get for writing a thousand words because of three simple words: Breasts, penises, vaginas. It does not matter how well you describe them, how much Mills and Boon Prose you pull out, it will never match simply loading an image and enjoying the bounty. Case in point, I have been working on a 30k word novel for the last month for a private client, and I’m getting a penny a word for it. That’s $300 for a month’s work. Roll that around in your head for a little bit. In the same time, an artist friend of mine has done a 10 picture sequence for a private client, and spent about the same about of man hours that I did. He got $2,000. Granted, he went to school for this, got a BFA and is working on some Masters classes, but uh, so did I. I’m not saying he’s overpaid, he certainly earned it, they’re beautiful pics, but it’s an underline of how the written word is devalued online, especially in regards to private patrons.
A commissioned image is a snapshot, a still, a split second in a story. A commissioned story is often, well, an entire story with exposition, plot, buildup, climax, and resolution, with well-defined and likable characters. Both sides take a lot of creative work, but the sad thing is that it’s not going to change. If you want to take commission writing, the pay will be crap, but honestly? It’ll probably pay better than your monthly royalties. And also? You’ll probably be writing porn. Lots and lots of porn.
2. You’ll Need New Pen Names, Probably a Few
Upon reading that I had written a 30k word novella that you guys would never read, some of you might’ve taken it as a challenge. There are no secrets on the Internet, after all, but for the most part? I don’t do my commissioned writing as Vaughn R. Demont, I came up with a different name, found a community, got established, and hung my shingle for commissions. It’s a community I’ve been in for a few years, but it’s not the only one I’m in, and I’ve got a different pen name for every one I’m in. Vaughn R. Demont is a gay urban fantasy writer who writes books set in the City with a gay romance subplot. My pen names write gay porn with varying fetishes I’d rather not discuss, largely for gay male clients at a penny a word. Each one has a reputation and a portfolio showcasing the various things I’m decent at writing, simple as that, and every morning I check the communities for commission inquiries. Every now and then there’s a bit of crossover, and I’ll catch myself using a line from a commissioned piece in some of my “pro writing”, which is how I refer to my “Vaughn R. Demont” writing, and have a nice little, “Oh god, that’s from that (insert nasty fetish here) story I did last week” moment. I would say that outside of your pro writing, be active in two to three communities, no more than that, or you’ll never have time to work on your pro writing, and your fans will keep asking you when you’re coming out with your next book.
3. You’ll Be Amazed at What You’re Capable of Writing
So here’s my little squick thing. The weirdest commission I ever wrote? Well, I was young, I didn’t know any better, I needed the money, and it started out as an innocent fan-fiction job. Yes, replace “fan-fiction” with “modeling” and it does sound like what a lot of people say how they got into porn. I’ll just blurt it out in one go.
The crew of the Serenity from Firefly is infected by lycanthropy (River does it because of… reasons?), all turn into werewolves who are all going to die from inflating with opalescent goo (the client was VERY specific about the color), and several of them burst before realizing the only way to stop it is by having physical sex with the ship itself, which had somehow become sentient and have all the necessary appendages to do the deed.
And I got $30 for writing that. And yes, I did cry alone in the shower for about half an hour after finishing it. And yes, I’ll probably need another after writing that. If you need to take one, please, go ahead. I can wait.
Welcome back. That… I’m loathe to call it a story, that… piece, represents my rock bottom of writing. Whatever I’ve been asked to write since, it’s never been as bad as that. Most commissioned pieces are fetish content, and the entire reason that they’re commissioning a writer is because you can’t just log onto Amazon and find something like that, of if they do, it’s not gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, trans, whatever they’re specifically looking for. That’s where you’ll come in.
Fetish writing is all about the slow-downs. They like muscle-growth? You’ll spend about 1000 words writing about muscle fibers growing more dense and the character reveling in their newfound strength. They’re really into crushing cockroaches with their bare feet? Guess what you’ll have to find 800 words to describe an action that takes less than a second. You’ll have to learn to slow down the action and get hyper-detailed and descriptive about what’s happening, and the mindset of the character as it’s happening. Once you get good enough at it? You’ll be able to knock out an 8000 word commission in one day and pocket $80 for your trouble. Just remember that for the most part, the slow-downs are the sex for the client, and the better you write them, the better chance you have of scoring a regular client.
4. You’ll Be Working For Free in the Beginning
Remember what I said about getting established in a community? I’m a published novelist, I’ve got two writing degrees, I’ve even been given the honor of being invited to a convention to speak on a panel as a featured author, but you know what that is as a post in a new community? Words on a screen. And kinda uppity ones too, let’s face it. Considering I don’t want to mix my pro writing and my commission writing, I can’t exactly give them links to my books, and I don’t want to take commissioned work set in the City, I have to do something else. That means researching the community, finding out what types of stories are popular, what sees the most views, all that, and then seeing what I’m capable of writing. After that? I write a lot of stories for free. Either it’ll be gift stories, story-trades, or just plain posted for free. It’s exposure, getting your name out there, showing them what you can do, and hopefully wowing the potential clients by showing that you’re a professional as opposed to the high schoolers and college kids they’ve been paying exorbitant prices to. And you’ll have to take less than them until you’re established. You’ll also have to write freebies to post as well, because if you post only commissioned pieces, you’re not going to get a lot of viewcount. Thriving in a community is all about getting your name out there and keeping it out there, even if it’s just in a group of 30-40 people who all happen to be into the same fetish.
5. The Money is All About Confidence
It’s funny at first, but then makes a lot of sense that I learned about how to set my rates from reading a testimonial article on how to be a prostitute on a comedy website. I had a client who’d read a previous story of mine and essentially wanted a redux of that story, only with a few things I could write, but wasn’t really into. It wasn’t like the rock bottom story, but this time around I had some experience under my belt, and I told the client, I would do it, but I’d have to charge him more based on a “squick penalty”, or asking me to write something I wasn’t comfortable with. As a result, I got an extra $20 out of the story, because at the end of the day, there weren’t a lot of other options for him, and I’d demonstrated I could give him a better story. After two months of commissions, I raised my rates. I was terrified that commissions were going to dry up, but I knew that as a professional writer, my time was worth more than what I was getting. As that above article says, “You have to go in there and believe you’re worth it.” And I’m still getting work. The money still sucks, but it’s still more than I was getting when I started, and it makes the edge of monthly bills a little easier to handle.
6. It Will Make You a Better Writer
Sure, I’m writing fetish porn, and hardly any of it will see the light of day outside of a fetish community, but at the end, it does make you a better writer. Most of those books on writing will tell you to try to write every day, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to knock out 2000-3000 words a day when you know you’ll be paid for it, no matter how little. Then, when you return to your pro-writing, you’ll find that getting to 1000 words down on the new chapter is cake. You’ll likely be better at spotting cliche phrases, more ways of describing actions thanks to all those slow-downs, and when the time comes for a sex scene, well, it’ll be a lot better than you thought yourself capable of. Just remember to keep working on the actual novel, okay?