May asked me to blog about how being a writer-for-hire works and a general rundown of how you go about getting the job. Here's what I know:
A publisher, packager or franchise that wants a book or books written to their specifications solicits and hires a novelist to write them. The writer is contracted, usually for a flat fee. The assignment can be anything from a vague idea to a complete package including specific plots, characters, settings, maps, themes and so forth. Wordcounts, page counts and certain creative restrictions (like sexual content) are also generally spelled out.
To break into writer-for-hire work, you usually have to audition, which is a lot like pitching one of your own novels, or the publisher may seek you out based on your published work or a recommendation from someone who knows you and your work (I've recommended a few writers to publishers for projects that weren't right for me.)
My first audition came via a request to my agent, and I was asked to write a sample chapter based on a fairly detailed outline of a series package. On another job, my agent sent a couple of my books to an interested party. I didn't have to do anything for that one. Another job came from the subsequent success of my first writer-for-hire work, and I was asked to submit one-page synopses outlining five books.
When you pitch writer-for-hire jobs, you have to be ready to put together almost anything the publisher wants to see.
One way to find work like this is to make yourself available. If you have an agent, let him/her know you're interested in working for hire and ask that he/she put out the word. Be sure to detail what you'd like to write. You can do the same with your editor. Unpublished writers have a tougher time getting writer-for-hire work because a) they don't have the agent/editor connections and b) they don't have books in print to demonstrate the level they're writing at and/or their range as a writer.
Drawbacks are plentiful, too. Publishers can contract-gag you so that you aren't permitted to publicize the fact that you've written the book(s) without their permission. If this doesn't sound awful, imagine your writer-for-hire book hitting the New York Times BSL and your publisher deciding that you can't tell anyone. Ever. The publisher usually specifies in the contract that they own the copyright, not you.
The editorial process involved in writer-for-hire work is much more intense, particularly on books that have a lot of predetermined factors. Because you're hired to write what they tell you to write, you have to actually do that. Another writer or writers may share the same pseudonym or work on the same series with you, and you have to keep track of each other's work.
The rewards? A source of income, publishing credits which you can list when submitting your own work to other publishers, a chance to test your range. It challenges you to write your best on demand, and that can be fun.