A writer friend of mine told me a cautionary story, and I thought I’d share it here, and solicit people’s opinions. My friend—let’s call her Dr. Z.---has written over 100 non-fiction books, including many for the Idiot’s Guide series, and edited many others. She’s been on “Good Morning America” and lots of other national shows as an expert commentator and to promote her books. She has a PhD and works as a full professor of English at a state university. Lately the n.f. market has totally dried up, as publishers are out-sourcing not only production but also writing and editing to foreign suppliers; so Dr. Z decided to respond to this post on Craig’s List.
Dr. Z listed her credentials and bibliography and inquired about the project. The editor, Frank Jerome, responded by inviting her to submit a proposal for a book to be published in his series, designed to compete with the Idiots and Dummy's guide series. He mentioned that they don’t pay advances but as compensation they offer a 15% royalty on net from the very first copy.
My friend responded that she already received 15% from book 1, along with an advance, and that she was very interested in writing for the new series but would require an advance.
Frank Jerome replied that their business model didn’t allow for paying advances, but that she could possibly come on board as a freelance editor. He enclosed a “Dear Applicant” form letter informing her that she had been selected from many applicants to contend for the editorial position and asking her to evaluate and edit three full chapters to show her skills. The template he enclosed seemed to her identical to those used by “The Idiot’s Guide” series.
Dr. Z emailed back: “I'd be delighted to edit the samples for you at the rate of $50 per hour. As a writer yourself, I know you'd never expect another professional to write for free, as that would be immoral and unconscionable.”
Mr. Jerome was incensed. He emailed her back: ”This is a test as part of an interview. Clearly you do not want to be employed and we are putting you in the reject folder….You are hardly likely to gain employment with your attitude….As we said we have already made our determinations on the chapters we provided you - we are not looking for free work - we are looking to see if you are competent.”
Dr. Z was, admittedly, incensed. Her reply reiterated her credentials and added: “On the other hand, I couldn't find any mention of you, your publications, or your company on the web, making your qualifications impossible to check. I am also aware that you are ripping off the Idiot's Guides, stealing their model and template. And having people write for free. Shame on you.”
Mr. Jerome’s response denied that they were copying the Idiot’s Guide format (although his orginal Craig'slist ad seems to indicate that was the models for his series) and went on: “You have serious psychological problems and you should seek professional help. We are not having people write for free. Anyone who thinks so is an idiot. Shame on you for saying shame on you.”
And that was the end of that correspondence. Now, here’s my question. Is Mr. Jerome’s business model fair and reasonable for writers and editors, or is it exploitive?