There’s a common tongue-in-cheek colloquialism describing the important skill of managing freelancers, whether it’s artists, authors, editors, or any layer of management that assists the production chain”
“Wrangling cats with a broom.”
It’s not the most flattering of phrases, but it is an apropos wordplay that most anyone will recognize and understand.
Communication is important when dealing with freelancers, and it should be of a bidirectional nature. Not only should you communicate regularly with your freelancers, but you should make it clear that you invite them to contact you, as well (in fact, you should insist on it).
Take a suggestion from author Hans Cummings, be open with your freelancers in letting them know that when they a good reputation with one publisher it blossoms into a good reputation known by other publishers. High tides raise all ships; it’s not only a good saying for economics but also for your position in the publishing industry.
Having your freelancers know that publishers talk about things such as deadlines, development issues, dependability in freelancers, and other production events not only helps you as a publisher, it also helps freelancers know that good reputations are shared rather than of horded. A solid reputation is akin to a positive version of the common cold, publishers pass it around by simply talking to one and other.
Contracts are another useful tool for communication, as they are how you establish common ground with your freelancers. They’re also where freelancers can go to find your expectations for things such as deadlines, compensation policies, timelines, and what rights are being purchased or left with the freelancer.
A contract is also where you outline nonmonetary compensation, such as how many free author copies of product the freelancer will get (and the terms under which he or she can get more copies beyond that). As Dave Gross, author of the Radovan & the Count series, pointed out, nonmonetary compensation can be a low-cost method for a publisher to enhance relationships with their freelances. They are great ways to treat your contributors well, strengthen rapport, and increase your reputation as a good publisher to work with.
Simple language contracts offer the quickest route to agreement, as they can bypass the need for lawyers with their straightforward, non-legalese language. While there is strength in the complex tongue that is legalese, it can be a barrier for some transactions and it’s grown more common for some companies to use plain language contracts.
It is also good as a publisher to communication with your competition, as you can share not only information about freelancers but also other scheduling and production information that will help all parties avoid accidents. There is a vast difference between cogenesis of directly competing products and mutual synergy of similar-yet-different projects. While both can still make you money, it is the good fortune or good planning of the later that can lead to better profits for all parties.
It is this sort of concept that has lead to the varied fields and companies that populate the hobby game industry’s “third party publishing” niche, with its generally friendly competition and complimentary business strategies.
While online forums and social media make for good venues of communication with freelancers and customers, conventions are excellent event-based real-world locations to meet and communicate with those interested in your company and its products. If you’re a third party publisher, conventions that are favored by the primary publisher are where you can learn of upcoming products to plan around—supporting or enhancing with your works—and often get other insights into what can make you a better business partner for that primary publisher.
Also, although the main focus of the convention may be for audience of the primary publisher, a subset of those fans are your customers, too. So by bringing them all together, the primary publisher has provided you a great opportunity to meet with your current fan base and promote your company and its products to others who are predisposed to liking them.
Conventions also make excellent times to socialize with your freelancers outside a specifically work focused environment. You can get to know one and other, casually discuss various topics, and gain some insight into other shared interest that you might not have discovered during more project-specific meetings. Not only does this create camaraderie, it also has the chance of spawning subjects for future projects that you otherwise might not have thought about.
While it may seem like a different sort of relationship, your interactions with your freelancers is yet another human dynamic that can improve due to investment, interaction, and communication. As with any relationship, open communication increases the health of the relationship, the oddest of productivity and longevity, and creates a reciprocity that is good for all involved.
If done well, communication makes the concept of herding cats seem less daunting and more manageable. You’ll find yourself more looking forward to projects, see productivity increase, and foster an enthusiastic spirit of cooperation between your company and your freelancers.
These are win-win scenarios that benefit not only to your company and your freelancers, but the industry as a whole, too.
Hans Cummings is an author and independent publisher at VFF Publishing. He is the author of The Foundation of the Drak-Anor duology and of the Zack Jackson series of young adult science fiction novels, as well as the future Scars of the Sundering trilogy.
Dave Gross is the author of the Radovan & the Count novels for Pathfinder Tales. An erstwhile editor-in-chief of Amazing Stories and Dragon magazine, his latest novel “Lord of Runes” is currently published by Tor on behalf of Paizo.
Photo Source: PAX Prime 2014