His books sold millions of copies, but he received a mere $1000 payment as a work for hire project.What if this man had had an agent?
Obviously, there's a little more to it than meets the eye. Here's the back story.
Rev. William McGuffey was not the first choice for the writing project. However when the Truman & Smith Publishing House could not engage their first choice writer, they came to this largely self-educated minister. In spite of the lack of formal education, McGuffey was known for his wisdom and depth. Where did it come from? In part, he spent his free time reading, reading and reading. He was known for sometimes walking for miles just to borrow another book from the school master or a local minister.
After the publishing house hired him for the project, McGuffey spent three years writing the "Eclectic Readers" which over the next several years turned into a series of six readers and a speller written between him and his brother, Alexander.
The first books rolled off the presses in 1836. (In reality, $1000 wasn't such poor pay initially.) The books were then used in schools across the U.S. until they were finally discontinued in 1910. At that time there were 130 million copies in print.
Yes, MILLION. And McGuffey only received $1000 for his efforts.
The books taught Reading, Writing, 'Rithmetic and Righteousness. Of course, that's when it was still legal to teach kids that right was right and wrong was wrong. You know, Ten Commandment stuff.
I f you asked me, Rev. William McGuffey could have used an agent! Had his contract been negotiated as a royalty agreement and not just a work-for-hire, he would have been rich. You have to wonder did he ever ask himself, "If only..."
But while the writing legacy he left behind did not earn him monetary riches equal to the success of his series, it most certainly left him a spiritual millionaire for the millions of kids impacted by the practical and biblical teachings within his readers.
In the end, as a writer, the legacy you leave isn't all about the money. It's about who you will impact.
But it doesn't hurt to also have an agent negotiate a good contract!