Remember the old Richard Marx song from the 80s called "Don't Mean Nuthin'?" As in, "It Don't Mean Nuthin' Until You Sign On The Dotted Line?" It was Marx's send up of the B.S. of record-company dealmaking. The same applies to the publishing industry and professional writing in general, especially these days.
Here's a hypothetical situation:
You're a working, published midlist author with literary agent representation. Your agent called yesterday, and said she had a nice book deal inked for you. It was a work-for-hire type deal, though a decent one. You went over the details with your agent, and it seemed like a good opportunity that fit your skills and career path, so you agreed to do it. She promised to take care of the paperwork and get the ball rolling right away. You hang up and think you're a few grand richer, and are getting the new year off to a good start.
Then, this morning, this article runs in the L.A. Times about how freelance writers are seeing their incomes completely evaporate in the current recession as newspapers and magazines go belly-up, while the few outlets that are still publishing articles are paying one-tenth of their old (already miniscule) pay rate----if they pay at all. In today's Web 2.0 world, it seems the powers that be think that writers should either be content with just publication----for no pay at all----or even pay for the privilege of being published themselves. (i.e., vanity publishing)
Today, the supposedly done book deal your agent called you about yesterday has evaporated. When your agent asked for the publishing contract based on yesterday's agreed-upon negotiations, it doesn't come. Instead, the deal is revised to a tiny fraction of the agreed-upon price, along with the complete elimination of covered expenses (which now restricts the gig only to writers who live in a certain city---I'll let you guess which one). The dealmakers also indicate they are no longer looking for a "professional." So much for the old days of publishing, where deals are negotiated on good faith and a handshake.
The lesson is this: Publishing dealmakers have discovered that they can get books written a lot cheaper. As in, for free. As in, "why should we hire and pay a professional to do something when we can just post an ad on Craigslist and find a bazillion wannabe writers who will do a crap job for nothing?"
In the words of Godfather II: "This is the business we've chosen."
Don't ever become a writer. Seriously. Don't. Because these days, this is the kind of shit hand you will be dealt.