Book Series Fan Discovers What Work for Hire Really Means

This teenage fan of The Vampire Diaries is very upset that the author, L.J. Smith, was fired from the series by publisher HarperCollins. I don’t blame her. (Note: this apparently happened a year ago, but the fan just found out about it.) From a public letter from the author:

Entertainment Weekly February 27 2012

… both these series [Vampire Diaries and Secret Circle] were written “for hire” which means that the book packager owns the books the author produces. Although I didn’t even understand what “for hire” meant back in 1990, when I agreed to write books for them, I found out eventually, to my horror and dismay. It means that even though I have written the entire series, I don’t own anything about The Vampire Diaries. And from now on, the books will be written by an anonymous ghostwriter.

One can speculate why a company might disagree with an author, especially since the show based on the books is a hot one. (That’s a pun. The show’s stars recently got near-naked on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, as shown here.) Here’s a followup interview with author L.J. Smith with more details.

It’s understandable why a young author would take a deal like that — many can’t break in or get published any other way. And the reality is that once a packager has an idea they think will succeed, they’ll hire anyone to pump it out, and if you won’t do it, someone else will. I do regret that book publishing is following comics in that way, to a perception that the characters and brands are what matters, not the people who create the stories.

I appreciate this fan’s passion. It’s that kind of outrage that might keep authors from signing deals like this and companies from offering them. It seems that the process of educating her on how perfectly legal (and even common) this practice is was hard for her, and that’s a shame. Most readers want to keep seeing the vision they enjoy from the author who brought it to them. I hope all those disappointed readers stop buying the books by people other than the original author.

5 Responses to “Book Series Fan Discovers What Work for Hire Really Means”

  1. Steelbolt Says:

    Personally, I feel that the work-for-hire idea is outmoded and deserves to be made obsolete–I’d rather that companies today and authors/creators enter into co-ownership deals; that way, we’d avoid future takes on the Siegel/Shuster/Kirby/Friedrich/Moore fiascos that are wasting everyone’s time. If you have an idea that you want to have published by a bigger house, but still want to keep your concept and such, don’t give in, strongarm the execs into accepting your terms; go all Lyndon Johnson if need be.
    What do you think of that?

  2. Atomic Kommie Comics Says:

    In England, even work-for-hire projects give the writers (and artists if its comics) certain rights.
    Terry Nation created the Daleks for the Dr Who tv series produced by the BBC.
    Every time the Daleks are used on Dr Who, his estate gets a check!
    Nation even produced his own non-BBC books and other products featuring the Daleks, and he tried to sell a Dalek tv series to American tv networks in the late 1960s!

    In addition, even if you didn’t create a series character, as the author, even of work for hire stories for an ongoing series, you have a say as to whether the material you wrote can be reprinted.
    (Alan Moore has used that right a number of times to gain concessions from companies that wanted to reprint his British work.)

    There’s nothing like that in US copyright law, and it’s one of the few aspects of European copyright law that American companies like Disney DON’T want incorporated into our laws!

  3. Johanna Says:

    Yes, the European support of moral rights is admirable, and yes, corporations hate the idea, since they want to take full ownership.

  4. Jason Says:

    While I of course hate companies that take advantage of workers, I am not crying too much over this specific situation.

    It seems to me–and I admit to not following these stories–that the original ideas were not the author’s. The original idea came from the publishing house, in some capacity.

    Without that, there are no “VD” books or shows.

    And the author isn’t claiming that the contract was broken, or that any shenanigans took place. People get fired. It happens.

    Go write more books.

  5. Amazon Fanfic Program Allows for Bizarre Author Reclamation » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] markets”; Gossip Girl is another of their successes. Which means they had the right to replace Smith, which they did. Other people then wrote further books in the […]




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