The Power In Publishing

So yesterday between word sprints I was having a chat with the lovely Serena Lawless, fellow L.J. Smith fangirl, that worked its way around to her telling me that L.J. Smith has lost the rights to The Vampire Diaries.  This is apparently old news from back in February, but we all know I usually live in a cave, so I missed it, but it led me to a great bit WTF?

The Vampire Diaries was the first series I picked up by Smith (thank you camp cabinmate Rachel for introducing me 20 years ago) and is the reason I am writing today.  To any of you younger folks who think that she is somehow ripping off Twilight, she was around LOOOOOONG before Stephanie Meyer and at least she writes about men who are not all about treating their women as possessions to be controlled…  But that’s neither here nor there.

Back to the WTFery.

After some judicious googling, it came out that apparently Smith never owned the rights to the series.  Alloy Entertainment did.  She wrote it “for hire” for them back in the 90s.  Now, TVD and all her other series had a great run in the 90s before going out of print for a while.  Then there was a huge resurgence with the Twilight craze.  And apparently this is all because Alloy are fans of a Stefan-Elena pairing rather than Damon-Elena, which is evidently where the series has been going with the newer trilogy (which I’ve not read).  So they’re firing her from writing them, hiring a ghost-writer to take over the series, and STILL USING HER NAME.

Dude this is not like Carolyn Keene and the Nancy Drew series.  The Vampire Diaires is Smith’s baby.

My initial reaction is that her agent should be shot for not advising her against signing whatever contract she signed back then.  I cannot FATHOM signing away rights to my SERIES.  Sure I have enough ideas to keep me busy writing for the next century, but I would never want someone ELSE to be writing my series.  Particularly not under MY NAME.  Of course, this is all assuming she HAD an agent back then.  She might not have.

The whole situation is just horrifying to me as a writer.

And it’s got me thinking about how, maybe, if self publishing existed then as it does now, that maybe this would never have happened.  This is all speculation.  I have no way of knowing how it all went down for real, but I can imagine someone desperate to break into publishing, to get past that glass ceiling of rejection to do what she loved.  And doing anything she had to to get there because there wasn’t really another choice.  Maybe if there had been self-publishing then, she wouldn’t have been desperate enough to sign a contract with such deplorable terms.  Because then she’d have had OPTIONS as a writer.

Did you know her original conception of TVD was as an adult series?  She told me in a brief series of correspondence (which led me to TOTAL fangirl SQUEE because, holy CRAP, L.J. SMITH was EMAILING WITH ME!) toned it down considerably for Harper Collins.  I really would have loved to see that version of the stories.  If self-publishing had existed back then as it does now, she could have released them exactly as she wanted.  Darker, grittier, sexier.

I guess my roundabout point here is that writers have OPTIONS these days.  I know way more writers who still want to pursue traditional publishing, rejection letters, warts and all.  And that’s fine.  But I want to encourage those writers to keep indie publishing in the back of their mind so that if they find themselves in the position of a contract that has unfavorable terms or working with an editor who wants changes that will not be true to the spirit and intended vision of the book, they don’t just TAKE IT because they have to.  Editors, agents, and the other denizens of the New York Publishing World are not the Gods of Olympus.  They are human.  And sometimes they are flat wrong.  Remember that YOU are the AUTHOR.  In this brave new world of publishing YOU have the POWER if only you will SEIZE IT.  Take control of your destiny and career as a writer and stay true to YOUR dream.

That is all.

11 thoughts on “The Power In Publishing

  1. I love the fact that the power has shifted to the authors. Our blood, sweat, and tears produce the work, and it irks me to see publishers giving the authors only a small piece of the pie. Especially since publishers don’t really help most authors with the marketing, etc. If authors are going to have to do all that work themselves, then why not self publish?

  2. I remember feeling horrified when I first heard that news. You’re right, though; there ARE options, viable ones. I think that should be encouraging to all writers, even those (like me) who are all about the traditional publishing.

    Great post, K! (as per usual)

  3. I’m sure it came as a surprise to the gods of Olympus to find that the mundanes no longer needed or wanted them. This same clarion exists today thanks to indie publishing and the authors ability to snub the gods when they are unjust. Wonderfully said, Kait.

  4. That’s horrible for her. And just when I think I’m ready to go traditional, yet another issue is raised, lol. My first book is stand alone, but the next two I’m mapping out are a series. I don’t want to give the rights away. Is that a forgone conclusion when you sign a contract?

  5. I love that self-publishing is so accessible and is such a tremendous movement now. My favorite author, Robert McCammon, quit publishing for a long time because he didn’t like how his work was changed. Although he didn’t come right out and say it in quite this bunt of terms, essentially it boiled down to the bullying of the NY publisher: Make these changes or we don’t publish. And as an artist, he wasn’t satisfied with that. Luckily a small press convinced him to start publishing again, and they’ve given him the freedom he needs to be the artist (this was before the big indie movement hit, or I think he might’ve gone indie). His name alone sells the books; you know you’re getting quality when you pick up a McCammon book.

    So you’re right–the Big Six and affiliates are not always right.

  6. Thank You! Kait I needed that affirmation.

  7. Oh, my! Call me inspired! This post left me with the overwhelming desire to pull up my bootstraps and buckle back down on my rewrite! Too bad about L.J. Smith-I didn’t know any of this (I live in that cave, too–way in the back with the spiders and the dust mites)

  8. Great thoughts here Kait and some that make me cringe as well. I was going to submit to Machine of Death anthology, but after a closer look at what they wanted the author to relinquish made me change my mind.

  9. Vicki Keire

    Dude. I had no idea. I feel sick now.
    TVD is one of those series I’ve kept high on a shelf, gleaming at me like Tolkein’s Precious as a tool for extreme motivation. It is the Very Biggest Carrot of All, and I was going to read them when I finished my trilogy.
    Bu the thought of her getting ripped like that… Ew. Wrong.
    I hope she fights back somehow. I hope her fanbase does too. I try really hard not to toot the “traditional publishing is evil” horn, but things like this make it hard.

  10. Okay, keep in mind that I have nothing but sympathy for her. BUT you’re getting it slightly wrong. Smith didn’t write a book and sell it to Alloy who took all her rights. She wrote the duology Night of the Solstice/Heart of Valor and the editor at Alloy recommended her for a trilogy THEY wanted written. They gave her tons of leeway, but they were going to get the Vampire Diaries from someone and going to push it a certain way regardless. They did the same with the Secret Circle books. Like writing an IP (like in the Star Wars or D&D worlds) the contract from the beginning was Alloy’s because the concept and idea was Alloy’s.

    Yeah, Smith knocked it out of the park, launching her own career that led to her being able to get books that were completely her own (Night World, Dark Passions & Forbidden Game) but she wouldn’t have had a name to be popular (in all likelihood) without the launch of TVD.

    This is fairly common in publishing when you work with a book packager (which is exactly the same situation outlined above) or when you’re hired to write IP work. You DO lose control of any characters you create, and you might possibly lose out if your book hits the mad popularity. But you also get a better pay rate than most authors are getting at that point in their career, and essentially you get a completely free upkick to your name visibility, especially if you’re writing an IP with an already fanatical audience (like Star Trek or Halo).

    It blows, but it’s a risk you take with that kind of contract and it’s not something that self publishing would prevent because she wrote the books/idea because they brought it to her, so there’s a good chance she wouldn’t have gotten a series like that sold at all without taking the for hire contract.

    • That was quite a bit more than what I was able to find (since of course most of what I found was written by outraged fans). And call me Pollyanna but the whole notion of some group coming to a writer saying “we want this” and giving the WRITER the concept seems totally…weird. I definitely don’t have any shortage of my OWN ideas, so I can’t imagine writing to someone else’s… I mean obviously it’s done, it just seems so…not the way things should be done.

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