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Thursday Midday Links: The ghost writing dilemma

Ghost writing has been a long tradition in modern publishing. Ghost writing is essentially hiring an author to write something that is published under a different name, usually a more recognizable name. For instance, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys’ stories were ghost written by various individuals. Celebrity memoirs are ghost written. In young adult books, there are book packagers like Alloy who partner with a publisher to put out a product and sometimes there might be only one author. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is one of the most successful packaged series out there but Alloy is responsible for Gossip Girls and Sweet Valley High as well. This Observer article is a fascinating look into Alloy and book packaging.

Another Alloy package is the Vampire Diaries written by someone called L.J. Smith. At the center of the series is a love triangle between Elena and two brothers, Stefan and Damon. I don’t know Ms. Smith’s real name but the LJ Smith moniker is apparently owned by Alloy as is the series. The Vampire Diaries has been made into a TV series and all the parties involved, except for the author writing the series, appears to want to make the series more focused on Elena and Stefan instead of Elena and Damon. The ‘ship between Elena and Damon was important to the author and apparently she was unwilling to move the focus to Elena and Stefan so she will no longer be the author of the Vampire Diaries. I’m assuming that the move toward Elena and Stefan is because that is what the powers that be behind the series believes that is what the majority of the viewership/readership wants, after all, TPTB want to make money more than anything.

Smith is said to be deeply saddened by these changes but that is the plight of the ghostwriter or author for hire.

Which brings me to this.

According to Kristin Nelson, an agent, Macmillan is attempting to gain the derivative rights to works in a standard publishing contract.

In the new Macmillan contract is clause 6. (b) Copyright on Derivative Works. To state bluntly, this clause gives the Publisher the right to create "derivative works" based on the work they are buying from the author. And to add insult to injury, the publisher owns the copyright to any of these "new works."

Nelson goes on to state that “this is actually in direct contradiction to US copyright law and can't be legally enforce but hey, what do I know.”

I’m not quite sure what she means by this because publishing contracts are all about the transfer of copyright usage from the creator to a publisher who exploits those rights for money. I’m puzzled that an agent would state this, but regardless, I think it is illuminating about what direction Macmillan (and perhaps other publishers) want to take with the products it buys. I believe that this is in line with what Disney and other multimedia companies do when they buy intellectual property rights. Macmillan announced last year that it would start a film and tv division to produce projects based on books it purchases. The contract term which bothers Nelson so much (and really doesn’t appear to be contrary to US copyright law and unenforceable) seems in line with a transformation from being a book publisher to being a multimedia corporation. I’m not going to comment on whether this is a rights grab or morally corrupt or whatnot. I’m thinking more about what publishing will be in the future and maybe, what it won’t be.


I have to confess I feel some impending doom approaching. March 1 is the due date for Apple App Developers to get their apps in line with a new/old policy that Apple is enforcing which requires an app to offer in app purchases of digital media if the retailer provides out of app purchases.

Right now the pressure is being applied to newspapers and magazines that are offering subscriptions you can purchase on their websites but don’t offer in app subscriptions.

The reason that app developers have not offered in app purchases is because Apple takes a 30% cut of every purchase. Think of how this affects Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

Right now, about 70% of the books purchased are published by the Big 6. Of the Big 6, 5 of them engage in “agency” pricing. This agency pricing dictates that the retailer like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo gets 30% and the publisher gets 70%. If the retailers have to offer in app purchasing and Apple is going to get 30%, how will Amazon, BN, Kobo et all make money on book sales? Really, they could only do it if the publishers allow them to RAISE the prices on books (and then agency pricing would have to go away).

Apple is supposed to have a media presentation in February to launch the iPad2 and it is possible we may get more details but frankly, Amazon and others have been pretty shitty about communicating things prior to any changes. Agency pricing fell upon our heads with the deletion of the buy button for Macmillan books and then it was a scramble in April to actually buy books as contracts had to be renegotiated and new deals struck. Please, book gods, don’t screw with us this year.


Finally, something remotely amusing. I think this page was tweeted by REBYJ but it is a post about writing fiction and the romance section is awesome, and by awesome I mean horribly outdated:

Romance is a huge category aimed at diverting and entertaining women. In romance novels, you have elements of fantasy, love, naïveté, extravagance, adventure, and always the heroic lover overcoming impossible odds to be with his true love. Many romances, especially the gothic romance, have an easy-to-follow formula -‘ a young, inexperienced girl living a somewhat remote existence is courted or threatened by an evil man and then rescued by a valiant one.

Other subgenres include regency, historical, bodice rippers, and contemporary. If historical detail and settings interest you, try writing a regency or historical romance. If tempestuous relationships are more your cup of tea, bodice rippers are for you. However, if you’re interested in more modern stories with sexual candor, then consider writing a contemporary romance.

First-class romance writers include Barbara Cartland, Jude Deveraux, Victoria Holt, Daphne Du Maurier, and Danielle Steele.


In even better news, Maya Banks’ Coulter’s Daughterbecame the first digital book to ever make it on the NYTimes Bestseller list (ebook list at 18) and the USAToday list. Congratulations Ms. Banks.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Darlene Marshall
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:10:03

    “…romance writers include Barbara Cartland, Jude Deveraux, Victoria Holt, Daphne Du Maurier, and Danielle Steele.”

    Um, have they picked up a romance novel since 1978? Some fine writers on here, but I have a hard time thinking 2011 publishers are saying “Write like Barbara Cartland! That’s what 20-somethings want on their ereaders!”

  2. Ceilidh
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:41:23

    I feel so sorry for LJ Smith. The Vampire Diaries was her series, she’s worked on it for so long and now it’s just been snatched away because the publishers want more money. I shouldn’t be surprised by the cruelty of it all since it’s a world of business and all but I am.

    Book packaging and ghost writing in general is a topic I haven’t thought about much, mainly because the books I tend to read aren’t the sort put together by packaging companies, e.g. Gossip Girl, Nancy Drew, etc. The recent James Frey debacle was something I completely opposed because it seemed to heartless, void of creativity and basically effed over the real writers involved in doing the legwork. On the one hand, if it gets kids reading I can’t completely oppose it. On the other hand, I’d happily see James Frey go broke and fall into the gutter.

  3. Silver James
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:44:34

    Other subgenres include regency, historical, bodice rippers, and contemporary. If historical detail and settings interest you, try writing a regency or historical romance. If tempestuous relationships are more your cup of tea, bodice rippers are for you. However, if you're interested in more modern stories with sexual candor, then consider writing a contemporary romance.

    Uhm…What about paranormal? Or urban fantasy? BODICE RIPPERS?!? Oh for god’s sake, just say no! *snort* Hello,, you certainly live up to your name! And ditto what Darlene said about the authors they chose to represent the genre. OH RLY?

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  5. Kerry Allen
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 10:55:27

    I thought a large part of an agent’s job was saying “um, NO” to publishers’ out-of-line boilerplate contracts. They get 15% for passing along to an author the privilege of signing away all rights to her creation? Wow, I am in the wrong line of work.

  6. Kinsey
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 11:08:01

    I always thought I’d like an opportunity to ghostwrite. I like the actual writing — assembling the prose — as much as or more than I do the process of creating plots, and it seems like it would be something of a relief to have the characters and storyline given to me. Then I could concentrate on bringing the characters to life through words, and that would be very satisfying. I could live with not being able to claim credit for the work, I think, if I were being compensated well enough (I have a mercenary streak.)

    But as much as I hate creating plots, I do love creating characters, and I’m afraid I’d end up like LJ Smith – heartbroken when the characters’ owners decided to do something I didn’t agree with.

    I’m assuming MacMillan’s proposed contract, and Alloy’s and others like them, aren’t as onerous and exploitative as what James Frey’s company is doing.

  7. Missy Ann
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 11:13:00

    Hint: If you want to maintain creative control don’t sign a contract that doesn’t have it stay with you.

    Basically, wah… Don’t sign contracts you don’t understand. There are also very handy people out there called contract lawyers that you can pay to be on your side during negotiations. People get screwed all day every day, you have to be smart and tough if you don’t want to be a screwie.

  8. LVLMLeah
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 11:31:47

    So does this new thing with Apple mean that you must buy a Kindle, B&N, or Kobo book through the app on your Apple device?

    I’m assuming I could still buy a Kindle or B&N book directly from Amazon or B&N and then have my iTouch pick it up, correct?

  9. Courtney Milan
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 11:45:36

    @Kerry Allen: I’m pretty sure Kristin is saying no to that one. She’s pointing it out so that other people can say no, too.

  10. KB/KT Grant
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 11:49:03

    Did L.J. Smith sign all her rights away from the Vampire Diaries then?

    I remember when I first red the VD series back when I was a teen Damon just lurking around in the shadows more from what I cane remember. It was mainly Stefan and Elena. But I gues with Ian playing Damon and the fans of the show wanting more of him, the publisher is trying to give the fans what they want.

  11. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 12:06:01

    I nearly ghostwrote a series once, but got cold feet. I can’t tell you which one, I’m afraid, it’s part of the contract I signed. When you bid for a book packaging series, you sign a contract, or an agreement, before you start, mostly about confidentiality. You’re given the outline, or the premise, and asked to riff on that.
    With a decent book packager, the money is okay. There are usually no royalties, but I was offered a very small royalty, which helps to invest your interest in the series after you’ve done the job. Most of the money would have come in a lump sum, to be delivered like an advance, in two bits. I can’t tell you exactly how much, but it compares to the advance that Harlequin offers its category authors for a first book.
    Mine was a paranormal series, and someone else took it instead. I wasn’t sure about some of the aspects, especially the YA nature, which was new to me. It’s really advisable to get an agent or lawyer to negotiate these contracts, because if the series hits big, you might want a share of the other stuff. I feel so sorry for LJ Smith, but good for her for sticking for her guns.

    Contracts – in a standard publishing contract (not a book packaging one), the copyright always remains with the author. what she is contracting is the right to publish. I have never allowed the copyright out of my hands. Never would. Having said that, I would discuss sharing if a company was prepared to do creative work and put money into the project. But they don’t get to keep it all!

    In the UK, if you join the Society of Authors, they will look over a publishing contract for you. They won’t negotiate on your behalf, but they will tell you what to have struck, what to ask for and really, give you your negotiating position. A great service, especially if you don’t have an agent or lawyer. And they know a bit about foreign (ie US) law. If you sign a contract, it’s under the laws of the state, or the country, of the publisher, so you need to take care.

  12. whome
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 13:03:30

    bodice rippers as a subgenre?!?!! Who knew!!! lol

  13. LEW
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 13:22:19

    Slightly off-topic, but I know in science, with the exception of the few new Open Access journals, you have to sign away all the rights of your research paper to the journal publishing it. I’ve had to sign the copyright over on all my published articles. In fact, I have to contact the journal to seek permission if I want to reuse a figure that I created and published in an article I wrote. This is one of the reasons Open Access journals are getting such a huge push by researchers right now.

  14. Connie
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 13:23:51

    Whoa what is bodice rippers? and who is Barbara Cartland? I definitely fit into the 20s something reader group who has no idea of long-standing romance traditions :P

    I didn’t even know ghost-writing existed. It seems kind of sad that someone’s not allowed to dictate the direction of their own work. Damon is definitely a more interesting character…Stefan seems too…tortured. I like bad boys. Though I don’t really like Elena so I’m perfectly fine with the two of them getting together.

  15. LG
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 13:34:04

    @Connie: Same here. It’s been a while since I read the original books, but I remember Stefan being a vampire similar to, say, Meyer’s Edward – tortured, with a side of self-loathing. I loved everything by L.J. Smith when I was a teen, but the Vampire Diaries books are ones I am incapable of rereading now that I’m older – like you, I don’t really like Elena, and her romance with Stefan just annoys me. Damon is the most interesting character out of all three of them, and I imagine he would probably also be more fun for Smith to write about.

  16. Joanne
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 13:42:15

    Is it legal or possible for the ghost writer to later write under their own name or another nom de plume saying he/she once wrote as L. J. Smith? Or is that one of the privacy rights generally included in a ghost writer’s contract?

    @Connie: and who is Barbara Cartland?

    And now I feel even older than dirt. sigh.

  17. library addict
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 14:26:42

    I guess my dream of agency pricing going away and everyone going back to selling ebooks that can be dicounted, work with coupons, etc isn’t going to become reality again.

    I really miss the heyday of Fictionwise with micropay and buywise club.

  18. sarah mayberry
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 14:28:04

    I am feeling a little shaken down here in Australia. The Hardy Boys books were ghost written? And Sweet Valley High…? Clearly, I have been living under a rock. My whole teen-hood is being reconfigured in a new light…

  19. DS
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 14:35:37

    The Dummies thing reminded me of a book I read about romance novels– it was designed to help readers keep track of the books they had read, series titles, and pseudonyms. But it kept referring to Heyer’s books as gothics. I finally figured out that the people who had put the book together had grouped books by size rather than content. Anything under the page count for Rosemary Rogers they considered a gothic.

    The more things change, the more they — well, you know–

  20. Robin
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 14:38:14

    The move by Macmillan is fascinating to me, because it strikes me as much more astute (from the publisher’s POV) than, say, (non)agency pricing.

    I think authors should be very wary and very educated about what signing such a clause would mean for their rights, royalties, and income flowing from their creations generally, but IMO this move indicates that trad publishers might be cluing in to the idea that consumers spend their money diversely on entertainment, and that the future of tread publishing might be more about adapting stories to different media venues.

    Which IMO brings up the question of whether it will be corporate trad pubs themselves that ultimately kill the corporate trad pub model. Because IMO they’re really the ones (and NOT the growth of digital) that can effect such a change.

    I’m also curious to know what Nelson means when she says the clause would likely be unenforceable. I read her point about copyright law as theoretical (i.e. traditionally derivative rights reside with the original copyright holder), but of course they can be sold, licensed, whatever, just like any other right in that bundle comprising copyright.

    I’m not surprised that this is happening, because IMO it’s simply an overt expression of how corporations have been expanding their ownership and control of copyright, and maybe it’s time for authors and agents to start talking more extensively about the implications of that (positive and negative) on content creation.

    Personally, I find the corporate ownership of copyright onerous for numerous reasons, one of which being the aggression with which corps often pursue extension and expansion of those rights into areas traditionally considered fair use and public use. If nothing else, hasn’t Disney taught us to be wary of corporate control of intellectual property rights?

  21. Pat
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 15:01:27

    It also amused me that in the mystery section the dummies did not mention Agatha Christie.

  22. JenM
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 15:43:10

    Yikes, I’m really worried about Apple forcing Amazon to sell through the iStore. One of the best things about the Kindle app is how seamless it is to buy books on your phone, then get them downloaded to the device of your choice. I’d really hate for that to be messed with. I’ve always been a huge Apple fan, but this just burns me up.

    The only reason Apple is doing this is because the ibooks store is pretty pathetic and they want in on Amazon’s action. This after Steve Jobs ridiculed the ebook market when the Kindle first came out. Amazon proved there was a market, now Apple wants to muscle in on it. Plus the threat of Apple’s ibookstore was the hammer the publishers used to impose Agency pricing in the first place. Yeah, I’m pretty pissed with Apple right now.

  23. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 18:41:19

    While I understand LJ Smith’s heartbreak, I have to assume she did know that she was an author-for-hire and thus, that she would not be the one directing the characters’ path.

    As for the derivative rights, I can foresee a time in the not-too-distant future (next week) when, if the clause is not agreed to, the publisher simply will not buy the book at all. Publishing is a buyer’s market. Always has been.

  24. SAO
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 00:40:57

    Barbara Cartland died over a decade ago, not too long before her hundredth birthday. She was the step-grandmother of Princess Diana.

    At the height of her career, she dictated something like a novel a month to her secretary (this was before the age of computers). The scenery changed, with book in just about every corner of the British Empire; the names of the main characters changed, but the plots didn’t. Vapid Victorian virgins fell for tall, dark Englishmen, perhaps with an occasional Scotman for diversity.

    A kiss was the height of sensuality, puntuated by dialogue like, “I . . .didn’t . . . think . . .you . . could . . love . . .me,” allowing the scenes to drag on without much more going on than a quick peck between two pairs of lips.

    I wouldn’t pay more than a dime for one at a used book store, but if you want a bit of a giggle, go to your library and read a Barbara.

  25. SAO
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 00:50:57

    What readers really need is a way of sorting the book worth reading from the dross. Publishers served as one level or gatekeeper. If a publisher figured out how to publish only really great books, than their imprint would be enough to guarantee a good read.

    By grabbing the derivative rights to themselves and allowing a series to be continued by some other author, the publishers are removing one sign readers use to identify books they want to read. It’s not going to help their business in the long run.

  26. DS
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 07:42:56

    I wonder if she is thinking about termination and copyright recapture rights? Per statute they cannot be signed away or waived, and there is some inclusion for derivative works. My god, that is a section of a statute that could only be loved by IP lawyers– or people (and their families)who were screwed by their early contracts with publishers.

    There is probably going to be a bit about termination rights going to be in the news this years– it’s the last year for notice of termination to be served for 1978 grants by the author, with terminations of copyright in the cases that have met the requirements in 2013.

  27. DS
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 07:47:08

    The stuff about termination and recapture has nothing to do with work made for hire. And that is another quagmire.

  28. Jane
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 09:46:02

    @DS Termination and recapture can’t occur until 35 years after the original grant. I wrote about it here at Dear Author. When was the original series published?

    Additionally, I don’t think she holds the copyright to anything. I believe Alloy holds the copyright and LJ Smith was merely work for hire.

  29. Jane
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 09:47:07

    @SAO Apparently BC’s books are being digitally released…at $6.99…I think…maybe… that…is…far…too…much…money.

  30. Kerry Allen
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 09:53:18

    William… Shatner… reading… Barbara… Cartland… would… be… epic.

  31. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 13:04:06

    @Kerry Allen:

    He’d do it too. The guy doesn’t take ANYTHING seriously, least of all himself.

  32. Kinsey
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 13:55:52

    I vaguely recall the few Cartland books I read in junior high. More than one of them ended on the wedding night, with the hero and heroine being transported to (ecstasy or heaven or bliss) on (wings or clouds or something) of (love or passion or pleasure or rapture) – it was all very fuzzy and it frustrated me because I had no idea what they were doing. Then I discovered Woodiwiss and Rogers and Coulter and the other Old Skool icons and once I figured out what petals and portals and and nubs and shafts were, I never read another Cartland.

    (We were Baptist. Romance novels were as much textbook as entertainment for me.)

  33. DS
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 19:40:10

    @Jane: Sorry I was thinking about the Kristin Nelson comment. Termination and Recapture was the only thing I could think of that would over ride a contract and take derivative rights down with it. And I probably did first read about it here.

  34. Serena
    Feb 12, 2011 @ 07:49:20

    The ‘ship between Elena and Damon was important to the author and apparently she was unwilling to move the focus to Elena and Stefan so she will no longer be the author of the Vampire Diaries. I'm assuming that the move toward Elena and Stefan is because that is what the powers that be behind the series believes that is what the majority of the viewership/readership wants, after all, TPTB want to make money more than anything.
    There was a poll on E! Online a month ago asking fans of the series which couple they prefer. Damon/Elena won with something like 80% of the votes. They are definitely the MUCH more popular couple. They decision by Alloy to fire LJ Smith because she wanted to write D/E, when that is what the majority of the fans want, is puzzling to say the least. Like you said, they want to make money, so why push the less popular couple? I have to assume that that was not the reason LJ Smith was fired, and she just claimed it was because she knew it was an easy way to get her fans to protest and, maybe, convince them to re-hire her.
    Also, Jane, if you don’t mind me correcting you, the focus of the books has always been on Stefan and Elena. So it’s not a case of Smith not wanting to move the focus, but her WANTING to.

  35. cs
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 20:56:44

    @Serena: Thank you. I was wondering where the focus of the books was Damon/Elena when the ‘OTP’ so to speak in the books has been Elena and Stefan.

    To be honest, I don’t feel sorry for the author. It wasn’t technically her story, and plus she reminds me of those authors who insist on playing the stupid love-triangle and wanting to go for the lets make the bad boy fall in love with the pretty girl. Why can’t authors just let the bad boys BE bad boys without suddenly redeeming them? /rant.

    In any case, I like Stefan and tortured vampires can be done well (for example Angel from the Whedon universe). I think this has more to do with Ian playing Damon, and this the fangirls are squeeing over his blue, blue eyes.

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