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 dummies.com 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, naÃ¯veté, 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.