I just caught wind of this in the Lulu Blog:
If you think writing a series of acclaimed supernatural thrillers, which get made into a successful television show and sell thousands of books, would be considered a job well done, think again.
Publisher HarperCollins removed LJ Smith, author of The Vampire Diaries, from the project after friction during the editing process. Smith said she was pushed out after arguing against cutting characters, scenes, and other creative decisions that she felt were important to her vision of the story.
Smith, who began writing the novels on a “for hire” contract back in 1990, was shocked to find out that she had no rights to any of the characters or stories she created. In an e-mail, Smith reflected, “Even though I have written the entire series, I don’t own anything about The Vampire Diaries.”
This is an all-too-common story among writers of genre-fiction. Authors desperate enough to sign anything end up losing any creative or financial control of the characters, and the ensuing sensations, they create. Where a publishing house offers a vast marketing and distribution network, it also tends to dilute and altogether alter a writer’s creative vision. To some writers, like LJ Smith, this becomes too much to bear. They fight to keep their work intact, only to find “a letter addressed to the ghostwriter by name, telling her to completely rewrite my book.”
We’re neither arguing against the need for a good editor, nor against some self discipline and revision on the part of the author, however, we think this example demonstrates an important benefit of self-publishing: complete creative control and financial ownership of your work. Even after writing several successful novels, LJ Smith was removed from her series with little to no warning whatsoever, and absolutely no recourse.
So, what does “for hire” mean in this case? The Vampire Diaries series belongs to Alloy Entertainment—it always has. They hired L.J. Smith back in 1990 to write the series for them—based on their premise. She signed a contract upfront to say that the Vampire Diaries belonged to them, and everything the writer created (characters, events, etc.) throughout the course of the series belongs to Alloy. L.J. Smith has no say in what they do with the series.
I imagine that 10 years is long enough to forget that you’re writing for someone else.