Vampire Diaries Author Loses Rights to her Book

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.

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9 Comments

  1. Reading this makes me happy I have chosen the self-publishing route. I feel for anyone who has put forth the effort she has, only to learn they have no control over their work. Very disheartening.

  2. This is the main reason I self publish. I’d rather do every bit of work than lose ANY rights to my work. I’ll take the the lower sales as well as the satisfaction of knowing my work will always be mine.

  3. Wow — that is intense; and definitely something to share within my group of writers. Thanks for sharing this story!

  4. How sad. I know ensuring that the story I create remains the story that is printed is of great importance to me. I don’t mind editing as far as structurial purposes or even suggestions, but don’t assume I have to change a thing if I don’t want to.

  5. Anne Cimon

    I think it is so wrong that reputable publishers can deal with their writers wildly successful or not with such callousness. I prefer to go the self-publishing route now and agree a good editor is necessary but not necessarily a name publisher. Thank you Lulu.

  6. Dionne Christie

    The publisher is totally disgusting -

  7. Satyros Phil Brucato

    The words “work for hire” are all the warning you need. Any writer or artist should know that when they sign the contract. You make that agreement, you lose your rights. It sucks, but that’s Art Law 101 stuff.

  8. Satyros Phil Brucato

    (And no – you don’t have to self-publish to avoid work-for-hire agreements. You just need to not sign such contracts in the first place.)

  9. Wow, that totally bites. I have to agree with what Satyros said about signing contracts like that though.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Vampire Diaries Author Loses Rights to Her Book [...]

  2. By Quora on March 27, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    For an author, what are the advantages of self-publishing as opposed to shopping a book to conventional publishers?…

    Important question! There are tons of advantages. Two of the most important are that you control your revenue and you own your content. This article gives a good example of an author (Vampire Diaries) who went through a traditional publisher and conseq…

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