Screwed by Book Packagers?

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This past week, I read a post about the writer of The Vampire Diaries who was unceremoniously fired from her own series.  At least that was the story the author told.  You see, the author was hired by a company called, Alloy Entertainment, a book packager and television production company.  They had an idea for a television series and she was contracted to flesh it out.  But let’s just say things got complicated, very complicated.

This author’s tenure was never carved into stone or in ink for that matter, she was a ghost writer.  She was never an employee nor did she hold the rights to the series but she was passionate about the project and was even given credit for the series, a rare event for a ghost writer.  But there were major creative differences which ultimately led to her being fired by Alloy.

However before we judge, Alloy is an unusual business.  Even after studying them, I had a hard time understanding whether they were book agents or television producers because they seem to do both.  Here’s how they work: they get a book or an idea, flesh it out, hire a ghost writer(s), then sell it via an in house agency.

There are several online articles about the company and most were not kind.  While doing my research, I came across terms like, complicated accounting and conflict of interest which should make any author shake in their boots.

A few months ago, they had an open submissions call and I submitted a manuscript of mine thinking they were looking for authors.  The submission’s call never mentioned anything about ghost writers which is why I’m talking about this.  Rumor has it, they pick poorly written books and use their contracted ghost writers to clean it up.  That should concern any author that signs with them.

It’s All in the Details

I’m not sure about the details of the author’s contract but she ended her contract when she fought them on key storyline points according to her own account.  Sadly, book packagers aren’t looking for an equal 50/50 partnership.  This author made the mistake of forgetting this was work for hire and not her intellectual property.  Is Alloy evil for letting her go?  Absolutely not.  They wanted things done a certain way and were hoping the writer they hired would provide just that.

    Being a ghost writer implies several things

  1. You’re not the owner of the intellectual property and most likely won’t get any credit.
  2. You don’t have any creative control.
  3.  Ghost writers only get a flat fee even if the project makes millions.
  4.  More likely than not, you will have to sign a confidentiality agreement or NDA.

Before You Sign…

I would be remiss in not reminding you to know exactly what your career goals are before you sign any contract.  Not every writer wants the same thing.  Some like me, are just looking to make a living, while others, are eager to become the next Stephen King.  In either case, signing with a book packager doesn’t seem to be the path to do any of that so author beware.

Now it’s your turn, have you worked with a book packager in the past?  If so, were there any problems?