Typing is not writing

The desire for fame and status has destroyed more lives than the cholera.

According to the post I linked in the above paragraph, an author of an apparently-beloved YA book series (vampire-themed, as so many of these things are these days, sigh), has had her work taken from her and given to a “ghostwriter” because Evil Corporate Publisher, etc. But as you read further (and as is pointed out by a few helpful commenters), the writer in question, one L.J. Smith, wasn’t actually what we think of as an “author.” You know, someone who has a burning need to write a story that they created themselves out of their ideas, dreams, and experience. Instead, she had been hired on to pen a YA series for this publisher, Harper-Collins. Hired on to write something isn’t quite the same thing as you approaching a publisher yourself with your manuscript(s). And it looks like what happened is she either didn’t read the contract or have it read for her by someone more qualified, or she did and didn’t understand certain things, or she did and understood it perfectly well but hoped that something like this would not come to pass but now that it did she’s having a good old public cry about it.

What can I say. Let’s see, how about: this author seems to have put forth a lot of creative effort on this book series and obviously feels used and abused. On the other hand, she did get paid, and she did get name recognition. Of course, now she probably won’t be able to publish anything under that name because the publisher is going to keep on putting it on new entries to the series even though she’s not going to be writing them. Not only did she sell them her time and effort, it looks like she sold them the name “L.J. Smith.” Oops. Of course, she could just start writing under a pen name, but she’ll have to work her way back up the brand-recognition ladder. That’s tough, but that’s the way the game is played. At least now she has the internet to help her — she can notify her fans of her new name and direction.

Still, it just goes to show that being an “Author” and being a writer are two different things. A writer writes, but an Author gets invited to parties. Writers have been told for decades now that they aren’t really writers unless they are Authors too. And like college degrees, the concept of the Author has degraded over time as publishers turned more and more to marketing “trends” and “concepts” and less to actually publishing books. Maybe this is the real “death of the Author.” It’s about time.

17 thoughts on “Typing is not writing

  1. Starless

    From the fan freak-out: And now a random ghostwriter (who’s skills and voice could never even remotely live up to L.J’s) is taking over.

    So then the series should crash and burn and HarpersCollins will get their just desserts, right? Unless the books were of such a quality and the writer’s voice so indistinct that another writer can easily step in and continue the series.

    This L.J. Smith person now needs to go sign a record contract and the circle will be complete.

    1. Starless


      My thoughts went to JK Rowling when I first read your post. Years ago I decided to see what all of the fuss was about and started reading one of her books (Harry Plopper and the Deadly Chamber Pot, or something). My thought after a few pages was, “This made her a worldwide phenomena and a jillionaire?” Her skills as a writer struck me as being at about undergrad-level. Not to go into crotchety-old-person mode (only to do so), but as a kid/YA, when I wanted fantasy I would read Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, or Tolkein, literary titans compared to Rowling. Writing with depth and founded in long mythological and literary tradition not fake Latin and Saturday morning cartoon plots.

      I have nothing against literary mind candy but I had a very hard time seeing genius in Rowling’s writing itself and could easily see someone ghost writing for her. The genius part, I’m guessing, had to be in her contract — like a clause retaining at least part of the worldwide exclusive copyright in all media or something like that. Not everyone has the luck of having their creative work become insanely popular and have a sweet contract, but I’d hope that by now artists would understand that if their product starts to take off and they have a craptastic contract then it’s time to renegotiate.

    2. aelfheld

      Whether you like or dislike either or both – for the record, I like both – it’s a bit rich to say Harry Potter has less substance than the Narnia tales.

    3. Starless

      Are you saying that Narnia is as insubstantial as Harry Potter or that Harry Potter is as substantial as Narnia?

    4. Andrea Harris Post author

      Now guys, no fighting over who’s favorite books are the bestest. I will admit, though I did enjoy the Harry Potter novels, I found the writing quality wanting — especially in the first book and the last two. IMHO Prisoner of Azkaban* was the best-written one of the lot, followed by Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix following a very distant third. That one lingered way too long on the Harry’s uncle’s house-cleaning, and they could have dispensed with Hermione’s campaign to save the house slaves, er elves, no slaves, with no damage done to the plot. I may be biased, though, because Prisoner was the first book I read of the bunch.

      As for the Narnia books, I have read all of them a lot, and have my favorites (The Magicians Nephew and The Silver Chair) and least favorites (The Last Battle and Prince Caspian). I note my favorites don’t feature either the Pevensie kids or Prince Caspian, all of whom I found rather tiresome. (I’d like A Horse And His Boy more if it didn’t feature the “grown up” Pevensies towards the end being all royal and stuff.)

      But anyway, both sets of books have their merits and problems. I’ve re-read the Narnia ones more than the Harry Potter ones — of the latter I think only Azkaban and the Goblet of Fire ones merited re-reading. If I really like a book, I’ll keep it to read over and over again.

      *All these titles are prefaces with “Harry Potter And” but I didn’t feel like writing that out three times.

    5. Starless

      Now guys, no fighting over who’s favorite books are the bestest.

      I’m not looking to engage in a fight.

      FTR, I have no problem with Rowling making gobs of money with her books, nor with kids reading them, nor with anyone liking them more than the Narnia books. I’m merely opining that there isn’t necessarily a relationship between the quality of a piece of writing and massive commercial book sales. Anyone’s welcome to claim that I’m wrong and I’m fine with that.

  2. sheri

    Oy. I followed the link and read through and formed an “opinion” and then there was that huge-ass “What are your thoughts on this dillema?” query toward the end so I forgot what I was going to say here.

    1. Andrea Harris Post author

      Actually my thoughts can be distilled into “don’t put too much of your soul into this sort of hired-gun writing,” but then we wouldn’t have my nice, long blog post.

  3. Ezmirelda

    Actually, I think that al. J Smith will be able to continue using her name because she has written 3 different series with Simon and Schuster under a regular contract and will probably continue publishing with them in the future. She used her name in all 3 series. I’m really happy about that. Hopefully she can move on from this and continue to write books.

    Lol, it’s funny how people think YA readers are all obsessed wih vampire books. While that’s probably true to some level I hated twilight (most people in the book blogosphere did as well) and haven’t read a vampire book in years. I think Twilight and vampire books in general are loved more by casual readers who are lured in by the hype and media. I didn’t even liked the VD series. I adored LJ for her other non-vampiric books. 🙂

    – Ezmirelda (writer of the post you linked)

    1. Andrea Harris Post author

      I do know that a lot of YA books are about other things than vampires — there is the popular Hunger Games books, for example. But the vampire thing seems to have been latched on by a lot of corporations — book publishers, television and movie producers — in the wake of the popularity of both the Twilight books and the Buffy and the Vampire tv series. When I was growing up Young Adult novels seemed to focus mostly on drug abuse, teenage sex, and gangs, and were very depressing, IMHO.

      Well it’s good to know she won’t have to give up her authorial name. Not that I’m a fan of hers — I don’t think I’ve read anything she’s done. I understand that it is frustrating to her to have a series she had invested so much time and work into just arbitrarily taken away.

  4. Ezmirelda

    And to those of you who are wondering I am a high school book blogger and wrote that post on ethics alone. I am completely uninformed where publishing or legal things are involved. So if my “opinion” managed to rub you off the wrong way then you have my sincerest apologies.

    1. Starless

      FYI: there are no ethics in publishing, only contracts and copyright law. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about much worse abuses than Smith is enduring in the world of commodified creativity (books and music being particularly bad). It’s made me a horrible cynic — better to learn at your age that that world is inherently unfair than to be disillusioned later on.

    2. aelfheld

      Please, don’t apologise. It comes off as if your convictions are trifles light as air.

      Do keep in mind that you should never sign a contract you (a) don’t understand and (b) isn’t to your advantage.

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