It won’t be long before we look back and marvel at how bestselling books are produced today. The system of remote production by disparate artists, followed by their discovery by publishing houses, won’t be around forever. There are too many inefficiencies, lost opportunities, and glaring weaknesses in this system. This really hit me in Berlin at the Klopotek Publishing Minds conference.
Nigel Newton, chief executive of Bloomsbury, gave a talk that seemed to originate from a decade in the past. Nigel can’t mention books or industry news without bringing up their publication of HARRY POTTER, as if there’s anything to learn from a once-in-a-millenium publishing surprise. What really floored me was a discussion we had in an executive roundtable. I mentioned the danger publishers face for building up IPs that they don’t own. And the publisher of possibly the most valuable book IP in the game didn’t quite grasp the opportunity lost.
Imagine if Bloomsbury owned the world of Hogwarts. What if a new book was coming out next week about a young girl entering her first year at the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? Can you imagine the lines that would be forming? The jolt in the arm to the publishing industry as a whole? I would like to argue that not only is there a different way to publish popular fiction in the future; I’m going to try to convince you that it’s already happening.
Let’s detour for a moment and look at the way other popular storytelling mediums work. TV shows, which one could argue represent the height of storytelling right now, are created by teams of people. If done properly, more minds make for a deeper and richer story. Video games and films are produced the same way. Music acts have been put together by managing producers. Look at the way American Idol and other talent shows guide and create brands with some semblance of ownership. It is a rare case in many of these industries where a solitary figure creates in isolation and then brings their work to a producer or distributor. And yet, most books work this way. They don’t have to. And they haven’t always.
Carolyn Keene is a famous example of the power of engineered worlds. This was the pseudonym for the many authors who wrote Nancy Drew stories. The Hardy Boys series was written with a similar mechanism. Writers were hired; they were given assignments and deadlines; and they were expected to produce. They didn’t waste their time writing blog posts and filming videos with their dogs in the background. They worked. Like TV and video game producers.
The most important consequence of this was that the publisher owned the franchise. Not just the rights, but the IP itself. The current system has publishers building up the reputation of the author—the author has become the brand—which leaves the publisher powerless to direct the flow of the IP. Authors can delay. Or miss deadlines. Or stop writing altogether. They can move off to other genres, leaving billions on the table in the case of Bloomsbury. They meddle in film, TV, and video game adaptations. We generally either get in the way or don’t get enough done.
If you think collaboration is impossible when it comes to the single narrative of books, you’d be wrong. The most successful writer in the industry today, James Patterson, employs a method similar to what Edward Stratemeyer concocted for Nancy Drew. And the number of bestselling dyads includes Preston & Child, Niven & Pournelle, Charles Todd, and many others. JA Konrath has used this method of production. But the most incredible and lucrative example comes from a different sort of book. Comic books.
Marvel is the perfect example of the power of owning IP. They can continue to produce, plugging in new writers as others come and go. They now oversee most of their film adaptations, which make billions at the box office. Marvel is owned by Disney Studios, another example of this power. And to really highlight the lost opportunities and how this transition will work, Disney recently acquired the Star Wars IP from Lucas. The originator’s hesitancy to exploit the film potential is now another trilogy in development, with another three origin films also slated for release. And I’ll be one of the millions who lines up to see everything they produce.
Can artistic projects be ruined by too many chefs? Undoubtedly. They can also be ruined by artists who lose their way, their inspiration, their focus, their drive.
In my fourth month at New Harpercollins, I’m going to do something both old and new. We’re going to hire a handful of talented writers who work for us. They come to the offices, sit in a room, and they don’t procrastinate. They are going to begin outlining a brand new IP. It could be an epic fantasy world, or a complex web of romances, or a gritty western, or a new spy hero, or technical thriller . . . but I’m going to go with a science fiction universe.
They’ll brainstorm as if they’re making a game world. A world rich with history and texture. And then we’ll outline the entire rough plot of the universe, figure out its heroes and villains, and structure the novels to come. With a dozen authors working in teams, the goal will be a new novel in this universe to release every two months. The investment will be for a dozen novels over two years, similar to how TV shows are given a chance to take root. If there is no traction during the releases, we’ll pivot or look at our marketing strategy. If no traction after two years, we’ll launch another world. Or we could employ a “pilot” model as TV does, though I think it would be better to publish a trilogy rather than a single book.
The goal is to build a vast library of material to draw from. Writers can come and go. These writers will be earning a solid living, working in dynamic teams, enjoying stability but also some creative freedoms. Publishers could exploit their most popular universes with film, video games, apps, comics, TV shows, cartoons. Decades from now, one of these worlds could have the richness of the Marvel universe. And the publisher would own that universe.
Again, the top earning worlds today work much like this. It makes the old system of waiting to discover a story, building that author’s brand up to the point that they have all the power, and then being unable to profit from the IP seem awfully quaint. It’s such a powerful idea that I’ve toyed with testing it out. A group of creatives could do this just as easily as a publishing house, as long as the IP was controlled by a company and not the artists, so the latter could come and go as they see fit. Hell, I’ve already got a new universe in mind. It’s fun to think how much more awesome that universe would be if it were in more minds. And how great readers would have it if books were rolling out every two months.
47 replies to “A Quaint System for Publishing”
This could be interesting if used to create a brand new IP. I was thinking of a few examples where something like this already happens (although not as exactly in your thought experiment) but every example that I thought of is based on already existing IP as sort of a means to expand they overall brand.
By 2 first thoughts were the D&D tie-in novels, and the Star Wars expanded universe novels. But those are required to exist within an existing universe with its own set of rules. I would be interested in seeing how this would work using a brand new IP.
I think the real gold mine would be to try to get an IP that exists in the young-adult sphere (whatever that means). From my limited viewpoint, it seems that when teens latch on to some book series, they will devour them as fast as possible. Getting a new book out every 2 months while still keeping the same themes and characters could be a license to print money.
That’s a brilliant evolution of the idea. It would be even more awesome for self-pubbers to bootstrap something like that on our own, without tradpubs.
I’ve been thinking about the same thing. Image Comics is built around owner-operated IP. An author collective could mimic their model.
The challenge even with a group of indies is having ownership of the IP rest with a company, not with the individuals. Or you’ve just expanded the current system, which relies on the constituent parts.
Yes, a corporation with shareholders might need to be formed. That’s a small PITA but better than handing off your bread and butter to a tradpub perhaps? Hehe.
Soooo, you mean something like Alex Archer Rogue Angel, or James Axler Deathlands. I would argue that the D&D tie ins themselves fall into this model, even though the IP originates outside of book form.
TV shows/movies and video games with high/modern production values require a large team of creative individuals as well high investment. While it’s possible to create good books/series with multiple authors, it’s also possible for a single person. So why would a talented author write for someone else’s IP when they can be building their own?
“So why would a talented author write for someone else’s IP when they can be building their own?”
My question exactly. Thought-provoking post as usual, Hugh, and certainly there are plenty of examples of collaborations and work-for-hire IPs working well, but there are also plenty of examples of “writing by committee” and group think sanding off all the uniqueness of an author’s voice and ending up with something bland and safe. It can cut both ways. I think there’s a reason why just about any list of top 100 books is almost exclusively single-author works. It’s not because publisher’s aren’t trying to create IPs they own. It’s because the best stuff often does originate from one person’s mind. You’ve got to be able to risk it all on an idea that other people might think is stupid or “been done,” and that’s hard to do as a group.
Harry Potter being a perfect example, by the way, of “been done” . . . which is why just about every publisher passed on it.
Oops, forgot to mention Lee Goldberg’s Dead Man. Maybe I’m missing the distinction you’re trying to create, but I just don’t see this as a new idea, or an enticing one, other than a means for some authors to write as a day job. I don’t begrudge these at all, but I fail to see the appeal for the authors with potential to be successful in their own right.
This is great, Hugh—mainly because it helps me to convince my wife I’m not insane for having talked about the Marvel Comics model for the world I’ve created with my sole book … which isn’t even out yet. But I can now point her to this post so that she can see that someone who’s actually making money is thinking along the same lines.
The devil is, of course, in the details, as it is with all things. The key to avoiding the Jack Kirby/Marvel or Gaiman/MacFarlane issues of the past could be an author collective, as you say. But it’d have to be very carefully considered, obviously, to avoid feelings of exploitation or the loss of control that can happen à la the Beatles/Northern Songs publishing-rights situation. (None of those examples apply perfectly, I know.)
I’m sure I’m not pointing out anything you haven’t thought of already. And none of that is meant to throw shade at a great idea, of course. I think it could be huge.
This makes total sense in an age (and global market) in which every great story aspires to be repurposed as a novel, graphic novel, video game, movie, merchandise, etc. And no individual author can publish works fast enough to keep up with fan expectations these days.
Seems like a key differentiator from the Disney/Marvel and Disney/Star Wars model could be the addition of licensed fan fiction, a la Kindle Worlds. The creative factory + for-profit fan-fic engages readers, expands the universe and creates a farm team of new storytellers, the best of whom could be invited to join the pro team.
Imagine a world with the rich complexity of Game of Thrones, without having to wait 5 years between new books? And we could all get to add a chapter. Cool.
Not really digging this, Hugh. I mean, it makes sense from a corporate standpoint, but I don’t want my creations to be a cog in some giant factory. Current publishing models are bad enough, but becoming a salaried employee and handing over my ideas? Not so much. The reason people in tv/movies/games do this is because most of them have trouble fulfilling a project on their own. Movies/tv/games require additional people due to time constraints. Writing doesn’t require multiple minds to complete a story. Sure, people can proofread for us and give us suggestions, but they’re not doing any of the actual work of writing. At most, many authors do need an artist for their covers, but that’s pretty much it. So, unless writers were offered profit-sharing bonuses for ideas that sold really well (such as Harry Potter), the payoff seems hollow, and only the company would really profit off of the ideas.
The one upside I can see to this is that it would give struggling authors a steady income. But, since most authors have a full or part time job to supplement their income anyway, would it really matter?
Absolutely. This isn’t an idea for writers as much as it’s an idea for how big-time book series might be forged in the future. Think ABBA. :)
And the author isn’t really handing over their ideas. Someone pays the writer a salary to sit in a room with some other people and come up with ideas.
I imagine there’s a lot of writers with day jobs who would love to have writing be their day job. :)
True, a lot of struggling writers would probably prefer that. I guess I have sour grapes having collaborated with other people on movie scripts. When you come up with an idea and someone warps it into something distasteful, it can be really disappointing. At that point you don’t care as much about the money, and would rather your name not be associated with the project. I just can’t imagine things like Harry Potter being successful if they’d been done by committee. To me, that’s one of the reasons videogames often lack good storytelling.
I’m one of those writers with a day job. I would absolutely LOVE to have a writing day job, such as you suggest. That wouldn’t mean I couldn’t ALSO write my own books. On the contrary, I’d probably write a hell of a lot more, with the day job serving at least two purposes: I’d get paid a salary for writing and it would enable me to hone my craft even more.
Getting paid to sit in a room and daydream has this advantage: Nobody can tell if you’re daydreaming about their book or yours!
This is not that dissimilar from how movies are made currently. Writers are often paid to refine someone else’s idea or write a script for a property that the studio has the rights to.
In the movie industry, writers are often given back end deals, meaning they not only get paid but are often included in the profits. I hope the writers involved in this have something like this in their contract.
Bold new (old) idea, as usual, Hugh. I can definitely see the positives in terms of creating something exciting, and capable of being exploited in a big way, which would also require an investment from the “corporation.” Downsides include the question of who decides, amongst the creatives, which way to go? If you’ve ever been in a meeting with a bunch of creative people–and I know you have–the group dynamics can be challenging. One of the reasons films are sometimes a big mess is that they’re concocted by committee, without one through-vision from an individual surviving. One of the reasons we write is to get to go our own way.
I’m a singer, too, and I know a lot of musicians who do it for a living who find they lose the joy once it’s a job.
Having said that, if/when you build your writing stable, the “Hugh-Man World Building Factory,” give me a call. You’ve got my number.
I completely agree with your views on committee concoctions. I’ve been in corporate IT for a couple decades and it can sap energy and patience. That said, I have deliberately trained myself to ‘switch off’ my day job when it comes to my writing. It has served me well, cultivating that skill.
What’s the difference between IPs like 39 Clues (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_39_Clues) or Pathfinder (http://paizo.com/pathfinder/tales) or Warhammer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Warhammer_Fantasy_novels) and the type of IP you’re talking about?
Or is it that you’re not envisioning a new type of IP, but a wholesale shift where the publisher turns their main business into developing IPs, not finding and licensing the IPs someone else creates?
Exactly. I think publishers should continue to look for talent outside of their house, but work to develop something in-house as well. Most film studios do this. They do a mix of acquisitions and original development. Publishers should do the same.
I’m not convinced… Kindle Worlds does this with existing worlds, without the methodical approach you’re suggesting, but with one critical difference. The power remains with the authors (the original author and the KW author). The IP is there to be developed as the authors see fit. My problem with your proposal is it empowers corporations that have been bullies and have fostered an exclusive clique. It a recipe for more abuse. Sorry, I see authors being taken advantage of (again). Perhaps a variation, somewhere between KW and what you’re proposing, but I’m highly skeptical of anything that weakens the author’s position. We’re too much under the thumb as it is :)
Both the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were created by a visionary named Edward L. Stratemeyer. He had good instincts not only about book packaging, but about characters and the kind of storytelling his audience was interested in. You and Mr. Konrath both have this vision, so I have no doubt that you could succeed very well at the same business, especially since you both have platforms in place to give you a start.
The only trouble is, not everyone has this vision. And it’s easier for small companies to regroup and adapt. The bigger an organization, the less chances it can take on unknown properties or ideas. Penquin Random House is owned by two companies, one in the U.K. and one in Germany. They have a big back office to feed scattered over the globe. And like other publishing concerns, they also have a very thin profit margin.
It’s very rare for to walk off the page, or the TV or movie screen. And no one knows what will go over big. True, you can turn out a large amount of content quickly by committee. And occasionally you can pre-package a successful rock group. But without a visionary who has that special knack, there will be a lot of failure. If book packaging were the answer to everything, it would have come to dominate the publishing market in the 1920’s when the Hardy Boys came out. I’m sure other publishers tried copying Mr. Stratemeyer’s success and failed.
As a result big TV and movie companies are constantly re-doing old properties as well as trying new things. That’s why Alex Cross will continue after his creator’s death, and Doctor Who tie-in books will continue, and Sherlock Holmes and Godzilla will keep cropping up. TV gets so caught up in formulas that deaths and near-deaths of main characters during sweeps are now cliche.
My husband likes to tell the story of a long ago movie called “E.T.” A lot of you here may be too young to remember it, but it was extremely successful. Unfortunately, the filmmaker Columbia didn’t know that. They thought it was going to be a great big flop. So to cut down their losses they sold it to Universal and only kept 5% of the distribution rights. That 5% ended up being their biggest source of income for that year.
All TV, movie, publishing, play, and art producers would like to be able to create things by committee that would sell reliably. But the vision things always seems to hold sway. It seems to be like that in other businesses as well. Would Amazon exist without Jeff Bezos?
“If book packaging were the answer to everything, it would have come to dominate the publishing market in the 1920′s when the Hardy Boys came out. I’m sure other publishers tried copying Mr. Stratemeyer’s success and failed.”
The media marketplace has changed just a little since the 1920’s.
Sign me up! If you got a world, I got ideas.
I’d rather work in the marketing department than as a writer in this situation. A writer would have to love the world to commit to following the massive worldbuilding.
In practice, it would be kind of like the Star Wars extended universe. Limited individual authors are hired to write a series or trilogy. Most are one-offs. It just seems like massive amounts of work for little payoff.
The Mongoliad writers do love their shared world, and have careers outside it, so their author collective must work for them.
To be clear, I would write a movie tie-in novel just for the money. It’s the time dedication required to join an enormous universe that doesn’t seem worth it.
I find this idea extremely exciting.
Great original post and thread.
Going back to my writing now.
I love the concept, but one part troubles me: the model seems to work great for corporations, and not so well for authors.
Having the author be the brand instead of the IP is one thing I like about the publishing industry, because it gives authors a degree of leverage over publishers, whereas writers working on scripts or video games have much less power because they’re disposable parts of the production process.
My suggestion to make this idea (which I think is a great one) work better for authors would be to have the IP owned by an author’s collective, or something of that sort, instead of a separate corporation, that way the authors get the benefits for their hard work, not some third party company.
This is called book packaging, and there are already companies that do this (where they own the idea and the author doesn’t). Media tie-in stories are a case in point.
If I recall correctly, the Vampire Diaries are owned by Alloy Entertainment, which is how L.J. Smith got fired “from her own series” when she wanted it to take a route the publisher didn’t want.
This is a good idea, in theory, if the artists involved own the IP (Image Comics, for example), but is not a good idea for the artists of larger corporations own the IP. Just look at how the Kirby estate has been treated by Marvel or Jim Starlin’s current troubles with them. Corporations intent on a profit cannot be trusted to treat artists fairly.
Where can I send my resume?
First time I’ve ever visited your website, Hugh, and WOW do I admire your work ethic…
…but WHOA do I shudder at your vision of the creative future.
I’ve worked in both TV and movies as a writer. I’ve been in those rooms where people “brainstormed” scripts. I’m not sure exactly what the process should be called, but I do know one thing it SHOULDN’T be called:
The best writing occurs when ideas have had a chance to incubate, when fragile story tendrils can coalesce to bind the work in unique, surprising, and even surreptitious ways, when prose and dialogue flows from a singular source who can compare, reject, and polish a myriad of choices…
…without being constantly interrupted and forced to justify that thought process or, worse yet, compete to top the next person who offers their own off-the-cuff idea.
And you’d better be quick about it if you want to keep your job.
The “best” people in rooms, from a Producer perspective, are those who fire frequently. They keep the “process” moving. They also tend to fire from the hip – and often without much regard as to what came before or where it’s all going. I JUST NEED TO CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING! RIGHT NOW!
Some may admire “room written” TV, but I don’t. I always wonder, “What might have been…” And movies? Come on, seriously? Do we really think the level of WRITING in movies right now is at an all-time high?
My opinion, you get what you pay for. When, for example, the movie industry values F/X, acting, and directing over writing – both philosophically and monetarily – you get movies that are well-directed, well-acted, well-production designed…
Too much in scripted entertainment is bland, bloated, and homogenized.
“Table Writing” is one of the reasons.
P.S. I’ve also discovered video games in just the last several years. I’ve played nearly every “A-release” title on the PS3. I immensely enjoy the immersion aspect and much of the gameplay, but after 3+ years of exposure, I can most definitely state (IMO, of course) that storytelling is the LEAST compelling aspect of video games. Part of it is the nature of the medium – brachiating story paths interrupted by long periods of simply staying alive – but the other culprit is just what you so eagerly propose:
Homogenized milk may help keep you going – and some people even admire the taste…
…but for me, it gets boring very quickly.
Applause for that powerful response!
Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an “attaboy” for a comment I made to a blog post.
Thank YOU, Patrice!
I agree that team-writing has its limitations. But while it might not produce great books, it will produce good books that come out fast enough to keep people hooked–at a level that a lone writer cannot replicate. When I was a kid, I was addicted for many years to the Hardy Boys. It was formulaic and team produced. And it hooked me like nothing else. Can’t see why the model won’t translate to more sophisticated adult novels. I think this is a model that will almost certainly take hold. It might even become the dominant model in some genres.
But, as I said before, I don’t think team-writing will produce great books. I’m basing this on what I see in non-fiction, which is what I mostly read these days. In my experience, series like the “Dummies” and “A Very Short Introduction” are often competent, but never rise to the level of greatness attained by a book like Bill Bryson’s “Short History of Nearly Everything”. I think that writing a book like Bryson’s requires a passion and inspiration that might be hard to find when writing to an editor’s specifications. But who knows? Hugh might prove me wrong.
Or perhaps something like open source fiction in a shared world, as being undertaken by the Self Publishing Podcast guys as part of their Kickstarter project now that they’ve reached the related stretch goal.
An interesting post from Lindsay Buroker (about a year old) looking at an author’s collective doing this very thing: http://www.lindsayburoker.com/ebook-writing/tips-for-shared-worlds-and-collaboration-between-independent-authors/
Wow, usually I’m nodding my head in agreement with your posts, Hugh, but not this one. Maybe you’re identifying too closely with New Harper Collins?
Your proposal seems like taking a page out of history wherein some fat cat robber baron of old takes the once-skilled craftsperson and deskills them, making them into a Ford assembly line worker screwing in a thousand rivets a day, doing piecework or wage slavery so Mr. Ford can make his millions.
Instead, I agree with Todd – I’m all for collaborating on a shared IP among a group of authors — in fact, I was almost at the point of suggesting it to a group of indie authors I hang out with and with whom I have collaborated with in a collection.
Indie authors are just now getting out from under the yoke of publishers and other middlemen who have been profiting off our ideas and stories. We are now becoming artist-entrepreneurs in a big way. While having a steady income might be appealing to those writers who are not yet able to make a living off writing, writers shouldn’t be lured into becoming employees vs. independent publishers. We shouldn’t go backwards and become indentured serfs. Artists come up with great ideas and stories. We are not interchangeable parts of the production process. We should be the ones who benefit from those ideas, not some amoral corporation. :)
Oh, and I want to add that my brother in law worked on a television show as a writer, writing a weekly series that was quite popular in its time and it was hell! He had to go on anti-anxiety meds after he started having panic attacks. The pressure to produce was excruciating. The pay was great but it wasn’t by any means secure as he worked on a contract basis. They had a show bible that they had to follow and so the creativity they were able to express was bounded by a set of ideas and overarching story and characters they didn’t create. Having written six novels and a novella and making my living as an indie author, that kind of life is not my idea of a great job. Some may enjoy it but they may not be the typical author-type.
I think this is a great idea. I often envied authors of tie-in novels. I find world-building and character development very difficult, so being able to start a novel with all of that done would be a dream. A lot of authors in this thread find it restrictive, but I disagree. Think of the shared world as being more like moving into a finished house versus having to build the house yourself. Or think of it as a toolbox. I think of my favorite shows like Doctor Who or Star Wars, and would love to play with those tools of rich characters (like the Doctor and Han Solo) and exciting settings (like the TARDIS and Tattooine). If I could join a shared world I loved, I think I’d be at home.
Also, as an author I would love to own my own IP, but if I could write my own original work while working on existing properties, I’d be pretty happy
I think that app developers and video game designers came to this a little while ago. Like most things there will be successes and failures.
At a couple of the startups I worked for the CEO/President had a great idea but he hired a team of developers to build the product. The early developers received a share of the business as part of their compensation. The team worked together to build the product (world) and the company owned the rights. The products evolved and morphed and grew but it was all based on the work of that original team.
I like the idea of thinking of a fiction world as a start-up. Much like in the acquisition rich high tech market the payoff could come in either wild success or having your IP acquired by a trade publisher or entertainment company.
I can see the good and the bad in this idea. There is so much potential for creating amazing works in the same universe that will appeal to all sorts of people, bringing in lots of happy readers and satisfying a desire many of us have for multiple stories in the same world. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is really an excellent example, and they’ve done good work with Harry Potter, too. I don’t know anyone my age not insanely excited about “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
I would love to let others explore the world I’m creating for the science fiction series I’m writing, but of course I want to have creative supervision. You only have to watch the lukewarm, badly-written “Agents of Shield” and hear from Clark Gregg how many cooks are in the kitchen demanding the network be satisfied on certain things, to see how corporate control can really ruin what might have been a good story. (Yeah, it got better, but the writing is still so very first draft, and there are so many other problems I can’t even begin to go over them here.) A publishing company will do the same thing, and it will, for some worlds, be the same sort of weak, race/sexism-reinforcing least common denominator of unseasoned fare. I’m not writing for the masses, I’m writing for a little group of people who want and need my books.
I want to be the sort of author, though, who asks for and welcomes fiction from other writers in my universe. No one will want to do that unless the original work is good, but that’s my job, anyway! Maybe the first series will become popular enough that I can actually deal with this exciting idea. I would want to be able have input, though, and I’m never going to be in it for the money.
And have you all just agreed not to say “fanfiction?” Because that’s what this is, basically, plus a lack of personal, emotional devotion and the presence of dollar signs. You know there are thousands of incredibly skilled fanfiction writers who are already doing this in universes they like, for free. It has been going on for centuries upon centuries (not the internet part, of course, but fanfiction), and it will continue outside of, and in spite of, these kinds of “officially sanctioned” IPs.
[…] Howey wrote a post on his blog last week which talked about the value and nascent success of some publishers who are creating […]
This is a discussion about money. I wrote television movies in LA for 15 years and had 18 scripts produced. I sat through hundreds of story meetings with countless committees, mostly smart, creative, powerful people that I enjoyed working with. But I never confused this part of the process with writing. This part of the process was about money–how to make the material as widely commercial as it could possibly be. In spite of everyone’s best intentions, it was the rare script that didn’t have a percentage of its life washed down the drain during the bath. No doubt there’s a kind of creative juice in play to write stories, assigned and designed, to make massive piles of money, but for many writers, especially self-published novelists, money isn’t the prime motivator. I write funny books to make people laugh and because I love to write them. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of corporate writing, but let’s not confuse the Marvel model with the creation of independent, creative, self-published dreams. You know how hard it is to power up after work when you sit at your desk to write your book? It’s not less hard if your day job is sitting in a room getting paid by Disney. Great comments, everyone. I’m always impressed with the smarts in this forum. Thanks, Hugh, for making me reply here. Awesome, as always.
An intriguing idea you have :).
Several start-up suggestions:
1) Assemble a team of founding writers (say half a dozen) and form a legal entity (corporation, LLC, etc.) with designated officers. Officers (who can also be writers) are compensated for level of effort (if it takes 10 hours of work/week to oversee the business, you are paid for 10 hours, no more, no less).
2) The assembled team of writers work together to brainstorm several richly detailed worlds with accompanying novels, short stories, etc. and a publishing schedule.
3) Execute the publishing schedule with an agreement in place that part of the royalties will pay the writers for their continuing efforts while the rest goes into savings.
4) After a pre-determined period of time (say 1 to 3 years), enough savings will be available to pay existing/new writers a flat fee/wage for new projects. Royalties will no longer be paid.
5) Legal entity with designated officers continues to oversee the business and the development of existing/new worlds as writers are “hired” to work on various projects.
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[…] Howey wrote a post on his blog last week which talked about the value and nascent success of some publishers who are creating […]