Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Author AWOL

I’ve published about 75 books and my name is properly on the cover of about 73 of them.

In my first years as an author, I wrote quite a few work-for-hire books. Educational publishers would develop a series (on, say, animals or countries) and divvy up the titles among multiple writers. They’d email me a list of the available topics and I’d choose the ones that most appealed, but often, the overarching subject was not a particular passion. It was a chance to get paid to write, which was closer to my goal than getting paid to do something in an office.

Authors do not tend to read work-for-hire contracts as carefully as contracts in which we will be retaining ownership rights. Therefore, I did not know that I was agreeing to an undesirable credit situation until the book came out…and this happened two times.

The first instance was with a book published in 2005. I wrote a humorous yet practical guide called How to Do a Belly Flop, which was a companion to a book that I was not involved in, How to Give a Wedgie.

 
Did anyone not write this book?

One of the authors of Wedgie was David Borgenicht, who also co-authored the massively successful Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series. So the publishers of Belly Flop wanted to take marketing advantage of that name (and his brother’s, who apparently co-authored Wedgie).

I understand it. I just didn’t like being blindsided with not one but two names under mine on the cover of a book I wrote all by myself. But unlike Bill Finger, I was at least able to say that my name was there.

The second instance was with two short novels published in 2009:




This case was a bit more galling because the name plastered on the cover was not even a real person. “Jake Maddox” was a pseudonym created for a large set of sports and adventure novels (written by various authors) so they would be shelved together.

My name is on the title page of these two books, but the wording rankled me. 



It doesn’t say “story by” but rather “text by,” which sounds mechanical, not creative. I realize the editor was trying to distinguish from the implied “written by,” but it sounds like I was the guy who typed in someone else’s words. As with Belly Flop, at least I am credited, but I wonder how young readers make sense of seeing both the mysterious Maddox and my name on the title page.

And now as I recount this, I’m vaguely remembering that the contracts for these two books actually may not have stated the possibility of assigning credit elsewhere, meaning even if I read them, I’d have been surprised when the books came out…but since I no longer have my copies of the contracts, I can’t doublecheck.

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