“I really loved that book. When are you going to write a sequel?”
People ask me that question all the time. I hear it from fans at conventions, in email, and on Facebook and other social networking sites. So, when will I write a sequel to that book you love? Here’s the sad-but-honest answer:
I’m probably never going to write a sequel to that book you love. I may want to write a sequel. I may love the characters and setting and everything about the original book. I may even have a great idea for a sequel, but chances are it’s just not going to happen. Why? What could keep a writer (like me) from doing a sequel to a popular book? The fact that the original book was a work-for-hire project.
Work-for-hire is the contract system under which most authors write those cool-tie in novels — from Iron Man to Dragonlance to Legend of the Five Rings to Spider Riders to whatever. Basically, it means that anything we create in the course of writing that book belongs not to the the authors, but to the company that owns the property/character/project in question.
Now, though fans may not like it, in some cases this makes perfect sense. After all, when I was doing the Iron Man movie adaptation, it would be kind of crazy for Marvel to let me walk off with the rights to Tony Stark or Iron Man or Pepper. (Even though, if I do my job right in an adaptation, by the time I’m done, I’ve invested myself in every portion of the story and really feel like I “own” it.) We all know that Stan & Jack (and Larry & Don, etc.) created Iron Man and company. Though, ironically, under work-for-hire rules, Stan & co. don’t own those characters, either — Marvel does.
But, even if the case of Iron Man seems clear to you — it’s pretty clear who’s playing in whose sandbox, as it were — other cases are not so obvious. Suppose I create a story for Catworld (yes, I’m making that up), and though I set my story in Catworld I create all the characters and story situations from the ground up. I create the hero, the villain, the city, a bunch of minor characters and even some new cat-technology and such. It’s all original, right out of my brain and onto the page. Surely that stuff is mine.
Nope. Under work-for-hire, I don’t get to own any of that. It doesn’t matter how cool the character is or how much the fans like it, or the fact that it had never been done before in all of Catworld history. Under work-for-hire, even if I create all that stuff from whole cloth, I still have no control over the fate of any of it. It doesn’t belong to me because I signed my rights to that work away when I signed the work-for-hire contract and took the money. Most authors know what they’re giving up when they sign a work-for-hire agreement, but most authors like to eat, too.
Sadly, sometimes having money for food means giving up the rights some of your favorite “children.”
So, I’m sorry if I won’t be writing your favorite L5R or Dragonlance character again. Chances are I’d like to, but it’s not up to me. You could write to the publisher, start a petition, and ask them to have me write another book in the series. There’s a remote chance that might work. But I have a better idea (both for me, and for other authors in my position):
Support our creator-owned work.
Even if I never write another Dragon Isles story, I can always write stories set in the Blue Kingdoms — and if you like Mik Vardan and his mates, you’ll probably like Ali al Shahar and the crew of the Starcutter. If you like Catriona, you might like Crimson or my upcoming character Snowraven. Fans of my Mage Knight work will likely enjoy the Coralshell Sisters.
For every character locked in work-for-hire limbo by a huge corporation, there’s another just-as-good character owned by the creator. After all, isn’t that how Image Comics started? It’s why Jean Rabe and I started the Blue Kingdoms, too: so writers (like us) could do their best work and take it home afterward.
So, that’s what I’m doing: working on my own stuff. (It’s what Jean and a lot of your other favorite authors are doing, too.) And it’s very cool. Please give some of our “less famous” characters and stories a try — either in print or electronically. I guarantee you’ll like what you find. After all, that’s what my slogan “Adventure guaranteed. (Monsters optional.)” stands for — good stories, every time.
And while you’re thinking of it, why not sign up for my free newsletter? Thanks!