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Who owns your favourite character? Author vs Reader

Posted May 8, 2013 by

‘If “books are the windows to the world” as they say, then their pages are the magic carpets that lead us there.’ - EDEWEDE ORIWOH

‘If “pages are the magic carpets” as they say, then e-readers are the fabric of the magic.’ - ANONYMOUS KINDLE USER

‘Ereaders are great. Ebooks are great. Buy Momentum ebooks.’ - ANONYMOUS MOMENTUM PUBLISHER

Does an author have exclusive rights to the world they have created in their book, or series of books? Would you say intellectual property trumps the captured imagination of the fans? Can an author really ‘Lucas’ their franchise with sequels, reboots adaptations or revised editions to fulfil their fantasy, just because they had the idea in the first place? Or does the world, once set loose into the public domain, belong to the readers as much as the writer?

 

BREAKING NEWS: George Lucas now can be used as a verb

BREAKING NEWS: George Lucas now can be used as a verb

You can apply this train of thought not just to books, but across all mainstream entertainment media. This is from the Star Wars Special Editions to The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, to all the movie sequels that should never, ever have been made, and can never be undone. Many a time have millions cried out in terror, their voices suddenly tweeting a lot of complaints.

I tip my hat to authors. Family homes, cities, countries, worlds, even galaxies beckon for you to inhabit them and go on incredible journeys of wonder, gore, sex, technology, action, suspense, intrigue, and ‘OMG no way!’  They can be epic or intimate in scope, with events that can span a day, year, decade or even a century. They are the ones who take us on these sojourns of emotion.

A typical author sheds blood, sweat and tears in the creation of their work: tears from the struggle of getting a publisher; sweat from being told they have to work out how to use Twitter to help promote their book; and blood from smashing the keyboard after reading their first bad review. However, does an author’s role as ‘creator’ automatically mean they trump the rights of the reader?

Try to count the hours an author may spend imagining their world, dwelling on the characters and talking about their plot bunnies incessantly to their partners. What about all the writing, rewriting, re-rewriting, the endless struggle to get a publisher, having a mental breakdown that involves copious chocolate and/or alcohol, then somehow finally landing a deal? After all that there is that little thing called the publishing process to go through and all the marketing (read: tweeting) that goes into promoting the book once the text is finalised. The hours stack up. How long did it take you to read the latest instalment in your favourite series, and how do you think that compares to the length of time invested by the author? Unless you’re an epically slow reader, you’ll end up losing.

An author can take a year or more writing a book – six or seven if your last name is ‘Martin’. I may read that new book I’ve been waiting for in a day, over a weekend or up to a fortnight, depending on its length and how much time I have. One-on-one the author wins, right? Of course. The author has spent far longer on their work, no matter how dedicated I am to the series.

Like I said, one-on-one.

Whether you are thinking of a franchise spread over multiple mediums with a large and fervent fan base, or your more typical author who still has thousands of readers per book, the hours quickly sway from favouring the writer to the readers.

So, does the author of a book have exclusive rights? Does intellectual property trump the captured imagination of the fans?

Let’s look at a book-orientated example. You can barely open the internet without seeing a reference to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Whether it’s hating Joffrey or loving Daenerys, this nerdy series of books about medieval-like lords and ladies fighting for an iron chair with direwolves, dragons and ice-zombies thrown in the mix has captured pop culture imagination after being realised in television form. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is the latest fantasy franchise to cash in on the ‘once-geek now-mainstream’ trend. While some fans of the first season may have mistaken the show for porn’s answer to endless complaints of lousy acting, low production values and flat storylines, the HBO show has unsurprisingly sky-rocketed sales of the books. New trade paperbacks and mass market formats, including those with covers to match the show, are everywhere, not to mention the Enhanced Ebook editions.

Sean Bean being a sport on the front cover

Sean Bean being a sport on the front cover

So what does Game of Thrones have to do with reader rights versus author rights? Well, quite a lot. George R.R. Martin not only gave HBO his blessing, but is a co-executive producer and writes at least one episode per season. It’s fair to say Martin enjoys a reasonable amount of influence steering the direction of the show. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss also fill in the role of ‘writers’ in this context. This begs the question (from me, at least), what about the readers?

Skip the next paragraph if you are not up to date with Season 3 Episode 2 of Thrones, otherwise keep reading.

On a case by case basis, you may get convincing answers from HBO as to why Kahleesi’s visions in the House of the Undying were replaced by the ones featured in the TV show, or why Peter Dinklage didn’t lose more of his face in the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and so on. I’m happy to let Peter keep his nose, so I’ll let that one slide, but the visions? I would like to have seen them. Everyone will have different nitpicks they are willing to concede, or for which they are deeply upset. I’m largely lenient towards changes in the show as I appreciate a lot of stuff on the page would not work on screen as well as what HBO decided to do. The showrunners have also given nods to the fans: Cersei says she heard Tyrion had lost his nose, acknowledging the difference between the book and the show; and Gendry criticises Arya for not spending one of Jaqen H’ghar’s kills on King Joffrey or Tywin Lannister. The latter is a conversation never seen in the books, but a common fan reaction. To me, this indicates that Benioff, Weiss and Martin are listening and engaging with the readers to create the best adaptation they can.

Do the readers get a say in the Thrones adaptation? Of course not, there are far too many differences of opinion for HBO to conform to, and why should they? So far HBO have shown they not only understand make good television, they understand the books as well. If anything, Benioff and Weiss represent the readers, and are our voice in ensuring the characters we have come to love – or pray that they die – are treated with respect. They were fans of the series before the show came into being, after all. It may not be absolutely perfect in the eyes each individual, but for most, it will be pretty damn close.

nudity-sex-flirt-game-of-thrones-tv-ecards-someecards

If you find Martin’s books too gargantuan to tackle, or just think boobs are far better on the screen than on paper, there are plenty more examples. The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings have all shared some criticism on how they have been adapted to film. They have also enjoyed a lot of fan adoration, from both readers and filmgoers-only. I chose Game of Thrones as my main example, though, as George R.R. Martin has a constant, active presence in the writing room, exercising his ‘author rights’. J.K. Rowling exercised some for Harry Potter, but loosened the reigns after the first couple of films, or at least that’s how it seemed.

Hunger Games

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Have you read the books too? What do you think of the show as an adaptation? Have your say in the comments below.

Have I picked a fair example with Game of Thrones, or is the fact the TV show has received such high critical acclaim make the changes in the adaptation ‘acceptable’? Is a critically unsuccessful but ‘true’ adaptation a failure? Can you think of any examples?

In terms of ‘reader rights’ being respected in adaptations like Game of Thrones, I think we will have to hold our breath and pray to the Old Gods and the New. Can we make a practical difference? Not likely. Does that render readers’ combined hours of love, dedication and eyestrain as obsolete? Not to me. Then does no power come with no responsibility? I suppose so, but it doesn’t take away my sense of entitlement.

What do you think about the rights of authors vs the rights of readers? Are we sentenced to just watch whatever may happen to our favourite books with no say?

 

Alex Lloyd is an editorial assistant at Pan Macmillan Australia. He interned briefly at Momentum before Pan snapped him up for full time employment. You can follow Alex on twitter at @AlexDNLloyd

Dark Child Episode 4

If you’re a fan of consuming culture episodically you might like to try Adina West‘s Dark Child series. Find them here.

Confessions of a Publishing Intern Part II: I Didn’t Know Money Was Real

Posted June 21, 2012 by

From March to May this year I was a publishing intern at Pan Macmillan Australia and Momentum Books. I debunked the myth of intern slave labour  purported by the media. I was looked after, gained insights into the publishing industry, taught skills I’d need for an editing career, and given invaluable contacts.

I interned as a part of my Communications studies at UTS for credit points towards my degree. My tutor was blown away with my portfolio submission of all the work I’d done. So, was that the end of my stint in the publishing world? Had my hours of unpaid experience been limited to helping my uni degree, with no chance of furthering my career?

It turned out to be just the beginning.

The stupendous Editorial Assistant at Pan Macmillan, who had been managing a lot of my work during the internship, was going on maternity leave and a fifteen month contract was advertised. Joel Naoum brought it to my attention and told me to go for it. I applied at the start of May. A month later I’m called in for an interview. The next business day, I was formally offered the job.

There is no question that my experience at Pan Macmillan made it all possible. Without the chance to show my skills and prove my suitability to the team, I would just be another applicant. The internship gave me the skills and connections to realise the dream; I’ve begun a career in the publishing industry. I start next Monday.

In my last blog, I touted all the fun I was having as an intern. Writing a follow-up entry to say I’ve gone from interning to paid work feels like a dream. So get out there, and give yourselves up as slave labour. You never know where it will lead.

 

Follow Alex on twitter at @AlexDNLloyd.

Confessions of a Publishing Intern

Posted April 30, 2012 by

I’m an intern at Pan Macmillan and Momentum Books. Am I being abused, exploited and treated like slave labour? If you read Clay Lucas’ article in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 11, you may be worried for my wellbeing.

I’m studying Communications at the University of Technology, Sydney, and elected to undertake professional placement in my third year.

The pros?

  • Credit points that go towards my degree
  • An extra line on the resume
  • Contacts
  • Taking a step towards realising my dream of working in the arts industry. For money.

The cons?

  • Potential torture.

Was I doomed to a semester of slavery? Would I find myself becoming a Barista Master for my publishing overlords? Should I have taken it as an ill omen when I saw my desk was the closest one to the photocopier?

Not a chance.

I’m writing this on my seventh day of the internship. I’m counting down the days until it’s over, but not out of anticipation. I don’t want it to end.

I’ve read through dozens of first chapter submissions for unsolicited manuscripts and edited page proofs of books nearly ready for printing. I went with a sales rep on the road to bookstores to promote upcoming titles to the owners. I’ve helped decide the fate of books. Those are just the highlights.

At the end of my first day, I turned to the assistant editors sitting in the desks next to me. I said, in my most awestruck tone, “you get paid to do this?” – they smiled, lucky and knowing it.

I haven’t been a filing grunt, a photocopy slave or a coffee waiter. The staff have taken great efforts to teach me. I’m regularly asked if I’m enjoying myself, if I’m learning. They even apologised if things were boring. I was speechless at that question. I was asked to photocopy a manuscript last week. They’re still apologising to me about it.

For all those out there dying for a way into your chosen field, don’t despair. The word “internship” isn’t a euphemism for slavery. You can find unpaid work that gives you invaluable experience and teaches you about your desired industry. No, I’m not been held at gunpoint to write this either.

So don’t be afraid of an internship. Give it a go. You might just find yourself having as much fun as I am.