I hear a consistent gripe from friends when it comes to doing work for hire: they don’t get to tell the story they want to tell. Whether it’s comics, ghost-written prose, or media tie-ins and novelizations, the content owner has the ultimate say in what does and doesn’t see print.
I’m having a similar problem with the project I’m writing right now. My first draft took the story one direction, and I felt pretty good about it. Then the rewrites came, and I had to do some extensive revision because my plot didn’t jive with the editor’s. I didn’t have a complete outline to work from, so I didn’t have a a solid idea of the project’s vision before plotting it all out.
You know what? I was okay with that.
The whole idea behind work for hire is it’s not my project to begin with. My job is to match the editor’s vision, or at least stay within the constraints he gives me. Period. I can offer advice and opinion, and they can take it or leave it, as fits the work. This applies whether we’re talking a small indie publisher or one of the Big Two. Even the popular guys who sell a ton of books for DC and Marvel can only go so far, and they know it. They may have earned a little more trust and leeway, but a Superman story still has to be a Superman story.
So I dove in and made the changes my editor asked for. It stung a little, but the paycheck soothed the pain.
What it comes down to is deciding whether the direction a project is headed should still have the writer’s name on it. If a writer can’t live with the changes he’s contracted to make, it’s not time to draw a line in the sand. If he’s made his case, he should either accept the editorial response or walk away. I’m fortunate I’m not in that situation, but I’ve seen others have to make the tough decision to break away from an editor (especially when that decision is complicated by the politics of getting more work or not). It’s part of the business.
This is why it’s not uncommon to see guys sticking with creator-owned work despite the costs and effort required to get a new project off the ground. Contracted work keeps the lights on and puts food on the table, but the ultimate goal for most creators is to set out on their own. This is where the potential for real money is, especially in the long term. More importantly, it’s also where we find creative satisfaction.
In the meantime, we put our heads down, do the work, and keep the lights on. It will pay off.