BANTAM's STAR WARS Authors "Forced" into a Corner!
by Amanda Palumbo
Acting on news from the Web, Amanda Palumbo uncovers the Dark Side as she learned that Bantam is being not so nice to it's STAR WARS authors. Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America President Michael Capobianco, STAR WARS authors Kevin J. Anderson Barbara Hambly, A.C. Crispin and Steve Perry share their thoughts on the company's decision to offer flat fees for STAR WARS novels rather than royalties. On the other side of fence: author Michael Stackpole says why he made the decision he did, to write under the new contract.
SFWA President Michael Capobianco
" When hype rules, as it does in Hollywood, real content has no value. Since STAR WARS has enormous hype potential, the perception is that the content of the books doesn't matter, and thus they can get away with their flat fee scheme..." Capobianco on publishers &booksellers views on book content.
What specifically prompted Bantam to alter their standard author contact?
Michael Capobianco: "Although we have no way of knowing exactly why Bantam made their decision, we presume that it was caused by the last round of negotiations between Bantam and LucasFilm. LucasFilm apparently increased its share of the STAR WARS novel revenue to the point where Bantam had to find some way to make up the difference. At the moment, the decision only affects their STAR WARS franchise novels."
I understand that a round table addressing this problem occurred at the recent World Con.
"The general consensus at the World Con SFWA meeting was that the Bantam decision was alarming, represents a dangerous precedent, and that the SFWA should do all it can to protest."
Michael Stackpole has indicated he intends to 'cross picket lines', so to speak.
"Michael Stackpole is a valued member of the SFWA, and has volunteered in a number of ways for the organization. I have no doubt that his decision to sign the new contract was based on his personal, and financial analysis of the deal. As you may know, the flat fee being offered by Bantam is a large one, and represents considerably more than most of our members would make for original SF or Fantasy novel. Many I'm sure, would be tempted, but would prefer to receive royalties, if given an option."
Have newer authors been approached on this controversy?
"Newer authors who in general, have less knowledge of what it means to be a career writer, might very well not understand the principals involved. However, I see no split between the newer and established writers on this issue."
Last Fall, both Business Week and the New York Times had published articles regarding the ailing book industry. One of the top corporate complaints were bloated 'super author' contracts, forcing them to skimp on others' advertising budgets. Your reaction to this charge?
"Book publishing is indeed in bad shape, and many people think it's headed for a fall. Part of the problem is that the "mid-list authors"-those who consistently sell a lot of books, but are not superstars, are being pushed out the game by the number crunchers at both the publisher and bookseller ends. Ironically, the people who decide what books get into the stores are not readers, so they have no way of knowing a good book from a bad except the cover and the hype. When hype rules, as it does in Hollywood, real content has no value. Since STAR WARS has enormous hype potential, the perception is that the content of the books doesn't matter, and thus they can get away with their flat fee scheme. In this case, LucasFilm is getting the money, by some accounts as much as 20%, and the authors a pittance. Advertising budgets for most SF and Fantasy books have always been minimal, so I don't believe that this has anything to do with the problem."
Shouldn't other authors join the effort to protect their interest as a collective before other corporations follow suit?
"I should point out that there is NO boycott. SFWA will be doing everything it can to discourage Bantam from continuing this disastrous policy, but an author boycott is not a practical option. SFWA is not a union."
What can we, the SF reading public do to aid the SFWA's efforts?
"Readers who care about this issue can and should write to both Bantam books and LucasFilm. Tell them how they feel. They can also refuse to purchase the books that will be written for flat fees. Also, readers can make contributions to the SFWA Legal Fund, which is used to protect the rights of authors, and ultimately, the quality of the books they produce. Checks made out to the SFWA Legal Fund can be sent to: PO Box 171, Unity ME 04988 USA."
Author Kevin J. Anderson
Mr. Anderson has many things on his plate; as STAR WARS fans know, he's written successful trilogies, co-authored the Young Jedi Knights series, wrote several SW Jedi comics for DARK HORSE and has taken up finding the truth with his best selling X-FILES novels for Harper Collins. Kevin summed up his views on the SW/Bantam scenario in two brief statements."These particular contracts aren't really the issue. Authors have already signed up for them, and I doubt very much that there is any way to change them. I'm just worried that it will stay this way for all sorts of books."
Kevin does state the following the future of his SW contributions. "Both my wife and I will not be writing any more SW novels under the Flat Fee Contracts, however we will continue to write the paperback Young and Junior Jedi series."
Author Steve Perry
Author Steve Perry took the time to talk with us about this situation with Bantam, and his STAR WARS books.
How do you feel about Bantam's policy regarding flat fee contracts for STAR WARS license authors?
Steve Perry: "I have mixed feelings about it. When Bantam renegotiated the licensing agreement with Lucasfilm recently the amount they had to pay for the license to do books went up. Bantam's reasoning seems to be that since it is costing them an arm and a leg now, some changes needed to be made to keep the series profitable for them. Overall sales of the novels have declined since Zahn's first book hit #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list. Bantam's idea is to guess what the books will do sales wise, and pay writers a flat fee roughly equivalent to that. If the books do a little better, then Bantam wins. If they do worse, Bantam loses.
"The numbers involved get convoluted, but basically Bantam is saying 'Look, we figure this book will sell x number of copies over a certain period, and if you got royalties, you'd earn x amount, so we'll give you that up front.' Now obviously, it is a better deal for them on some level money-wise, or they wouldn't do it. Here's an example: the first STAR WARS novel, ghosted by Alan Dean Foster for George Lucas, is in it's 55th printing. That's a lot of books.
"On the SFWA side, there is a worry that such a deal will set a precedent and that shared universe work will all become flat fee, (flat fee work in publishing and other media has been around for a long time, and I suspect it will survive any legal challenge. Independent contractor status has a set of criteria, and freelance writing meets them).
So when you write a book in somebody's universe, it takes off and makes millions for the publisher and licensor, you don't get any of it. That hardly seems fair.
I suspect if Bantam offered the deal as an either/or proposition, many--if not most--writers would go for the flat fee anyhow. Here's the deal, Bubba: one paperback/ a fifteen thousand dollar advance, and a two percent royalty or a flat forty thousand dollar fee, half on sign, half on delivery. Which do you want? The numbers on the former. Man, you are to have to sell a lot of books to earn out. Hundreds of thousands for a paperback, hundreds of thousands more to get up the 40K. And you have to wait a year. or two. or five to get the money. A lot of writers would take the cash up front for what amounts to maybe four months work. Ten grand a month is not a bad stipend, and it is, after all, George Lucas' universe. And if the book tanks the writer loses.
"Me, I'd take the risk because I have great confidence in my abilities, but that's me. Bantam isn't offering a choice. For some books, the long term money is going to be better. Personally, I have no problem with anybody who wants to take the flat fee. When the wolf is at the door, and you need to pay your rent and buy food, whatever you have to do, you do. I've written my own stuff for a lot less. If my organization kicks anybody out for taking the deal, I will resign from it PDQ (such an action would be immoral, and I suspect illegal). On the other hand, I won't work for the new terms because, quite frankly, I am doing better elsewhere. Why would I take less money for the same amount of work?
The flat fees here are considerable, more than most mid-list genre writers will earn from their own stuff. Certainly more than the average advance for a new-list novelist, probably by a factor of about ten. Although new writers won't have a shot at it anyhow. It's a buyer's market and they have a long list of pros from which to choose."
Rumor has it that authors are boycotting Bantam contracts.
"I don't know of any Bantam writers who are doing so. I believe this would be stupid in the extreme. Bantam has been very good to me. Why would I shoot myself in the foot."
and prevent the spread of this policy?
"We aren't going to quit writing over this flap. Some of the SW writers won't go back to doing STAR WARS, but largely that's because they can make better money elsewhere."
Author A.C. Crispin
A.C. Crispin author of the Han Solo trilogy gives her views on the Bantam situation, and writing in the STAR WARS universe.
About the Flat Fees that Bantam is offering it's STAR WARS authors, Anne has this to say. "The problem here as I see it is that it's just a done deal; it's a flat offer, no negotiation. Personally, I'd rather stake my abilities as a writer who cares about her work. Who puts a lot of time, effort and research into producing the very best tie in book I can, and get a negotiated contract for a small advance and royalty so I would not feel 'just like a hired hand'. I want a stake in how well my books sell. I'd write one of these books for $10,000 if there was a royalty."
Of course, that would be the best for everyone, but unfortunately Lucasfilm is doing this for their own gain as well. "From what I understand and this is hearsay , well I know for a fact that Lucasfilm and Bantam had to renegotiate their contract just before all this started. And what we'd been told, through the grapevine and Bantam, that Lucasfilm wanted a whole lot more. So, Bantam went looking for a way to recoup what they had wanted. Did they immediately think, 'Oh, we'll pay the printers less?' We'll pay the men who drive the trucks less?' Of course not. They said 'We'll take it from the writers. It's probably the easiest thing to do because after all, writers are individuals, just sitting in their little houses. They aren't organized, we won't go up against the Teamsters (union) if we try to do this...'
It seems as if Bantam is not paying attention to the readers; their fan reaction is what makes or breaks a book. Anne's work has been embraced by the SW fans. "I've gotten a very good fan reaction on my books so far, lauding me for doing the research necessary to tie all these loose ends together, to write Han for everybody from all these varied hints, statements, brief schemes...from old time comic books, multiple novels, role playing game books, movies, audio dramatizations. In order to do these books, it took me six months of research to tie it all together well enough so I could do these books in a way that the fans really would respond to."
STAR WARS isn't the only universe that Anne has written in, she created her own. "I have collaborated with a half a world", she laughs. "Including Andre Norton (Songsmith, Gryphon's Eyrie) and other people. So it's not just writing, it's the research time, "Crispin repeats. "And in the SW universe, you have it on good authority that it takes 6 months of intense prepping to be as cognizant of the SW universe as you need to be to do these books. I've actually had compliments from Lucasfilm on how well I'd conducted my research. When you add the right kinds of ability, and the research time-that's the flat fee $60,000 for a hardcover, mine are paperback,I would have gotten $40,000 per book.
The other thing is royalties to a writer-especially in the SW universe, where it can be expected to stay in print well into the next millennium-is like saying 'We've decided to take away your retirement fund. We're gonna give you your money now, plan on retiring on it.' If people wanted the flat fee, and I suspect if Bantam were to offer the choice of either a low advance plus a royalty or the flat fee, they'd get what they wanted. 90% of the writers would be unable to resist grabbing that huge flat fee. But the fact that we have no choice is discouraging."
Still, despite the latest wrinkle in how SW authors are treated, Anne is very proud of her contribution to the SW universe. "I'm thrilled and honored to be the author who writes Han's past".
A.C. Crispin Book list
ALIEN RESURRECTION Novelization
STAR TREK: Yesteray's Son
STAR TREK:TNG:Eyes of the Beholder
STAR WARS: The Han Solo Trilogy Originals:
STARBRIDGE: Silent Dances,
STARBRIDGE: Serpents Gift,
STARBRIDGE: Silent Song w/Andre Norton (WITCHWORLD series): SONGSMITHS and GRYPHON'S EYRIE.
Author Barbara Hambly
Barbara Hambly is a prolific author whose work in the SF and Fantasy spans at least six different series, she may be best known for her STAR WARS and STAR TREK works, but her original works are something quite special. In addition she's hopped over to the mystery genre as well. In the middle of leapfrogging from one universe to another, Ms. Hambly took the time out from her schedule to speak to PO! about the Bantam controversy and her many characters and worlds.
On the Bantam flat fee deal Barbara had this to say. "The 'flat fee' controversy with Bantam, is something I don't feel able to give a lot of details about, but I can say that I am pretty appalled at any publishing house establishing a policy of not paying royalties to authors for their work," Hambly thus elaborates. "It bothers me because it treats the STAR WARS novels as 'product', and, by extension, it treats the STAR WARS fans as 'product' also. Other franchises have made this mistake. Trying to do things on the cheap, and in many cases it didn't take too long for the fans to catch on and quit buying. Simply because the quality of the books declined. On the purely practical side, it simply would not be worth my while to write a novel for no royalties. However, since there's no guarantee that Bantam is always going to hold the licensing franchise for the SW universe, I'm certainly not going to say we've seen or heard the last of Callista or Roganda or anyone else."
In addition to SW, Barbara's many universes are being expanded upon. In particular the fine Darwath Realm series "I'm glad you enjoy the Darwath series. Having just finished the fifth of those books the people are still very much in my mind. From the time I wrote The Time of the Dark, I intended to do a book just about the Icefalcon. Some of the events of Mother of Winter triggered ideas for a story in which he'd be the central character. Actually, Icefalcon shares the spotlight with Prince Tir, who is seven at the time of the book, which takes place 2 years after Mother of Winter.
" Tir is kidnapped, through magical chicanery; Rudy, Gil and the Icefalcon set out after the kidnappers. One of whom is able, through wizardry, to injure Rudy very badly, (Ingold is away from the Keep at the time). Since there's a blizzard coming on and the baddies are getting away Gil takes Rudy back to the Keep and Icefalcon has to continue the pursuit alone. The baddies head down into the plains. Where the White Raiders dwell (the Icefalcons' people-whom he left when he was 17- and who, he knows, will kill him if he returns)."
Barbara says she's had great fun writing Icefalcons' quest. "I love Icefalcon and I got a chance to write about his sister, Cold Death. To go further into the histories of the Time Before. Gil and the rest of the folk back at the Keep play a part in the overall story (though poor Rudy spends most of the book unconscious and flat on his back), but Ingold comes in at the end with a solution to the riddle," the author explains. "Mostly, I loved writing about the Icefalcon, the White Raiders and Tir who is turning into one of my favorite characters from the whole series. There's not much a 7 year old can do in the circumstances, but he's a very gutsy little kid."
One that caught mine and especially Kim's eye in Mother of Winter was the use of this image recalled by Mage Solis:"Fictitious fighters against Antarctic alien intruders had used a hot wire and samples of everyone's blood." yes it's The THING and Barbara explains the inspiration. "As for the reference to the hot wire and blood samples, I wasn't talking about Carpenter's remake of the THING (which I consider an abomination, and an insult to one of the best SF films ever made), but rather to the novella on which both films were based "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell (or Don Stuart which was his pseudonym). DO NOT READ THIS NOVELLA AFTER DARK, OR WHEN YOU ARE ALONE IN THE HOUSE. It is way cool."
Besides more with Icefalcon, Barbara reveals other tales she's working on. "In addition to writing fantasy, I'm now working on a series of historical murder-mysteries set in New Orleans in the 1830s. My next book after Icefalcon's Quest will be the second of the New Orleans mysteries, Fever Season (involved with an actual crime that took place in 1834). The manuscript I am currently working on is Dragonshadow. The further adventures of John Aversin, Jenny Waynest and Morkeleb the Black. I'm going to be alternating mysteries and fantasies as the rate of one each per year, for (I hope) the foreseeable future. I'm also going to be collaborating on a novel with Marc Scott Zicree (author of the Twilight Zone Companion and prolific TV writer)."
Barbara assures us that Antryg and Joanna from the Silicon Mage will reappear too somewhere down the line. "Antryg and Joanna? Of course! But the problem is that having launched about seven series now, I can only get back to any one of them every couple of years (except for the New Orleans books which are a different genre). The upside is, of course that I don't ever get bored with any one series, or tell everything there is to know about any one gang of characters. Antryg's still tending bar in Studio City, while pissed-off mages search the Cosmos for him; that 's all I know for now. I'd just like to end by saying thank you one and all for reading my books. I'm dearly glad you enjoy them."
Author Michael Stackpole
Michael Stackpole gives us his frank opinion on the Bantam situation, and talks about his contributions to the STAR WARS literary universe.
"Above and beyond the money stuff, I'm writing these books because I WANT TO WRITE THEM. I've got more than enough work in my own universes to work on, but I like the STAR WARS universe, love the charactersI've created and I want to finish off their stories. " Stackpole on his reasons for still writing SW novels.
You've expanded the STAR WARS Rogue Squadron's horizons as only one who'd flown many sim flights could. News of Bantam's recent 'flat fee' contract policy comes in the middle of your 8-installment "X-Wing" series. What happens now, will the Dark Horse adaptions be affected ,and if so how?
Michael Stackpole:" I did 1-4, Aaron Allston did 5-7 and I will write #8. #8 and my STAR WARS hardback novel I, JEDI are being written under the new Bantam contract. The X-Wings books ARE popular, but lag behind the sales of the 'mainstream' SW books, which is why they are only worth $40,000 a piece, instead of $50,000 for a mainstream paper, or $60,000 for a hardback. The Dark Horse comics are covered under a different deal and what's happening at Bantam has no effect on the Dark Horse deal. Dark Horse still offers royalties and my page rate has gone up slightly since Dark Horse renewed their contract."
What's your feeling on this matter?
"My feelings are pretty clear and simple, writing these books at this price is a good deal for me. I have the first four X-Wing novels on which I earn royalties, so the more new books Ido, the more I'm likely to sell the old books. Moreover, I work fast, so I'll be getting paid $100,000 for roughly 3 months of work and I get this money up front, (earning that amount in royalties would take 4-5 years. If I invest the money in a mutual fund, I'll be way ahead of that by the time the royalties would have come in). Above and beyond the money stuff, I'm writing these books because I WANT TO WRITE THEM. I've got more than enough work in my own universes to work on, but I like the STAR WARS universe. I love the characters I've created, and I want to finish off their stories. Do I like the idea of no royalties as a general rule? Nope, not at all, but rejecting such a contract out of hand isn't something I'm going to do either. Contracts between writers and publishers are business deals.
If it makes sense for me to make the deal I will. Ican't expect other authors to feel the same way, nor can I expect them to bring the same work ethic to their books that I do. We're all individuals, and making a decision that is this important is one we all have to do in consultation with ourselves, our agents and our best interests at heart."
Since you've been involved in the Gaming industry for so long, where do you see the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy heading?
"That's a tough call. Because publishers are now run by accountants, what is important is your ability to sell. If people like diversity in what they read, they need to buy books that aren't all the same. If they like an author they buy her books NEW off the racks, not from used book stores. We're all patrons of the art in that way--if we support an author, so will the publisher. If we don't, we've got no cause to cry when someone can't sell a book."
Will these mini-universes supplant the genre's book industry as we know it?
"Because accountants didn't want to support writers who didn't return big sales numbers, the midlist was already dying when the franchise universes came in. Now a publisher can guarantee sales on part of the list, so they can take chances with the rest of it. If not for household names like STAR TREK, STAR WARS and X-FILES, science fiction and fantasy would dwindle and die. All those folks who hate the media series better remind themselves that folks coming in from outside the genre to buy those books are what keeping the genre afloat. That's actually very scary, but the reality we are facing now."
Back to the STAR WARS universe, from where had you derived Wedge Antillies characterizations, and others?
"I built Wedge's character from these facts: He was a hot pilot, leads the toughest squadron in the Alliance, and yet, is a nice enough guy that Luke Skywalker considers him a friend. I balanced all that with a large dallop of experiences from WWII pilots in similarly hard hit squadrons."
How much of that galaxy stems from your own ideas, and what came from the myriad of source books available such as West End games?
"Iused a lot of West End materials, as well as stuff from the films and books by other authors to help me find the edges of the universe. Idon't really think of myself as having 'genius'. I can be clever at times, but pretty Ijust did the sort of thing Iknew I'd enjoy happening in the STAR WARS universe, Ooryl and his culture were mine, hiding in the Lusankya was mine, the tactics were all mine, but the rest comes from the feelings the movies inspire in me."
Any projects in the works you'd care to share with our readers?
"Back in January (before the SW contracts were offered), I signed a four book deal with Bantam Books to write an epic fantasy series called The DragonCrown War. I start the first one of those this January and I can't wait to get going on it. I'll be taking what I've learned from writing STAR WARS and BATTLETECH series, combining it with what Iknow about fantasy, weave the whole mess into one kick-butt epic. It should be a lot of fun. And readers should like it too."
Anything else you'd like to add?
"I'd just like to thank all the STAR WARS readers who have been very nice and positive to me in their responses to my work. And I'd like to especially thank those who have gone out and snagged my original work too. Ilove writing and I'll continue to do it for as long as the stories come. Your support of my work means I'll get more chances to write, and a better life can't be had."
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
October 1, 1997
"A Grave Disturbance In The Force"
In a move reminiscent of the Evil Empire and the Dark Side of the Force, Bantam Books, with the endorsement of LucasFilm, the owner of the STAR WARS franchise, has changed the kind of contracts they will be offering writers for future novels set in the STAR WARS universe. Instead of an advance against royalties, a one-time flat fee has been offered.
Michael Capobianco, President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Inc., (SFWA) a writers advocacy organization founded in 1965, describes the new contract as "disastrous" and "regressive"in its treatment of writers. "Bantam will be setting a very dangerous precedent," Capobianco said.
In a letter to Bantam President Irwyn Applebaum, protesting the decision, Capobianco warned, "If Bantam persists in its present course, we will inform our membership and all interested parties that these contracts do not meet professional standards. We will also be obliged to oppose the flat fee scheme by negative publicity and direct appeals to LucasFilm."
The letter was co-signed by nearly all of the past SFWA Presidents, which includes many of the major names in the field of science fiction.
SFWA has pointed out that writing STAR WARS novels requires extensive research and attention to detail. Under the new flat-fee scheme, writers will have less incentive to work hard and excel--but Bantam has indicated that it is happy with the new contract and has no interest in changing it.
A number of current STAR WARS authors have stated that they would not agree to write under the new contract terms:Kevin Anderson, author of the Jedi Trilogy, A.C.Crispin, author of the Han Solo trilogy, Hugo and Nebula award winner Vonda McIntyre author of STAR WARS: The Crystal Star, Rebecca Moesta, author of the Young Jedi Knights books, and Steve Perry, author of the hardcover bestseller, STAR WARS: Shadows of the Empire.
Among SFWA's current plans are a massive publicity campaign to alert STAR WARS fans about Bantam's new policy. "I'm sure that George Lucas is not aware of the new contract. He has always been a strong advocate for the rights of creative people,"Capobianco said.
If STAR WARS fans wish to express their disapproval of the new contract and its potential effect on the books they love reading they should write to:
LUCASFILM Ltd., Licensing
PO Box 2009
San Rafael, CA 94912
President and Publisher
New York, NY 10036
For further information check out the SFWA Web page at: http://www..sfwa.org
You may note there is no rebuttle to this piece from either LucasFilm or Bantam concerning the new Flat Fee Contracts. Several attempts to get their side of story came up empty, if we hear anything from these parties you'll see it here.
Just as we went to press Michael Capobianco emailed us with the following news:
"As you probably know by now, BALLENTINE BOOKS got the franchise for future STAR WARS novels and novelizations NOT Bantam. We have approached Linda Grey to find out whether or not Ballentine will be paying royalties but so far no word. We'll be announcing the news when we find out."