Many of you have heard me say that, upon retirement, I promised myself to never again write work for hire. That I was done selling all rights to my creative labor. Consequently, for the past few years, as tempting as some offers have been, I’ve turned them all down.
TLDR: I’ve changed my mind somewhat. Although I currently have zero time free from existing bucket-list commitments, I’ve accepted some future work-for-hire again for sheer love of the properties. And truth be told, to stay relevant.
Now for the longer confession.
Several of you have heard me kvetch in private of a painful feeling of having sold my children. That every fiber of my being went into Dark Conspiracy, Minion Hunter, Bughunters, Dragon Dice, and Zero, and it hurt to have no further connection with them. Later, in educational publishing, much the same often happened, with an artificial division between “authors” and “writers,” and my love poured into work that someone else now owned, including an item with “author” credit to someone who wrote not a single word.
Part of the problem is that, though ideas are not copyrightable, only words, I’m uncomfortable reusing terms and concepts from those projects–things like “protodimension” or “synner.”
Another part of the problem is that, frankly, tabletop game design has historically paid poorly for most work-for-hire. And publishers have often treated staffers as disposable commodities.
A final part of the problem is that in general, fans follow properties more than they do designers or even publishers. Case in point: D&D/AD&D’s journey from TSR’s Gygax/Arneson (e1) to Cook (e2), to WotC’s Cook/Tweet/Williams (e3 & 3.5) to “Team” (e4 & e5).
A caveat: Some high-profile designers do develop a following. (I’m grateful that, though middling-profile myself, I have some wonderfully supportive backers. And I hope it’s always evident just how honored by and appreciative of you I am.)
An aside: Ghostwriting is a different kettle of fish, one that pays so extravagently, and that builds such an industry reputation, the money alone is worth it. Except I’ve never been much motivated by money beyond my family’s needs. Sorry family. 🙂
A second aside: I mean no offense to the amazing talents of those who have made a career of work-for-hire, to the love they have poured into that work, and the path of success so many have followed to ever more high-profile projects. I often envy you the well-deserved esteem.
A second caveat: I’m not casting shade on work-for-hire itself. It’s how I got involved in publishing in the first place. And I realize that I did much pleasurable work-for-hire over the years for properties other people created.
Which brings me to my original TLDR. My pain at “giving up my babies” blinded me for awhile to the joy of having contributed to other properties—often having courted those opportunities intentionally just to feel the connection with things like Star Wars, Serenity, D&D, TFT, MechWarrior, City Books, Aquelarre, and others, or to be in the company of other creatives I admire. I hope to do so again in the future, as breaks between items in my own bucket list. Assuming this little essay hasn’t stepped on toes or painted me as a prima donna.
This is just part of my opening up as I age, hopefully like a wine allowed to breathe, and not having turned to vinegar. 🙂