My good friend Gord Sellar posed a few more challenging questions on my concept that I wish to address next. Gord, hopefully you don’t mind me quoting you here:
How does the editorial process work? There needs to be one, but how is it done? You’ve addressed the magazines, but not the novels. Who makes editorial decisions when the authors start producing those six+ novels a year?
The strength of self-publishing, in my mind, is a leaner process, so I would hesitate to include a dedicated editor. Instead, I think I would suggest each author’s work is overseen by one other author (mix and match, not direct pair ups) to provide input and oversight. I would expect each author to utilize their own editorial oversight with commentary from the others.
My goal would be to pick writers comfortable enough with one another’s professionalism that they would keep this relatively ego-free. Everyone benefits from a good book. Conversely, everyone suffers from a really awful one.
I would lean towards this process over a more heavy-handed one, but also coupled with very strong, specific guidelines and a mission statement, which brings me to–
…then you also need very firmly agreed-upon principles regarding the philosophy and mission statement of the franchise, and clear guidelines in terms of what’s acceptable or isn’t. (Policies on sexuality, sexual violence, gore, major character deaths, and so on. Guidelines so that authors who’ve signed on can’t just unilaterally sabotage the brand with some unacceptable release, but also just to give some sense of range and limits, to guide the collective process. Essentially, the range of “ratings” you think are appropriate to the franchise. PG to R, but no NC17.)
This is a fantastic idea and one that I would endorse whole-heartedly. Figure out the audience, and figure out the guidelines to cater to them. This would likely be part of the Bible-writing process. We’d have to have our Commandments as well, which cannot be broken.
Again, egos could be an issue, but the goal here isn’t to keep a book from getting published in the series. The goal is to shape the book towards the guidelines we ALL agree to upfront. Contracts would need to spell out the specifics of the consequences of not doing so.
And also, how do you control for brand burnout? There was a time when TSR was putting out so many supplements and tie-in novels for Forgotten Realms that it soured a lot of fans, who stopped buying when it became apparent the quality and pace were geared more towards making and selling product than putting out great supplements. People want worlds they can inhabit, but they also want worlds that give them a certain degree of potential space, too.
Which is to say, I think you’d need not just a minimum, but also potentially a *maximum* cap on output within the shared world
This is a good point. My hope is that the core team would be inherently self-limiting. I think six books a year in a series is a sweet spot. I wouldn’t want to see anyone writing more than one book, but writing and publishing more short stories in various venues only benefits everyone. Let editors handle that selection process maybe?
Perhaps an exact number is a good idea. I’m flexible on this point. The books should be written to be connected, and support one another, but I don’t see them as being written to have a specific order or requiring that to get a full experience, you read every single one of them. Readers that only want to read one author should not be penalized for it, although they should be encouraged to try more!
Then there’s questions of spinoffs and such. The legalese needs to be very clear: if author X writers a character in that world, and quits writing for the franchise, what happens to the legal status of character X? (In gamer terms, does the character get “retired”? Turned into an NPC? Killed off? Exiled to some other place? It’s inevitable the question of intellectual property in such a setting comes up.)
I think that world building copyrights would be given to the org for use in perpetuity, but I’d like to see that the authors too retain ownership. This is the area where I would want to seek legal counsel because I want the rights to be both creator friendly but also allow for the organization to continue utilizing resources that it helped develop. In some ways, I see the idea as a kind of limited creative commons, limited by the bounds of the co-op, and it’s even possible that a CC license exists to help facilitate the creation of these legal rights. I’m really not sure.
I’d say the originator of a character would probably have say in their fate. I don’t want a comic book publisher situation, but I also don’t think it would be fair for a person to retire and take their characters with them. Or maybe it would. What do you think?
I want the world and materials to be shared, but I want the author to own the lion’s share of the actual works they produce. Something far more favorable than the likes of, say, Marvel or DC, or writing a works for hire book.
But I think Gord’s very right in his calls for more structure. A hierarchy, perhaps a rotating one, has to be established up front. Maybe each season of the project has a producer, which will rotate as a position, and who has final say in resolving disputes? A Roman dictator model, maybe.
Perhaps six writers is too many. Perhaps it should be three writers instead, to make this more manageable. That’s less material, but they’d each own a bigger piece, relatively speaking. I feel like I’m so far out of charted territory I might as well be riding a dragon next a compass rose.