On Star Wars

Are Brain-Dead Chimpanzees Eating My Shelf Space?

By Laura Resnick

Several years ago, a heated debate raged in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), a respected national organization, about whether or not work-for-hire novels should be eligible for the Nebula, the prestigious annual literary award voted on and presented by the SFWA. Some members argued that such books were as well written and worthy of recognition as any other kind of novel; other members argued that the very nature of work-for-hire should exclude it from Nebula consideration. And in a particularly memorable written statement, one prominent SFWA member dismissed work-for-hire novels as something that any brain-dead chimpanzee could write. In other words, work-for-hire books emerged as a controversial issue among science fiction and fantasy writers, one that provoked fiery arguments and open insults in a professional forum.

A work-for-hire novel is a book on which the novelist is a hired hand, so to speak, rather than the original creator and exclusive copyright owner of the work. One very common form of work-for-hire–a form which you may well have read without even realizing it–is the ghostwritten novel; this is a novel written by someone other than the purported author. For example, the well-muscled, golden-haired, Italian-born model Fabio did not write the romance novels that bear his name. Those books were written by a ghostwriter. (I apologize if this revelation comes as a terrible shock and you feel your innocence has been irrevocably destroyed.)

However, a ghostwritten book is merely one type of work-for-hire. Many work-for-hire novels are actually written by  …

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