In this blog post, I wanted to talk about something I found out a couple of years ago. As a writer, you dream of someday having your work published. You want your characters and stories to reach other people, and to move them just as the characters have moved you for years. Imagine you spend years on a series you adore, get it published and it comes out successful. Imagine that series then being turned into a massively successful television series, which garnered more fans of your books. Imagine putting your blood, sweat and tears into that work, only for it to be taken away from you years down the line. And not only one series gets taken away from you, but two series that you were working on, get snatched away.
Some would think this can never happen. However, it happened to the best-selling author, L.J. Smith.
If you have never heard of this woman, you may have heard of her best-selling series of books, called The Vampire Diaries. Yeah, that book series that turned into the huge television series with the same name.
Honestly, I was horrified when I found out L.J. Smith’s story, because I fear that could happen to me. I aspire to become an author and make it as a career. I am passionate with every work I get into. I invest in all my characters and their well-being (or their destruction depending on the story). To work on a series for that long and for it to be taken away, thats horrifying and sad. I guess, I should tell you the story of how L.J. Smith lost two of her beloved series, The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle.
L.J. Smith published the first volumes of The Vampire Diaries back in 1991 and 1992 with the book packagers, Alloy Entertainment. She published The Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury and Dark Reunion. The books told the story of Elena Gilbert and her teenage antics with the vampire brothers, Stefan and Damon Salvatore. The books became best-sellers. Also L.J. Smith published her other series, The Secret Circle and The Night World around this time as well. Until she took a decade long hiatus from writing. By the end of her hiatus, The Vampire Diaries got picked to become a tv show. The pilot episode came out in 2009, with massive success. With the success of The Vampire Diaries series, the CW made a television adaptation to Smith’s other series, The Secret Circle. Unfortunately, it didn’t become as successful and was cancelled after its first season in 2012.
Smith returned to The Vampire Diaries books and wrote the Return trilogy. By 2011, the Return series was finished and Smith submitted a draft of the next instalment in the Vampire Diaries series, The Hunters. However, the new instalment presented a pivotal plot twist in the story that publishers didn’t approve of. Smith refused to rewrite her story, as she felt it was the best course of action in her series. With this dispute, the publishers fired Smith from her series, The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle. They hired a ghostwriter named Aubrey Clark, who took on as the new creator of The Vampire Diaries and wrote more books for The Secret Circle series. I noticed a couple of years ago, that the new books had Aubrey Clark’s name in small writing below L.J. Smith’s name. I was curious and thats how I found out about the firing of Smith from her own series.
When I read about this, I asked the question, how could they fire the author of this best-selling series from her own work? It’s like if J.K. Rowling was fired from Harry Potter and they got someone else to finish the series. No one else can replicate or understand where the story was going, more than the author herself (Or we could jump into the debate on the power of the reader, but I’ll save that for another post). So I looked into it. Back in 1990, when Smith sold her series to Alloy Entertainment, she wrote the series as “work for hire.” What that meant was Alloy Entertainment owned her the copyright to the series. Smith had no rights to her own series. She didn’t realize what that was back in 1990, but she soon found out. When she sent her draft of The Hunters to her publishers and book packagers, she got sent a letter saying that they wanted a change to the story. They felt the story was leaning too heavily on Elena and Damon’s relationship instead of Stelena, and there was something about Bonnie and Damon’s relationship in the books. They requested that Smith change this, and she refused. So it resulted in them firing Smith and hiring a ghost-writer to continue the series.
The series continued for another few years after Smith was fired. The last Vampire Diaries book was The Salvation: Unmasked in 2014. L.J. Smith continued her intended vision for the Vampire Diaries by selling her stories as fanfiction on Kindle world. These books are called The Vampire Diaries: Evensong. They continue after the books she wrote in the original series. Due to the nature of these books, the events that take place in these stories aren’t considered canon to the lore of The Vampire Diaries. L.J. Smith owns other series herself, but it is tragic that a beloved series got taken away from her. Her name still used on the covers so to capitalize on the fame of the books due to the popularity of the tv show.
It is a sad story and makes you think of how harsh the publishing world can be. Smith signed away her series for its chance to be published. It did really well, and then it was taken away. It feels like a cautionary tale for any aspiring writers or new authors to be wary of what you sign. Read over your contracts. Get a literary agent that will offer you the best advice on how to sell your story. When you want to send your book off into the publishing world, learn the ins-and-outs, so maybe you can avoid the same tragic story as L.J. Smith. Thanks for taking the time in reading this and I shall see you in the next post.