Some strange and troubling news today in the world of genre fiction. Alan Dean Foster – beloved author of many Star Wars books – has penned an open letter to Disney asking that they pay him the royalties he has earned on their titles. Foster says that Disney has not paid him for titles such as Splinter of a Mind’s Eye. Nor is he receiving royalties for his novelizations of the Aliens films. Disney also owns those through 20th Century Fox. Disney is a multi-billion dollar company, so the fact that they are not paying their authors is truly baffling. Let’s dig into this complaint and see what we know so far.
SFWA Posts Foster’s Grievance Letter Online
Image via the SFWA
The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America posted Foster’s letter online with a note from president (and fellow author) Mary Robinette Kowal. In the letter, Foster talks about his love of Disney as a company and his disappointment in their current practices. According to the author, Disney has ignored messages from Foster’s agent. As well as disregarding messages from the SFWA which is in place to protect authors.
Foster also alleges that Disney asked him to sign an NDA prior to negotiations. An uncommon practice in the writing industry. The author also goes on to mention the serious medical issues that both he and his spouse are dealing with. The royalties owed to him by Disney would go a long way towards covering their medical bills.
Foster is the author of several Star Wars novels. This includes the novelization of The Force Awakens, and the Clone Wars era novel The Approaching Storm. His first title Splinter of a Mind’s Eye was written as a sequel to A New Hope. That book came out all the way back in 1978. Although the title is no longer canon, it is still under the Star Wars umbrella. And it was part of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm back in 2012. The book is also still in print and selling copies. But Disney is no longer paying Foster the royalties he is owed for this title, among others.
Image via Lucasfilm Publishing
Mary Robinette Kowal Demands Disney Pay Up
Acclaimed sci-fi author Mary Robinette Kowal is the current president of the SFWA. She posted the letter from Foster on the website, along with their demands for restitution. She says that this is an unprecedented issue. Never before has the SWFA been forced to publicly demand a company pay its authors what they are owed. Kowal says that Disney claims that they purchased the rights to Foster’s books. But the company claims that they don’t have to fulfill the obligations of Foster’s contract. The SFWA is demanding that Disney cease publication of Foster’s novels until all back royalties have been paid, and a new contract is established.
Both Foster and Kowal express concerns that Disney may be taking advantage of other authors in a similar manner. Alan Dean Foster has been writing for over thirty years and is very familiar with the way the industry, and contracts typically work. But other young authors may not know that Disney is giving them a bad deal. This is especially concerning given how many young authors of color, and female authors are currently signed with Lucasfilm Publishing. It is already a struggle for them to get paid what they are owed, and precedents like this ensure that authors of color and women will be treated unfairly. Kowal says that this concern is the reason the organization decided to go public with the allegations.
Author Alan Dean Foster | Image via the SFWA
Fans and Authors Take To Social Media To Demand #DisneyMustPay
Foster has received an outpouring of support from fans and other authors on social media. Author Cory Doctorow says that “Alan Dean Foster is a SF legend. A writer who produced a shelf of original novels but also made a reputation novelizing movies and TV from Star Wars to Aliens. Turning out books that transcended quickie adaptations, becoming beloved bestsellers in their own right.”
Author Neil Gaiman – whose Graveyard Book was optioned by Disney but never made into a film – also chimed in. Gaiman states that “what Disney is doing to Alan Dean Foster is simply wrong. Every writer or artist who receives royalties from works they’ve written could find themselves unpaid forever if this behaviour is unchallenged.”
Royalties are essential income for authors. Many authors receive payment for their books when they are purchased by a publishing house. These payments come in the forms of ‘advances’ that anticipate how well the book will sell. But royalties are really where authors make their money. Royalties are payment to the author that come from a portion of every book sale made. By denying Foster his royalties, Disney is blatantly disregarding and devaluing the work of the writer.
So far, Disney has not responded to either Alan Dean Foster or the SFWA in regards to the royalties situation. To show your support for Alan Dean Foster, join the movement on social media using the hashtag #DisneyMustPay. We will keep you updated as this story develops.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.