Sharecrop

Tagged: Theme

A term almost certainly devised by Gardner Dozois in the late 1980s to designate a story or book which has been written on hire; that is, assigned to an author – who will not hold copyright in the piece that s/he writes – by a franchiser or the copyright owner of the concept being developed. To describe a text as sharecropped is in 1995 almost certainly to disparage it as commodity fiction, designed to fit a prearranged marketing slot and written to order according to strict instructions from the owner. Most pieces written for hire are in fact spun off from previous works or concepts, and for this reason the term has often been used to designate any Tie or Shared-World text, without respect to the ownership of that text. This usage tends to reduce the term to an epithet whose actual meaning is impossible to fix. In this encyclopedia – given that we are not as a whole much interested in examining contractual arrangements between authors and publishers – the term is used infrequently, and then only to designate a condition of ownership. Any text spun off from a previous work or concept not originated by the author of the text is generally designated as a Tie (which see for further discussion), although the genre also contains a number of Sequels by Other Hands to which the term "tie" – with its implication of an author constrained to follow specific franchise guidelines – does not seem applicable. Similarly, many sharecrops are tied to Shared Worlds; but the author of a shared-world text may be the originator of that world (so the work in question cannot properly be called a tie) and may also retain copyright in his or her own name (so the work cannot properly be called a sharecrop). In sum, although the three terms often overlap, they are in fact quite distinct. [JC]

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