Category Archives: Publishing

Media Tie-In Writing


After over a decade of involvement in various fan communities, I’ve noticed certain misconceptions about writing tie-ins (books based on other intellectual properties, such as movies, video games, and TV shows) that seem to repeat themselves on every message board and convention question and answer panel.

Plenty of fan fiction writers think it would be great to spend all day telling stories about their beloved characters and getting paid for it.  The most junior mistake is to find addresses for people already involved in the franchise, and send them the fan fiction so they can see how good it is.  Unfortunately, even the best fan fiction won’t get read-and not because the recipient is “mean” or even just too busy.  For legal reasons, professionals working on an IP avoid reading fan fiction.  Otherwise, they open themselves to lawsuits from fans claiming that ideas or concepts were “stolen” from fan works.  True or not, these allegations require costly legal support and can delay production.  For professionals, reading fan fiction isn’t worth the risk.

Intellectual property companies don’t go to when they’re looking for a new writer for a tie-in novel.  They go to published authors who are already writing in the genre and style they’re looking for, and ask if they’d be interested.  They want to work with professionals:  people who’ve already proven that they can produce a novel with both the quality and the appeal to be accepted for publication.

So, setting out with a dream to write tie-in fiction for a particular beloved franchise is a challenging prospect.  You would first have to write an original novel, get it published, and then-through circumstances largely outside your control-wait in the hope that someone working for that franchise would invite you to write for them.  The important quality for a fan is loving the franchise; the important quality for being a tie-in writer is being a professional writer.  If you are working to be a professional writer anyway, tie-ins can provide good income and mass exposure; but you don’t know what jobs might come along.  If all you want is to write about your favourite series/movie/comic for a living, think again.

Professional tie-in fiction isn’t fanfic.

In fan fiction, you’re free to do whatever you want.  You can kill off the main character.  You can break up canon couples and create new romances.  You can introduce new story elements, such as magic, or time travel.  You can make gay characters straight and straight characters gay.  You can do crossovers with other series.  You can cheerfully overlook any characters or storylines that don’t hold your interest.  When you’re writing for your own entertainment, there are no restraints.

Professional tie-in fiction, on the other hand, is overseen by the intellectual property company who needs to approve everything you write.  How much freedom you will have to tell your story will depend on many factors:  how much pre-existing canon there is; how flexible that canon is; the tone, themes and setting of the franchise; the needs of other authors writing in the same franchise.  Your freedom will also depend on whether the company has a particular idea in mind (ie. “write a novelization of our video game”) , a specific goal for the book (ie. “write a prequel for our movie to show how the characters met each other”), or something more open-ended (ie. “write a story about the Were-rats in the Shifting Breeds universe”-or perhaps even just “Write a Shifting Breeds story).”  Companies know that killing off a main character in a tie-in novel can have a major effect on their fan base; it’s done rarely, and with careful thought, for a reason.  Your “unrequited romance between the hero and the villain” might be your favourite daydream for the franchise, but unless it’s already part of canon, it’s unlikely that it would ever become sanctioned by the intellectual property owners.  The company wants to create a tie-in novel that will cause as many fans as possible to buy it, enjoy it, and come back for more.  It doesn’t want to publish a book just to cater to one person’s private fantasies-that’s what fan fiction is for.

Tie-in writing is hard work, often with tight deadlines, writing in a shared universe where the writer is only one of many contributors.  Because of those tight deadlines and mandatory cooperation, intellectual property companies look for established writers with reputations for professionalism and teamwork; people they can count on to get their work in on time and done with the best interests of the franchise as a whole in mind.

For those of you who think Star Wars would be better without Luke Skywalker, or if the prequel movies never happened, or if Leia and Lando got together, or if the Millennium Falcon took on the Starship Enterprise, or if Darth Vader were a dragon-rejoice!  Fan fiction is, and always will be, yours.  For those of you who would like to write tie-in fiction as part of your career-keep working on that original novel.


David Farland: The Future of Publishing is Self-Publishing

By David Farland

In the past month, I’ve talked to dozens of new writers who are publishing their own books electronically.  Everyone is doing it.  In fact, I just put up six of my early novels along with several short stories.  Within the next three weeks I hope to post the last of my novels and short stories, along with a couple of textbooks from my seminars (Write that Novel and Million Dollar Outlines).

Of course, that’s the problem.  Everyone is self-publishing e-books.  Bowker Identifier Services said that a million people bought ISBN’s last year, and another three million will be purchased this year.  I spoke to one bestselling author recently who groused, “My neighbor came by last week and told me that he was a published author.  He put up an e-book and sold seven copies.  Then my paperboy told me that he was published, and he’s only fourteen!  If anyone can publish, does it really mean anything anymore to be a published author?”

Well, it means something.  It takes a lot of ambition and work even to self-publish, and as publishers keep cutting back on their own buying, it forces even known writers to move into that arena.

As an author, right now I have one foot in self-publishing, and one in the traditional markets.  That’s an awkward position to be in.

With my latest novel, Nightingale, I’m going Indie.  The standard contracts being offered by major publishers demand far too much from authors on electronic rights, and they really don’t give you anything in return.  It’s a money grab.

So I had the best YA agents in New York offer to take the book to major publishers, and I told them “No.”  I can’t in good conscience go that route.

So I decided to go indie.   But there’s a rub.  When you see an e-book from a self-published author, of course, you have to wonder if it’s any good.  Is there a reason that the author couldn’t sell to mainstream publishers?  Maybe, maybe not.

Sometimes publishers don’t take books that are perfectly good because the books don’t stand out.  Sometimes the books have major flaws.  Sometimes, though, the world’s just not ready for the author.

Tales are legendary of huge novels that had a hard time selling.  Gone with the Wind, Lord of the Rings, Dune, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull are just a few of the classics that couldn’t get in print.  More recently, The Help did the same before becoming a bestseller and a film.  One can look back and find Nobel Prize Winners that couldn’t get published.

Years ago, I had one publisher ask me to look at their recent books and help decide which one to give the big “push” to.  I surveyed about forty recent novels and picked a book called Harry Potter.  The marketing department disagreed.  The book was considered “too long” for its intended audience.  I pointed out that it was written three or four grade levels too high, too, and said that they should push it anyway.  The publisher took my advice, and the rest is history.

But there’s a lesson here.  You as an author have to believe in yourself, and that’s what indie authors are demonstrating.

So I’m sure that great books will be coming from self-published authors.  In fact, a year ago in April, I predicted that the first self-published author would become a millionaire within a year.  It took about nine months before it happened.

But of course as book buyers, we have to worry that such books might have major flaws.  We need to find a way of making sure that the quality is kept high.  One way to do that is to join with other authors who vet the books.  You can also hire editors like Joshua Essoe to suggest improvements, and so on.

With so many indie authors coming out, the markets will be flooded this year, and this leads to a new problem.  Soon it will become harder and harder to stand out from the crowd.  Readers looking for great content will realize that too often they’re paying to read from the slush piles, and they’ll probably start turning back to their favorite authors and to bestsellers in an effort to find works that they like.

In other words, they’ll realize that the gatekeepers-the editors and agents-served a purpose.  Sure the gatekeepers weren’t perfect, but at least there was someone manning the guardhouse.  The readers might even want to hire them back.

But New York publishing is a mess, and it won’t ever be the same.  The big publishers are demanding so much of the profit from electronic rights that many of the best authors are leaving for good.

So readers will be looking for other ways to gauge novels.  I think that writing awards, bestseller status, and positive reviews will gain more importance for buyers.

With this in mind, it seems to me that authors need a way to show that they stand out from the crowd.

We can’t return to the past.  The overhead for paper publishing is tremendous-printing, storing and transporting the books is expensive.  Most of the profit goes to the bookstores.

As the price for good electronic readers continues to drop, everyone will soon have them.  School children will get them for school instead of books.  Frequent readers will recognize that with the low prices of e-books, it will be far cheaper to buy novels electronically.  Just as the whole country has switched to digital cameras, within five years nearly all of us will switch to e-readers.

So how will an author stand out in the electronic age?  The answer is with “enhanced novels.”  These are books that deliver text, but they can also deliver full-color illustrations, audio, film, games, and other components.  In short, we’ll have editors who make the books into a major production.

We won’t spend huge amounts on printing, we’ll spend it on creating a great product.

With my partner Miles Romney, I’ve just completed my first enhanced novel as part of launching a new publishing company.  It was an interesting and informative experience.

The novel is called Nightingale, and it tells the story of a young man named Bron Jones, who is abandoned at birth.  Raised in foster care, he’s shuffled from home to home.  At age 16, he’s kind of the ultimate loner, until he’s sent to a new foster home and meets Olivia, a marvelous teacher, who recognizes that Bron is something special, something that her people call a “Nightingale,” a creature that is not quite human.

Suddenly epic forces combine to claim Bron, and he must fight to keep from getting ripped away from the only home, family, and friends that he has ever known.  In fact, he must risk his life to learn the answers to the mysteries of his birth: “What am I?  Where did I come from?  Who am I?”

So this is a young adult novel, and we decided to go with interior art.  I didn’t want the art to be too much like something from a comic book, so we chose a more sophisticated style, similar to the art deco pieces that you might find in the New Yorker.  Of course we looked at the work of dozens of artists before selecting our people.  I didn’t want it to look like a novel that an amateur might put together.

We considered using a single artist, but we felt that that would take a long time, creating a bottleneck for production.  It would also limit us to a single style, which might define the novel too much in the reader’s minds.  So we opted to use several artists so that readers would be able to decide for themselves which ones came closest to their own personal visions.

We also wanted motion, and we considered some cool new styles of animation.  I very much liked a minimalist approach, where only a single element in a still is animated.  These are called “cinemagraphs,” and we could have made them with still photos, but instead opted to do it with illustrations.  The idea here was that we found that if we put film at the beginning of a chapter, it competed for the reader’s attention, pulled them out of the book.  So we made a game of having cinemagraphs in each chapter.

Now, it would have probably been easier and cheaper to film chapter headings, sort of mini-commercials for each chapter, in the long run, but we aren’t necessarily looking for the “easiest and cheapest” way to make a book.  That’s been done for centuries.  We wanted to “enhance” the novel, help bring it to life for readers who might find that visuals are helpful.  We thought that hiring half a dozen fine artists would be fun.

We also wanted music to enhance the mood and tone of the novel, so we considered how to do that.  Miles happened to know the head of the American Composer’s Guild, James Guymon, and so James came in to compose a 45-minute soundtrack.  He called upon some smoking-hot professionals for help, including guitarists, lyricists, drummers, and so on.  Since this is a story about a young man who dreams of becoming the world’s greatest guitarist, it inspired the musicians to put their best work out there.  I had hoped to get some music in the style of guitar great Joe Satriani, and the album really blew me away.  It’s much like the theme albums created by Pink Floyd or Joe Satriani himself.  Portions of the songs are played as intros to chapters, but one can buy the album, too, from places like iTunes.

Of course, an enhanced novel can do more than just show animations and give us music, so we did put in some film clips, but we restricted them to author interviews, which we inserted along with notes and photographs on the making of the book.  These are only visible if one reads the book in landscape mode.

Last of all we created the audiobook, hiring an actor to read it, inserting sound-effects and background music.  So that the vision impaired, busy moms, and long-haul truckers can enjoy the book.

Then we’re also printing the novel in hardcover, since a lot of people still actually buy paper novels, and we lined up national distribution with an existing publisher so that we can get the books in stores.

The idea with our company is to push the novel in every possible format.

It has been a lot of work, and I’m feeling wiped.  But our goal is to become an industry leader, to pioneer the next wave in publishing.  We don’t have unlimited multi-million dollar budgets, but that will come.

I know for certain that I could have sold this novel to a major publisher.  I did have the top agency for the genre ask to take it out to the big houses.  But I didn’t want to go that route.  This book is special to me, and I wanted to showcase it.

So the novel is out now, and Miles did one last cool thing.  The enhanced book was made for the iPad, though you will also be able to read it on just about any other pad or smartphone.  But Miles had his people create a web app so that you can enjoy the book on your computer-read a few chapters, take it for a test drive, or simply buy it for reading online.  You’re free to go check out the results at  If you like it, remember to “Like” us on Facebook.  Better yet, re-post our site info and tell your friends on Facebook.

Oh, and while you’re there, check out our short-story contest, where you can win $1000.

Guest Writer Bio:
David Farland is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author who has penned nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels for both adults and children. Along the way, he has also worked as the head judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests, as a creative writing instructor, as a videogame designer, as a screenwriter, and as a movie producer. You can find out more about him at his homepage at

To Better Ourselves?

I have been watching a fair amount of Star Trek lately – okay, a lot.  The Next Generation specifically, but each of the different series revolves around a basic premise: Mankind has advanced technologically to the point where concerns about materials and resources are mostly extinct.  Replicators exist that can construct matter in a manner that can basically spit out anything the user could desire.  Crew members of the U.S.S. Enterprise use them mostly for food and drink, but their functionality doesn’t stop there.  Presumably they can be used to construct anything physical, be they toys, games, pictures or literature (though antiquated at this future point in time).

This technology is not limited to the space-faring crew of the Enterprise, either.  The devices are supposedly in use on Earth and on pretty much every colony or space station the Federation lays claim to.  According to the Captain of the Enterprise, Jean Luc Picard, without concern for limited resources, humanity now works “to better” themselves.

My question is this: forget about the specific setting of the various Star Trek series for now, and consider your own present time and position.  If you were left without want for material or resources, would your current artistic goals, activities and aspirations remain the same?  Would they differ at all?

Most writers are certainly not in it for the money, and if they are, they may be a little misguided.  It is my experience that for the most part, the effort put in usually greatly outweighs the physical or material gain.  I don’t think this is an alien concept to any writer.  I’ve been looking for a full-time application for my love of writing and editing, but, in the meantime I write Freelance.  The money is often measly.  I recently signed up for work on a site that started paying about $1.50 for 200-300 word articles, or, about half of this post.  For 200-300 words, if I am writing for a client and not just myself, I would estimate about a half hour to an hour’s work, assuming some sort of research or preparation was going to be involved.  Let’s say it takes one half hour from accepting the assignment to completely finishing and submitting an edited piece.  That is still about $3.00 an hour.  Not exactly rock star money.

On the other end of the spectrum, writers can stand to make quite a bit of money.  One need only look no further than the likes of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.  There is no point trying to break down exactly how much those two make, it would only make the rest of us feel bad.

My point is, whether we are making $3.00 an hour, or substantially more, many of us probably began pursuing publication with the dream of making a career of it.  Take it back to my original question: without material concern, would we still continue to write?  Would we write simply for the art of it, as a means to better ourselves and society?

Personally, I cannot see myself writing as much as I currently do.  I am sure I would probably still be drawn to it, but would I really be motivated to hone my craft to a razor’s edge, “just because”?  I think that without the challenge to see exactly how far I can take it, or the starry-eyed visions of a day when I’ve hurtled every obstacle to cross some oft dreamed of finish line, writing would lose some of its meaning to me.

Are any of you like me?  In a Trek-like future, would you be the terry-cloth robed hedonist devouring barbeque rib after barbeque rib, or would your ideals win out?  Would you be able to overlook the lack of a materialistic challenge and continue producing your art for its own sake, and with as much vigor?

Do You Aspire to Write?

Let me state upfront how I feel about the term “aspiring writer”: I like it not.

In other professions, it makes sense to refer to someone new to the field as “aspiring.” When you’re in med school, you’re aspiring to a career in the healthcare industry. When you’re studying for your bar exam, you’re an aspiring lawyer. When you’ve landed your first gig on a TV show, you’re no longer an aspiring actor. You’ve become a full-fledged actor.

Can the same be said of a writer?

There are several terms to delineate newer writers from those who have been around: novice vs. experienced, published vs. unpublished, etc. These are obviously important distinctions to make when determining the stage of a writer’s career. The term aspiring writer is often meant to provide a similar distinction, but from what exactly are we distinguishing it?

The examples I gave above (aspiring doctor, aspiring lawyer) refer to someone who is on the path to their chosen career, but are not there yet. The aspiring doctor is not yet practicing medicine. The aspiring lawyer is not yet lawyering.

But almost all aspiring writers do write.

Before, it might have made sense to say that an aspiring writer was one who has never been professionally published. Such a distinction these days is murky at best. For where do we draw the line? Would we say that bestseller John Locke is “aspiring” to be a real writer simply because he’s never been traditionally published (distribution deals aside)?

More fundamentally, to say that a person is aspiring to be a writer is to imply that they are not really a writer. Someone who has written a dozen books is a writer, even if he’s a lousy one and none of those books was fit to print. Say what you will of the quality of his writing, but he has written; do not take that away from him by saying he is aspiring to be, and thus is not truly, a writer.

You might argue that it’s just a word, and that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. But the Declaration of Independence, too, is just words, but it is a collection of words that has shaped the course of history. As writers, we well know the power of words, as well we know that the wrong word can ruin the meaning of what we’re trying to say.

I think the term “aspiring writer” really only should be applied to the people who want to write a story someday, but have not yet managed to sit in front of a blank white screen, pummel their keyboards, and give shape to the story in their minds.

I have not yet published a book. I have not yet made a dime writing. I have not yet been showered with awards or praise or royalties. These are things I do aspire to.

But I am a writer, dammit, and I bet you are one, too.