Category Archives: Submissions

Marsheila Rockwell: Tie-in Fiction

A Guest Interview with Marsheila Rockwell

Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell joins us today to talk about writing tie-in fiction. She is the author of three novels for Wizards of the Coast, all of which tie into the Eberron D&D Campaign Setting and/or the popular MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons Online. They are: Legacy of Wolves (2007, rereleased as an ebook on 5/15), The Shard Axe (2011), and Skein of Shadows (releases 7/3).

Colette: What, exactly, is tie-in fiction?

Marcy: In technical terms, it’s fiction that “ties in” to some other media property, like a television show, movie, video game, or role-playing game. It’s also known as “work-for-hire,” because you can’t just decide to write a novel that ties into one of these properties on your own (unless you want to get sued) – you have to be hired by the property owner to do so.

Colette: How did you decide you wanted to write tie-in fiction?

Marcy: I started reading fantasy when I was three, began playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in the third grade, and penned my first fantasy story at the age of twelve. When TSR (later acquired by Wizards of the Coast, aka WotC) started publishing novels set in the various D&D campaign worlds, I knew that’s what I wanted to write. Of course wanting to do it and getting hired to do it are two very different things.

Colette: So how did you get hired by WotC?

Marcy: Back in 2003, WotC put out an open call for one of the books in the Forgotten Realms “Priests” series, called Maiden of Pain. While I didn’t win that open call, my writing did bring me to the attention of the WotC editors, and I continued to submit to them over the next several years until one of my Eberron proposals caught their eye (the book that later became Legacy of Wolves), and they offered me a contract. So, basically, they let me write a book just so I’d stop bugging them. And I just finished up my third book for them, so I guess it worked out pretty well for both of us. 😉

Colette: What has writing tie-in fiction taught you that has helped your overall writing career?

Marcy: The first and most important thing tie-in work has taught me is how to write to a deadline. When you are doing creator-owned fiction, you write your story, sometimes taking years to complete a book. Then you submit it, and maybe you get lucky and sell it right away. Then, all of the sudden, your new publisher wants another book in 9 months. And then you panic, because you’re used to writing whenever the inspiration strikes, and with a deadline looming, it’s nowhere to be found.

There’s a reason a lot of authors’ sophomore efforts don’t live up to their debut novels, and it’s largely because they’ve never had to write on deadline before. I’ve written 30,000 words in one week to meet a deadline (because of the tight schedules associated with virtually all tie-in writing), so I’ve learned that inspiration comes when butt is applied to seat, and there’s no such thing as writer’s block when the mortgage is due.

Colette: Would you suggest writing tie-in fiction to other authors, or only those that have a passion for a particular property?

Marcy: Writing tie-in fiction isn’t for people who think writing is an art, it’s for the folks who know it’s a business. You have to be able to work under pressure, absorb a lot of information quickly, change gears on a dime, and abide by strict rules, like non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). If that doesn’t sound like fun to you, chances are good that writing tie-in fiction would just leave you frustrated and with only half a head of hair. If, on the other hand, it does sound like fun, I’d suggest a visit to your doctor – they have medication for that now, heh.

Seriously, though – it can be very satisfying to contribute to a property you love, but, generally speaking, it’s a lot of work and it’s not for the faint of heart. If it still sounds interesting to you, you also need to know that it’s largely an invitation-only business. Watch for open calls (Warhammer has one every year), and get some publishing credits out there, in the same genre as the tie-in work you want to do. Go to conventions where tie-in properties are featured, listen to what the editors are saying, and do what they tell you to do. And, if you get the chance to submit something, get it in early. Editors love good writers, but being good isn’t enough. They hire – and keep hiring – the ones who consistently meet their deadlines.

And actually, that advice is sound regardless of whether you’re doing tie-in work or writing creator-owned fiction. Be focused, be flexible, be professional, and never, ever miss a deadline if it’s within your power to meet it. Good luck!


Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell is an author, poet, editor, engineer, Navy wife and cancer mom. In addition to her tie-in work, she has a new (creator-owned) series of Arabian-flavored, female-centric sword & sorcery stories coming out from Musa Publishing, Tales of Sand and Sorcery. The latest installment, “Both,” released on 5/18. She’s also penned dozens of short stories and poems, and several articles on writing tie-in fiction. You can find out more here:

Dean Wesley Smith: Stop Being In A Hurry


A guest post by Dean Wesley Smith

I’ve talked about this on my blog a few times in different ways, but I noticed a few of you have mentioned this “got to hurry” problem, so I figured it was time again.

And no doubt, as I did last week on my first visit to the Superstars Writing Seminar, I may ruffle a few feathers.

What do I mean by being in a hurry?

For some reason, almost all new professional writers have no sense of time in publishing. And no sense of the amount of time it takes to learn the craft and the business. I hear over and over again how fresh writers need to find a way to cut through the “noise” out there, how they need to “promote” their first or second novel, and how they don’t understand why they don’t sell more.

And I hear all the time how writers like me or Kris or Kevin Anderson or Dave Farland or Eric Flint have this huge advantage over beginning writers. But don’t think our advantage is because our names are known. Nope. In fact, often being known hurts us more than it helps. My bestselling novels are not under “Dean Wesley Smith” because of all the media work I did under that name. My bestselling novels are hidden pen names in both the thriller and mystery genres. Names that started fresh. Names that nobody knew.

But we do have an advantage over beginning writers.

Yes, I said it. We experienced old-timers have a huge advantage. We have taken the years and decades to learn how to write better stories and we are all still working to learn. (Do you think the only reason we teach is to help young writers? That’s a big part, sure, but mostly it’s so we can keep learning as well.)

That’s right. Shocking as it may seem, writing better novels and stories–stories that fans want to read–makes us better known. It is not promotion or some silly trick. We sell more because we write better stories.

It really is that simple.

Learning the craft of fiction writing comes from listening to others talk about their ways of doing things, or reading how-to-write books, or studying what other writers do, then putting that information out of your front brain.

In other words, learn it and then forget it. Just go back to writing, and trust that the knowledge will come out of your fingers when you need it.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen for a novel or two. And then suddenly your writing is better and you don’t even know why–but your readers will see it.

Sounds kind of silly, huh? But it’s the way it works. And that method of writing and learning how to write better stories TAKES TIME.

My first published novel was my third written novel, and by the time I had written it, I had already sold over fifty professional-level short stories. Now understand, I sold my first short story in 1975 and didn’t sell my first novel until 1987. A long twelve years, and a thousand-plus rejections.

But with indie publishing, writers today think they can put up their debut novel and sell thousands of copies in the first month. And when they don’t, they either stop writing, or get upset, or blame it on the fact that they have no name recognition. Many new writers never blame poor sales on the fact that maybe they just don’t know how to tell a good story yet.

These same new writers don’t realize that it takes years to learn how to tell a good story, a story that thousands of fans want to read.

Focus on learning how to tell a better story while at the same time learning the business. If you keep writing and learning, eventually you will be a big name writer with a lot of books out and will have to give this same advice to the next generation of writers.So my suggestion is to stop whining about how big names have all the advantages, and start focusing on learning how to write better stories. Stop spending time on promotion and spend the time on the next short story or the next novel. Your best promotion is always your next book.

Remember, every time you say to a professional writer, “The only reason you can do that is because you are . . .” then you have insulted them and all the years and years of typing and work it took them to get to where they are.

We are only better known than you because we spent years learning how to tell a better story. Nothing more. And certainly nothing less.

Focus on learning how to tell a better story. Make each story the best one you can do. Practice something new in every story. Get it on the market, then move to the next story.

And keep having fun.

It was disgusting ….

It was disgusting. I don’t usually mind going to hear a once popular band, a relic from the rock “n roll era. I mean you’ve got to give these guys credit. Some have fallen from grace, face first, some withered away when music changed, while others simply went on to do different things. Some of the come backs have been less than stellar while others, despite their aging voices do a fabulous job.

This last come back dream should have been classed as a nightmare. The bass player, the only one who could hold a beat, competed with the drummer whose tinny cymbals accented the pitchy lead singer who was drowned out by the cacophony of screams forming the background vocals. And to think I paid to see them! I never want to imagine that I could ever disappoint anyone, let alone a total stranger, so badly …

So, how do you know if your writing is good enough to put out there? Where is the honest feedback? When do you abandon the dream? How hard do you need to work to make it good?

Traditionally, poets, novelists and short story writers have relied on the feedback from publishers (aka the dreaded rejection) to know if their writing is acceptable. Workshops, classes, writing and critique groups are all good sources for feedback – honest feedback which lessens the chances for rejection. Yet, I read that popular novel The Help was rejected 60 times (and had sold the movie rights) before it found a publisher. Go figure ….

Then there’s indie publishing. Scares the bejeepers out of me. Why? Because so many neophytes remind me of the comeback bands. They don’t know what’s good or bad. At least the come-back bands have an established following to prey upon. Aspiring writers don’t. Some writers have ventured forth on their own and have done well. Others have failed miserably.

Failing because marketing, promotion and distribution are tough things to handle for creative spirits is understandable and eventually can be overcome. Learn to do it yourself, join a writers marketing cooperative, find a small publisher to increase your chances, we can do whatever it takes to get our books out there. But, what if it’s because the writing wasn’t quite there? It’s critical to find people who know what they’re looking for, who can help with plot holes, logic gaps, grammar, etc. Find those people. Even traditional publishers, due to staffing, time and money constraints, want only the best written work.

And it’s the failures which concern me.

So whether you’ll be self publishing or approaching a traditional publisher, take the time to get it right. Time is on your side. A reputation for poor work is never on your side.

Oh and the comeback group, who shall remain nameless, announced they were laying the last track on a new CD. Seriously? After the bomb dropped, they expect me to trust their artistic sensibilities? Never.

So all I can say is, when I decide whether I self publish or woo a traditional publisher, my work will have survived feedback that I can trust. If I ever put a product out there that isn’t well crafted I don’t expect readers to give me a second chance. Publishers either, for that matter. I will only send out my best revised work because when you’re starting out, you have nothing to fall back on. No one to say I’ve seen her do it better.

Your record stands for itself – and if it’s your first shot, make it the best otherwise, that’s all there’ll be!

Thoughts From The Slush Pile ““ Success

I’ve recently become a slush pile reader for Flash Fiction Online. In my opinion, good Flash Fiction (a complete story of 500 to 1,000 words) is harder to write than a complete novel. In one of the slush rounds – reiewing stories their writers hope to have FFO publish – I moved two of the stories to the next phase of consideration. Why?

One was science fiction, and one was fantasy/slipstream. Even though the two stories were nothing alike, they had some common traits that helped them move to the next round. So what did they do right?

(1) The prose was clean – no typos, no major grammar problems.

(2) The main characters were well-defined and interesting.

(3) Each character had an interesting problem to solve. One wanted to go home, and the other had a major decision to make. The second story violated my withholding “rule”. It didn’t tell me something the main character would know – what the decision was. I didn’t mind the withholding this time because the point of the story wasn’t the decision, but how the character makes it.

(4) The writers had strong “voices”. A writer’s voice is different than technical proficiencies. It’s a little hard to define. Voice is the personality of the writer coming through his or her words. It makes the story unique. Five people can write a story about a werewolf’s first transformation. While the plotline will be the same for each, the stories will be told very differently because of “voice”. For these submissions to FFO, the fantasy’s voice was a bit irreverent and humorous. The science fiction voice was curious and intelligent.

(5) They were complete stories with beginning, middles and ends. Rust Hills said “a short story tells of something happening to someone” in his Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Submissions that aren’t complete are character sketches or scenes. While they may be fabulous, they aren’t what FFO is looking for.

(6) Setting. It’s difficult to convey a full setting in 1000 words or less, but both of these stories gave me enough of one that I could see where the characters were. One in deep space, and one in a somewhat run down kitchen.

Note the order I put the above-list in?

I did for a reason.

Your story might have all the other elements, but if it is riddled with grammatical errors, I won’t read on and find that out. If the story is readable, I look for a character to care about. And so on. My list isn’t absolute. I might pass on a story with grammatical errors if the voice or characters are stunningly fabulous. Don’t put the bar to publication any higher by making technical errors.

What am I looking for as a slush pile reader?

The same thing I’m looking for when I buy a novel. A great story told well.

Keep writing, and keep submitting. I hope to see you all over at Flash Fiction Online.