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The Business of Novelization & Tie-Ins Part Five: Breaking In

A Question-and-Answer session with some of the top authors writing tie-ins and novelizations today (some of whom, like Keith R.A. DeCandido and Greg Cox, have also worked as editors). For their bios, please visit the About the Authors page.

QUESTION: A friend of mine, a reasonably successful “midlist” author, asked me how to break into the novelization and tie-in business… and I didn’t know what to tell him. How *do* you break into this field? Or is it all about relationships with the right editors?

Jeff Mariotte: I think a lot of it is relationships with the right people. Which
doesn’t mean that we can’t help our writer friends build those relationships. I recently did that with a friend who has written several well-received novels, who expressed a fondness for a TV show. I’d turned down novels based on the show because I didn’t watch it, but when I found out that my friend loved the show and had seen every episode, I introduced him to the editor. He’s working on a proposal,
and if he gets the job I’ll recommend him for the list. Some of you know him already. I got my first tie-in work thanks to a friendship with Christopher Golden, who has done lots of tie-in work, and think it’s important to share with others now that I’m in a position to do so.

Just today I had a phone call with the creator of a top-rated TV series who is very supportive and enthusiastic about a tie-in novel (ideally, the first of many) based on his show. In this case, I love the show and knew the licensing person at the studio. I went to her and asked if there was a deal for tie-ins. She pointed me toward an
editor who I also know but have never worked with. I got in touch with the editor, who looked over my bibliography, talked to another editor at her company I have worked with, and offered me the gig. I’m obviously being a little vague here because I don’t yet have permission to talk about it, but it’s a deal I’m very happy with and
it’s great to have the enthusiastic cooperation of the show’s creator. But it also really points out the necessity of having the right contacts. All of my tie-in work, from ANGEL to CHARMED to STAR TREK to ANDROMEDA to CONAN, has come about via contacts. That said, the contacts alone don’t bring in the work–there has to be demonstrable skill level, a track record of achievement. A rep for meeting
deadlines doesn’t hurt either.

Dean Wesley Smith: Everything Jeff said is how I did it as well. Even though I’m not doing many work-for-hire projects these days because I’m working on my own books, I still get calls from editors asking me what I think of certain writer for a certain project. Still connected. Best way to get the jobs.

Lee Goldberg: I got in, frankly, as a fluke. I was the executive producer and principal writer (with William Rabkin) of DIAGNOSIS MURDER. Penguin/Putnam wanted to capitalize on the incredible success they were enjoying with Donald Bain’s MURDER SHE WROTE series of tie-ins, so DM was a natural choice. And when they snagged the license, someone over there discovered that, in addition to my TV work, I’d written several novels over the years (MY GUN HAS BULLETS, BEYOND THE BEYOND, .357 VIGILANTE), and that I was a two-time Edgar Award nominee for my
mystery writing. Out of the blue I got a call offering me a three-book contract. I couldn’t resist. I am now writing DM #7, with one more to go under my current contract.

Once the DM books came out to strong sales and positive critical response, I started getting offers for other tie-in work. I turned a couple of projects down but then MONK came my way. Again, it was sort of a fluke. I’ve written episodes for the series, so the showrunner knew I was novelist and a tie-in writer as well. When the notions of doing MONK tie-ins came up, he immediately suggested me for the job. The publisher was Penguin/Putnam, so naturally they were thrilled with his choice. I haven’t written a tie-in yet for a show I wasn’t already involved with. I’d like to try it some time – especially a novelization – just to see if I can do it.

David Bishop: In Britain it is still possible – just – to break in without having an agent, an existing relationship with an editor or even a track record as a publisher. In the 1990s Virgin Books had the licence to publish tie-in novels based on the
BBC’s Doctor Who franchise. This proved so successful, the company was publishing two books a month. To fulfil this requirement, the editors at Virgin operated an open door policy, reading every submission that came in. From this literally dozens of writers got their break into publishing (while retaining the copyright in their text and getting paid royalties). From those dozens of writers, several have gone on to successful careers in TV writing and three have written for the recently revived TV incarnation of Doctor Who.The open door policy was continued by BBC Books when they reclaimed the Doctor Who licence from Virgin in 1996/1997. As of September 2005, Doctor Who publishing is in flux and that open door has finally closed for newcomers. One publisher of tie-ins and novelisations remains open to unsolicited
submissions , Games Workshops’ Black Flame imprint. But there is a price for
this policy – Black Flame doesn’t pay royalties and authors must surrender the
copyright in their text.

Matt Forbeck: Black Flame is an imprint of the Black Library, both of which are
owned by Games Workshop. I write BLOOD BOWL novels for the Black Library, and these do pay royalties. The difference between the two labels is that Black Flame publishes novels based on properties that GW pays a license for. The Black Library books are all based upon properties that GW owns, like Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000.

As in any field, networking helps. You don’t need an agent to write tie-ins. I don’t have one, for instance, because I already had working relationships with the publishers for which I write (Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop), having worked on their game lines. Still, I had a hard time breaking in with them until I could prove to them that I could write a novel-length narrative. To do that, all you
really need is a novel of your own that you’ve completed.

As a working writer and game designer, I could never seem to carve out enough time to dedicate myself to a novel for which I didn’t know I’d ever get paid. Fortunately, a game publisher (Reaper Miniatures) commissioned a 40,000-word novel from me to help promote their games. Once that hit shelves, I took it to Wizards and to Games Workshop as proof of my abilities, and they signed me to write for them soon after.

Steve Perry: My work in the field had nothing to do with me looking for anything. The guy who was editing the Conan novels apparently read one of my space operas. It had a lot of martial arts and sword play in it, so he called my agent and asked if I’d be interested in doing a Conan novel. At that point, I had not written any S&S fantasy whatsoever, but I took the job. Turned into five books: Conan the College Tuition for My Son, Conan the Hot Tub, Conan the Back Taxes, Conan the Rent, and Conan the Vegetarian. (Working titles, you understand …)

When my son was too young to drive, I used to take him to a local comic book store. The guy behind the counter was a tall fellow named Mike Richardson, and while my son shopped, the manager — also the owner — and I would talk. We hit it off. He did some illustration and writing, nice guy.

Fast forward a few years, and Richardson goes from running a couple comic book stores to running Dark Horse comics. One day, he called me up, said he had the rights to do novelizations of his graphic novels in the Aliens’ universe, and would I be interested in writing them. I was.

Later, my daughter and I co-wrote some of these, and then she began writing them on her own. She’s a member of this list, with a lot of other tie-in and novelization credits.

One of the Aliens editors at Bantam, Tom Dupree, got the job to do The Mask, a movie based on a Dark Horse comic. Richardson offered me up as a candidate. Tom called me, said, I have this movie book to do. I need it in a hurry, it’s gotta be clean, and I don’t have much money.

Having never done a script-to-book, I was interested. I did the novelization, fast, clean, and cheap, and Tom said he owed me one.

I got offered a job doing a Star Wars novel, based on Tom’s gratitude — and folks at Lucasfilm having seen the Aliens’ books — plus Richardson’s enthusiastic recommendation.

Nearly every other tie-in or novelization I’ve gotten has been as a result of somebody having seen some of my stuff and deciding I could maybe do the job. In one instance, my collaborator and I pitched a tie-in to somebody for whom we’d already done three books, and I did a comic book series that was a sequel to my first Star Wars novel, but other than that, the work showed up at my doorstep based because of other stuff I had done. I have been very lucky.

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