Repeating Myself For the Benefit of the Home Crowd

Over at Metafilter, they’re talking about media tie-in science fiction, bouncing off Vonda McIntyre’s blog post on the subject of writing Star Trek novels. The comments are fairly balanced between snarking on the people who read and write tie-ins and the people who are saying “hey now, it’s not bad stuff,” and so I thought I’d drop my own comment on the matter, which I’m reposting below for you folks. If you have a Metafilter account, you can comment there; if you don’t have one, well, why not comment here.

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With very few exceptions, media tie-in SF outsells original SF, often by a significant amount. Now, we can argue about why this is and whether this is a good thing for the genre or not, but at the end of the day, it’s a fact and it’s something authors give serious consideration to, in terms of its value to their overall career.

Let me put it this way: If someone came up to you and said “I’d like you to write a book for me that’s guaranteed to be in every single bookstore in the nation and all but guaranteed to land on the New York Times bestseller list, thus allowing you to put ‘New York Times Bestselling Author’ on every single one of your books from here on out and I’ll pay you an advance worth more than you usually get for any three books you’ve written up to this point, and words get you to put into Yoda’s mouth, and you know you’ve always wanted to do that,” would you not give this person some serious consideration?

Maybe you say you wouldn’t, but, you know, that’s easy to say when you’re not an actual full-time SF writer, looking down the barrel of a mortgage (or rent, or kids’ doctors visits, or whatever) while working in a genre where seven cents a word is considered a decent wage. It’s exceptionally difficult to make any money at all writing fiction, much less science fiction, and even in the golden days of science fiction, most SF writers — even the famous ones — did something else to make money (or starved). Ask SFWA Grand Master and multiple Hugo winner Robert Silverberg about his soft-core porn writing days, for example, after the SF market collapsed in the late 50s/early 60s. I’m not aware of him having any shame about it — work is work.

Another thought to consider is that this snobbery against tie-in work is specific to medium. If I told people I was writing a script for Battlestar Galactica, I would get congratulations up and down the block; if I said I was writing a BSG tie-in novel, people would wonder why I was lowering myself. And yet the novel is by a substantial margin the longer and more complex work and in both cases one has to abide the rules of someone else’s universe. The assumption that tie-in novels are all hackwork is just that, an assumption; I challenge anyone to read a Karen Traviss or Matt Stover-penned Star Wars novel and say that they were not better works, in terms of story, character development, and audience involvement, than any of the prequel films. Yes, this is a low bar. But if you were to switch it around and say that any new Star Wars film had to clear the bar established by Traviss or Stover, I’ll you what: The next Star Wars film would fucking rock.

I don’t write tie-in SF for my own reasons, but it’s not to say I wouldn’t if the right project came along. I have quite a number of friends who do or have written tie-ins, and you know what, when all is said and done they’re generally getting paid well to do work they love in universes they’re fans of, for audiences who well appreciate their efforts. Maybe some people want to crap all over that and call them hacks. I heartily raise a middle finger at them.

149 thoughts on “Repeating Myself For the Benefit of the Home Crowd

  1. Isn’t it about the quality of the work? I understand the snobbery that writers face, but great work is great work! Frank Zappa used his more commercial albums to pay for his more esoteric work, and all of his work was interesting and high quality.

    My thoughts for the writers is to laugh all the way to the bank and keep putting out good work.

    Trey

  2. Barbara Hambly’s Star Trek novel How Much For Just the Planet? is often cited as an example of a really good tie-in novel. It’s actually one I own and I’m not generally interested in Star Trek.

    My theory is that tie-in novels follow Sturgeon’s Law, like everything else. They just have a higher profile, so you’re more apt to notice the crap. And in general, I’m not interested in reading them because I’m not interested in the world apart from its original medium.

    But as you say, writing is writing. I’m not going to pick on an author who has found a way to make a steady paycheck— actually, I commend them. They’re not “selling out” if it’s what they want to do… and the legion of fanfic sites suggest that a lot of authors like to play in other people’s sandboxes. If they can make money doing something they love, more power to them.

  3. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of tie-in novels, I’ve read every one that Karen Traviss has written and enjoyed them all (including the more recent GoW tie-in, which was great). I’m guessing she is somewhat of an exception, but I’m sure there must be other good writers in the field.

    Actually, if there are other consistently good tie-in authors that people here know about, I’d be interested in hearing who they are.

  4. I think the writers who turn their nose up at the idea do so because it would imply they need the ready-made backstory and built-in fan base in order to sell. In some cases I’d say their fear is well-founded.

  5. I have a fairly simple system for listening to media criticism.

    1) Have you successfully (e.g., commercially or to peer acclaim) created something in that medium?

    2) No?

    3) So shut up, then.

    I’d rather curl up with a cheapie Star Trek novel or something than the current Grisham or other die-stamped bit of fiction. Then again, I think some science fiction > no science fiction under nearly all cases, so my sample may be a nonstandard deviation.

  6. I don’t disagree with anything you said. As I reader, I shy away from most tie-in books as they are often crap. But not all; I’ve enjoyed Star Wars books by Stackpole, Allston, and Zahn. “How Much for just the Planet” is a fun Trek book by John M. Ford.

    I think part of the issue is that many property owners consider the property name to be more important than the author. Sales prove them largely right. Many of the authors are hacks. So I’m hesitant unless I get a recommendation from someone I trust. But I don’t fault the author for taking a high paying job that is in some way less glamorous than being more independent. A good author writing a tie-in without crippling restrictions will produce a good book.

    My view is also tainted by the fact that I grew up playing roleplaying games that has whole different level of tie-in fiction. You haven’t read a really crappy book until you’ve tried to get through a Dragonlance book or something by Ed Greenwood r many of the books by the very small properties.

  7. I feel like behind the snobbery there’s a real resentment of market economies. Writing what sells isn’t seen as success, it’s seen as pandering to the unwashed masses. I think at a basic level, a lot of artists, be they actors, painters, writers, etc., resent the idea that consumer preference determines success.

  8. Well, determines commercial success, anyway. I think some of my most creatively successful stuff hasn’t sold as well as some other stuff. Doesn’t make me think less of the work (or, to be clear, of the people who like the other stuff I write. It’s all good).

  9. PJ, a good point. There is a long and I think false dichotomy between fine and applied arts. Sure, a lot of velvet paintings of Elvis are sold, but so is a lot of the wonderful LOTR art. The success of the tie in does not minimize the accomplishment of the work for me at all.

    Sure, some work is ahead of it’s time and is not commercially viable because of that. For example, Van Gogh. But I sure wish he had done some more commercially acceptable work to fund his avant garde work, we would have more of his work if he had.

    Trey

  10. That’s what I meant, commercial success. The disconnect between what has “artistic value” or staying power and what pays the bill now is what I think causes some resentment.

  11. I’ve always viewed tie-in writing as much akin to actors that make big brainless Hollywood blockbusters to bankroll the indie projects that they love. It seems from casual observation of the shelves at the store that quite a number of writers who started out on licensed fiction have branched out into their own original work. Whose to say they would’ve had the luxury/ability to get those published if they hadn’t forged a name writing Star Wars or Trek fiction first?

    J. Gregory Keyes (lately just Greg Keyes, I think) did some Star Wars stuff before cranking out the excellent AGE OF UNREASON series, and I hear his more recent fantasy series is pretty good, too.

  12. Another thought to consider is that this snobbery against tie-in work is specific to medium. If I told people I was writing a script for Battlestar Galactica, I would get congratulations up and down the block; if I said I was writing a BSG tie-in novel, people would wonder why I was lowering myself.

    Off the top of my head, some of this might because generally tie-ins aren’t considered canonical, and are thus way down in the geek hierarchy. We could test this by checking out the reactions to, for instance, Peter David’s B5 books, which I’m pretty sure are guaranteed “true”.

  13. Barbara Hambly didn’t write How Much for Just the Planet? — the late John Ford did.

    I think there are two main reasons media tie-ins get snubbed by people.

    The biggest one — and the one that causes me to not buy them, in general — is that they’re not canon. For the most part, anything you were to write in your BSG novel would largely be ignored by the screen-writers. Were you to write an episode, that would be harder for them to do. (And when they ignored that, there’d be all sorts of complaints from fans.)

    Another one is specific to the “novelization” — a lot of readers think there’s not much involved in that. I admit, I used to be one. Until Patricia Wrede talked about her juvenile novelization of SW:E1:TPM (I think that was the one). She commented how hard it was to condense all the visually-driven plot into words, and still be consistent with the movie. (But, then, I’ve always been a fan of Wrede’s. :))

  14. I think a lot of people just don’t have respect for the tie-in works themselves. After all, to use your example, there are three Battlestar Galactica novels set in the new series (not to mention loads in the old series). One of them written by a writer I like very much (Peter David). And to the best of my knowledge, not a single one of them is in canon. Now, some of the actual series’ episodes aren’t in canon either — or at least the writers have gone out of their way to pretend The Woman King never happened. But with a show like BSG that in part is based around a mythos, I see no reason to waste my time with noncanonical additions to the mythos. (For the same reason, I don’t bother reading “original flavor” BSG fanfiction — the sort of fanfiction that tries to be like an episode of the show; it’s pointless.)

    On the other hand, with Star Trek, Star Wars, new Doctor Who, and a few other story universes, I cheerfully admit some tie-in media to canon status, while denying canon status to some “official” work. For instance, Star Wars episodes 1-3? Never happened. Instead, I’ve admitted the Thrawn trilogy to canon status.

    Yes, this is a lot of fanwanking.

  15. I think this a largely “those who have actually read tie-in books” vs. those who have not. I used to assume that all those Star Trek and Star Wars books were crap. Then I got hooked by Babylon 5 and eventually read all three trilogies based on that series. They all have been average to better than average, to excellent books. It might help that they are based on outlines by J. Michael Straczynski, so they are canon, but regardless, the writing is really strong. I’ll especially recommend Jane Cavelos’ Techno Mage Trilogy.

    So, once I’d removed the blinders regarding tie-in novels, I went out and bought Timothy Zahn’s first Star Wars trilogy which I’m just about to start. I now expect that tie-in novels are probably very similar to books in general, some are crap, some are okay, and there are some really great ones if you search hard enough.

    Regardless, I’m sure glad I didn’t let my prejudices stop me from giving some of these books a try.

  16. Another source for the hostility to tie-in SF is the fact their advent played a big role in the destruction of the mid-list SF titles. Back in the 60′s I could browse the SF shelves of my local bookstore and find multiple works from authors who weren’t Big Brand Names, and plenty of the lesser novels from the prolific well-known guys. That has vanished utterly, mostly displaced by tie-in fiction, 90% of which is, yes, crud. Really, really bad crud.

    Of course, the bookstore is gone too, but that a different lament.

  17. @15: I’m willing to accept anything by Zahn, Stackpole, Allston, the entire NJO and the entire Legacy series, but nothing from before episode 4 myself.

  18. Along the tie-in line, how about the “fanfiction” genre? I’ve got a daughter who spends way, way, way too much time reading that stuff (and from what I’ve seen of it, it makes much of the Star Trek tie-in books look like they were written by Shakespeare), but she likes it because it uses her favorite characters from various TV shows (Buffy, Angel, even Babylon 5) in stories far beyond what was ever intended. I suppose if people really like certain characters, they like reading more and more about them, even if the writing isn’t up to, say, Scalzi-level.

  19. @19, I think it’s a sign that our collective comfort level is shrinking. We’re not willing to take a chance on any new characters to sympathize with.

  20. I like how people would think John or another known author would demean themselves by doing a media tie in novel.

    That is just stupid but that viewpoint exists. My biggest concern if an author goes off and does a Media Tie in Novel what happens to their current IP?

    IE David Weber. If he ever went out and wrote some media tie in novel that just means all his other works would be delayed even more. 5 years for a HH book? argh!

    But when deciding if you do a media tie in book you also gotta worry about being typecast. Can Karen become Karen Traviss – Author? Or is she eternally going to be Karen Traviss – Star Wars Author?

    I know Vonda has had outside works of her own that I have read but I expect for every Vonda there are probably 10 who never escaped that typecast.

    So I think deciding to do Media Tie In you have to take that into consideration.

    Do publishers see authors typecast like that too? Be curious if they also do that.

  21. Like everything else, tie-ins have a good side and a bad side. On the good side, you get novels like John M. Ford’s magnificent “The Final Reflection,” which was, as far as I’m aware, the first book to portray the Klingons as something other than thinner-than-cardboard villains. Along with the usual piles of hackwork you find in any field, you’ll still find some solid writing, characterization, and storytelling in the “paid-for fanfic” stuff. I’m still treasuring the exchange in one of Michael Stackpole’s novels:

    “The Emperor always said you were a sentimental fool.”

    “I’ll remember that the next time I dance on his grave.”

    The bad side is the fact that the tie-ins encourage “brand-marketing books” replacing a wider variety of stuff in mass market. An awful lot of variety has disappeared from “casual encounter” venues like supermarkets. The book section over at my local Raley’s used to have a lot of variety, and it’s where I rediscovered David Drake by finding the paperback of “With the Lightnings” there. I went on to become a staunch fan of his. These days, if I look in that section, it’s either “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “Battlestar Galactica” or … (blank). Yech.

  22. I was one of the media tie-in snobs myself once. Over 25 years reading sci-fi and fantasy and I wouldn’t touch the stuff. I think I was worried that reading them would taint my relationship with the originals. I recall as a teenager perusing the shelves in my local bookstore and thinking that the rows of Star Trek and Star Wars books in the “anthologies” section felt like perusing the trashy novel rack at a grocery store checkout line.

    Until I saw the aforementioned Zahn and Stackpole offerings. These were authors I knew and liked. If nothing else I knew I’d enjoy the writing and I discovered that the novels didn’t taint anything. They actually enhanced my experience of the originals. As a more mature reader, I’m just as impressed with the trio of authors on the Star Wars:Legacy series ability to write alternating books and maintain the readers immersion in the story as I am with the story itself.

    I’ve even tried to pick up how one author might treat a character differently than the next and found that it just becomes immersed in the overall story.

  23. I don’t think tie-in stuff is inferior or less worthy of reading. there are a couple reasons I avoid the stuff, almost all of the time, when I have discretionary dollars to spend:

    1) Canon. Like it or not, alot of tie-in novels are not canon or a considered true part of the history, mythology or “real” approved story arc of the universe, character, etc. I love fantasy/sci-fi, among many reasons, for the consistent history and world/culture making. If a tie-in novel is not considered part of the canon, it’s almost fan-fic to me. I don’t want to waste my time, get confused and learn that what I’ve read is not important to the mythology of the series/work.

    2) Consistency. The level of quality varies author by author. If the series is one big story arc with shared characters it’s disconcerting and not enjoyable. The writing styles clash and some authors are just better than others. But I have to slog through bad authors to find out what’s happened. Not worth the time to me.

    If those issues can be addressed, I’m all for continuing my enjoyment of a tie-in novel/work. Good example, I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. It was awesome. I couldn’t read the tie-in novels because they weren’t part of the canon. Once Season 8 directed by Joss Whedon started being published by Dark Horse, I was back on board and happy to spend for my continuing entertainment. Why? Because Season 8 is part of the canon, approved and directed by Joss even though many issues are written by other writers, and it continues the story arcs of the primary characters that is consistent with the TV series.

  24. There are some really good stories being told in the Star Wars universe in settings at least 1000 years before the movies; I’ve been doing research for a role-playing campaign I plan to set in the universe (at the dawn of the Old Republic, 25000 years before the films). Drew Karpyshyn, who was the writer on the excellent Knights of the Old Republic computer game (as well as Jade Empire and Mass Effect) did a good job with his Darth Bane novels, Path of Destruction and Rule of Two. I’ve also been favorably impressed by the Knights of the Old Republic comics coming out from Dark Horse. I found some of the New Jedi Order books to be mediocre, but Walter Jon Williams, Matthew Stover, Greg Keyes, and Aaron Allston did some fine work there.

  25. Karen Traviss is indeed the primary reason I have been periodically tempted to get back into reading Star Wars novels. I own quite a few, and the ones I’ve got always did impress me by how the authors went to such lengths to coordinate the continuity of the post-movies Star Wars universe. I’ve only read one of Traviss’ novels, the first of the Matriarchs, but liked it very much and definitely plan to read more of her work. Whether or not it’s Star Wars stuff. ;)

    And yeah. I’ve read my share of bad tie-in novels, and I’ve read my share of great ones. I certainly do echo the previous recommendation of How Much For Just the Planet?, but when it comes to Star Trek novels, I also very strongly remember Uhura’s Song, Killing Time, and others. As an Elfquest fangirl from way back, I also loyally followed the Blood of Ten Chiefs anthologies and was always very interested to see what various authors did with the Pinis’ universe. And I’m amusing myself with Doctor Who tie-in novels, now.

    So yeah. It’s all about whether the story is good. I could care less whether the author is playing in somebody else’s sandbox.

  26. John,

    If offered a SW novel, which I would argue is the strongest selling of all the genre tie-in novels, would you write it?

  27. Canon, shmanon — it’s not that what you write for most tie-ins isn’t “true” or doesn’t fit the existing timelines, it’s that the characters can’t change significantly, or if they do, they’ve got to go back to square one by the last page.

    That’s why people (well, at least I) respect the scriptwriters more than the tie-in writers. They’re advancing the overall plot, the personalities, the arcs of the characters.

    That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. Peter David’s Imzadi influenced the Next-Gen films, and his and other Babylon 5 novels were permitted to play with the characters (with JMS approval).

  28. Tom, Webber did do a media tie-in series with Steve White for the Starfire board game. I don’t read tie-ins often myself and I din’t even know those were a tie-in untill well after I’d read them.

  29. @29

    That’s why the best tie-in writers create new characters and/or take peripheral characters and make them stars. I know there’s many Star Wars EU fans in here, and I think we’re all pretty much in awe of what’s been done with Wedge Antilles as a character – from basically an extra who happened to have a few spoken lines in all three original films (I think you could probably count all of his lines on both hands), to a major, major part of the story.

  30. Would I write a tie-in novel…yes. Would I buy a tie-in novel…very very rarely. I haven’t found too many that do a good job of capturing the original characters I fell in love with. A good example is the Star Wars series. I liked Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn series, but I absolutely despised Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy series. The problem for me wasn’t the plot, story, or writing, it was the destruction of characters. I found myself repeatedly saying, “He/she would never do that.” This turned me off from purchasing any tie-in books. Plus, tie-ins seem to be the easy way out for a reader.

    I acutally like K.J. Anderson’s original work.

  31. Really, arguing about what is or isn’t part of a given universe’s canon is the epitome of wankery. It shouldn’t be about whether or not something is canonical, it’s whether or not it’s any good. Diane Duane’s Trek novels, among the best I’ve read, do non-canonical things with the Romulans (it’s not like Commander Tomalak called himself a Rihannsu). Whereas “Spock’s Brain” is part of the Trek canon. QED.

  32. @32 re: Anderson

    I haven’t read Jedi Academy in a long, long time, but having just gotten 90% of the way through Dune: House Atreides before casting it aside in anger, there’s a definite problem of lack of respect for the source material. To cite one extraordinarily simple example of an avoidable faux pas, the back cover blurb for House Atreides says it “begins nearly four decades before Dune,” Meanwhile, Shaddam IV BECOMES emperor in this book, and the very first page of Dune states that Paul is born in the 57th year of his rule.

  33. A problem I have with the amount of hacks in the tie-in field is that they devalue the universe they write about.While good tie ins make the universe they write about more alive and complete, the Thrawn trilogy being a very good example, the bad ones make it flatter or incoherent or just plain connect it to bad writing.There is a reason I won’t read any tie-ins these days unless I know the author from previous works, or get a very warm endorsement from someone I can count on- I got burned too many times: the new Yuuzhan Vong series of events in the SW universe is a prime example(I consider it to be a “never happened”, like eps 1-3).

  34. From the point of view of a reader: I don’t like much media tie-ins because they so very often feel like a rehash of the original material. I’d rather have more original stuff, or something by a writer who is into similar, but still original, stuff. (Blogs and fan-clubs are good places to get useful recommandations, for instance.) I’ve also read a few media tie-in novels who gave off the impression there was a author, somewhere in there, bursting to the seams with a very different set of characters, issues and landscapes to write about, but who had to finish the tie-in first in order to pay the rent and heat bills. Painful experience.

  35. Re: “Canon, shmanon — it’s not that what you write for most tie-ins isn’t “true” or doesn’t fit the existing timelines, it’s that the characters can’t change significantly, or if they do, they’ve got to go back to square one by the last page.”

    That depends. Tie-in novels written while a show is still on the air are certainly a mixed bag. There can be good ones – contrary to popular believe, standalones aren’t necessarily a bad – but most of them aren’t outstanding.

    But that can change significantly when dealing with novels set after the series end. Star Trek is the perfect example of that. Since about 2001, the novels have changed the universe and some series very significantly. It started with a continuation of DS9 that had to replace about half the characters with new ones. But despite and new storylines, the atmosphere is eerily similar to the TV show more often than not. There are similar continuations of TNG and VOY (though the latter is of very low quality).
    Then there are series that feature new characters exclusively or to a large extent. Like New Frontier, Corps of Engineers, Titan or Vanguard. Or mostly standalone novels that are a mix of new and established characters. Some of those are major characters, but they also take supporting characters or guest stars and turn them into center pieces of the stories.

    With new characters in the same setting you can do anything you want with them. The ST novels have also moved many of the TV characters into completely different directions. New career paths (both where and what), relationships, sometimes death.

  36. I think they can feel worse than a rehash: some of them feel like, “Hey, you know all those little world-building details that were only implied in the source material? here’s EVERY LITTLE DETAIL about them, all resolved in a way calculated to be mathematically optimal for pleasing fanboys!”

  37. @ PJ

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The Dune books not written by Frank Herbert are not good. They don’t have any respect for what was already written and are just plain bad. However, Anderson’s original works, like Saga of the Seven Suns, is good…not spectacular, but I definitely enjoyed reading them. Maybe Anderson is just bad at writting tie-ins, though it seems he gets a lot of them.

  38. Really, arguing about what is or isn’t part of a given universe’s canon is the epitome of wankery.

    No, I’d reserve that for the kind of fan-wanker who can say “{insert name here} raped my childhood” without blushing, or getting punched in the junk by the nearest sane person.

  39. THANK YOU!

    As someone who worked for years to dispel the idea that media tie-in novels were the lowest form of a SF/F writer’s life, let me just repeat myself once more: THANK YOU!

    When I worked at Del Rey, I encountered this insane kind of snobbery on a daily basis, from reviewers, bloggers, and – not surprisingly – other writers.

    Apparently these writers all have trust funds and never need to actually worry about a mortgage or rent payment, and hey! Good for them! But most of the writers I know live in the real world, and a paid writing gig is a paid writing gig.

    Our editors went out of their way to hire the best writers available for our media tie-ins, including but not limited to: Greg Bear, Elizabeth Hand (who confessed to having a blast writing the movie tie-in for Catwoman!), Chris Claremont, Sean Stewart (who actually DID put words in Yoda’s mouth, thanks!), Matt Stover, Bob Salvatore, and Karen Traviss. In what had to be the funniest moments ever in my time as a SF/F publicist, I actually got the New York Times Book Review to do a capsule review Matt Stover’s tie-in of the Star Wars Episode III film (which they urged to people to read instead of seeing the film).

    There’s also a lot of confusion about the difference between a straight novelization and an expanded universe with original storylines. When Lucasfilm came to Shelly Shapiro with the idea for the New Jedi Order, she and the Lucasfilm book editors (they have a whole publishing department with talented editors) sat down and brainstormed a nineteen-volume story arc; an entirely original story that utilized some of the characters from the first three films. The individual authors for each novel were chosen for their particular writing strengths and how those strengths would best suit the storyline. Some of the books were more action-oriented, some were more espionage, and some were emotional and character driven. It really depended upon what the story needed.

    (BTW, Bob Salvatore still gets hate mail for killing off Chewbacca.)

  40. As long as all the fanfic is off in it’s own section of the bookstore, so be it. Just don’t mix it in with the real sci fi.

    And while you’re at it, make sure that dirty sci-fi (and the rest of the trash) doesn’t give the ‘real’ books dumb germs. :)

  41. The whole closetful of Star Trek tie-ins is the dark secret of my early fandom. Barbara Hambly wrote Ishmael which tied the Star Trek universe to the Here Comes the Bride universe. As a girl fan of both shows, I found the novel a complete giggle. I think I need to dig it up again for pure camp value.

  42. I read A.C. Crispin’s novellization of the V mini series (The one about aliens, not the graphic novels) and I loved it. I re-read it recently and it still stands the test of the time. It is fine science fiction.

    I have also read other tie ins. Some good stuff out there if people would give it a chance.

  43. If I can synthesize some of what’s being said here, it seems like to do a good tie-in you have to respect the source material but not revere it. You can’t stomp all over it, but you also can’t put it on a pedestal and not change anything. You have to make it yours without trying to take it away from its creators.

    Sounds like it presents some unique challenges.

  44. My own benchmarks for greatness in the wasteland of franchise tie-in fiction are John M. Ford’s Star Trek novels (there’s a great piece in From the End of the Twentieth Century about some of the people who got upset about How Much For Just The Planet?), Diane Duane’s Trek work (not only the Rihannsu sequence, but especially The Wounded Sky), and C.J. Cherryh’s novelization of the old XCOM: UFO Defense PC game, which features the alien invaders being defeated, in part, by Swiss fighting cows. I also have fond memories of Vonda McIntyre’s Trek novels that started this discussion.

    Yes, it’s a market that has room for enormous amounts of crap writing, but at the same time, I imagine it can be a bit like writing sonnets: creating art that fits into the constraints of a rigidly defined form.

  45. I don’t know, working with someone else’s canon just seems kind of… ickily awkward, like you’re dating your best friends daughter. (N.B. Now that I think about it, ickily should be a word.)

    It seems that the best of both worlds would be to do tie-ins to your own work. (Drew Karpyshyn has this going at Bioware with Mass Effect: not only does he get to write the novels, he’s also the lead writer for the games. And they are all excellent, so far…)

  46. As long as all the fanfic is off in it’s own section of the bookstore, so be it. Just don’t mix it in with the real sci fi.

    Oh, use of “sci-fi” in a dig at fanfic is a geek-hierarchy fail.

    But seriously: I understand that someone might not want to read tie-ins, but there’s a good chance that the science in a tie-in novel is actually going to be better than the science in the original show/movie. In any event, it’s still science fiction. That you don’t like it doesn’t make it not SF.

    I do think the novels can suffer if subjected to too many constraints from the publisher/copyright holder (I still think the early Trek novels by Duane and Hambly and Ford are better than the later ones, after Paramount really locked down on what the writers could do with the characters). But then again, the sonnet form is also very constrained, and nobody claims that sonnets are inherently lesser than poems written in free verse. It’s what you do with it, not the genre itself.

    Really, this sort of thing reads as being all about status. Original SF writers -> tie-in writers -> fan writers -> furries. Because like the kids on the school bus, we all have to be able to look down on someone.

  47. John – THANK YOU!!!!!

    Speaking as a fan of Tie-ins, I totally loved the Quantum Leap books. And those long, dry, dead year with NO NEW DOCTOR WHO on television (or even any Doctor Who on TV *at all*) were made a little easier to bear with the Doctor Who novels – pick your favorite Doctor, there were tie-in novels. Some were even written by the script writers who wrote the TV shows. (!)

    I have read and enjoyed tie-ins in some of my favorite universes by some of my favorite authors. I picked up Peter David’s ‘Arthur’ books because I had read his Star Trek fiction.

  48. Sometimes, though, it is crap. Not all the time, and at about the same percentage as standard F/SF. A bit higher these days, but that’s IMO. But it does get picked up by an audience who’ll read anything with a Star Wars/Trek/Gate insignia on it.

    It’s not the fans fault for loving the universe, or the authors fault, even for writing crap. It’s the editor who was in charge of signing off on what was really some serious crap, when there’s plenty of good authors out there who could have done better. Of course, that’s the same problem outside of media tie-ins. It just has a bigger crap-to-distribution ratio in media tie ins.

    What I’m saying is, I want better quality in my media tie-ins. The crap books turned me off form it too much, an have me missing the occasional John M. Ford level genius.

  49. Regardless of the skill effort required to create a media tie-in, I am not interested in reading them. Been there, done that. I felt that way when I read Blish in middle school, I feel that way when I read them now, and right now I see no reason to change.

  50. I have a fairly simple system for listening to media criticism.
    1) Have you successfully (e.g., commercially or to peer acclaim) created something in that medium?
    2) No?
    3) So shut up, then.

    Your status anxiety is showing.

  51. i like them when i’m in an easy reading mood because i enjoy seeing the new directions taken with the characters i’ve become familiar with… i try not to take it too seriously.

    if ever there was a firefly series released that might change though=)

  52. SFWA dirty laundry: not for me to air. But we did have vitriolic debate some years ago about whether or not a Tie-in media novel was eligible for a Nebula Award. As they say, when a person threw a bowl of alphabet soup at his/her significant other: “Hot words passed between them.”

    Bottom line: Wonderful authors make at least 10 times as much from their media novels then their own original fiction, and, boys and girls, this is a profession. Second, aren’t SFWA members mature enough to tell if a work has redeeming literary value?

    Vonda McIntyre knows EXACTLY what she’s talking about. Those who snark thereunto, reveal ignorance and prejudice.

  53. (BTW, Bob Salvatore still gets hate mail for killing off Chewbacca.)

    Ah hah, I still remember crying and throwing the book across the room when that happened. I think I was 13 or 14 at the time.

    I have a special fondness for tie-ins because the first sci-fi book I ever read was one. A Star Wars one at that, when I was 8 years old and staying with on of my aunts and found it on my cousin’s bookshelf and devoured it in one night. I don’t remember which one it was but it made me fall in love with sci-fi novels. I don’t really buy them now but I do pick them up all the time at garage sales and thrift stores (I recently got like 15 Who novels from the 60s and 70s that I’m entertaining myself with) and think they’re great fun and like anything else, there’s gems and there’s crap. The big difference is is that original sci-fi crap doesn’t have that point of comparison in the same world that tie-ins do and if they’re crap they’re forgotten about easier and the world ceases to exist. Not true with the tie-ins. Not to mention people are damn protective of their show/movie/comic/whatever so they’ll judge the tie-ins even harsher.

  54. tt -

    I don’t know how it works with the Star Trek expanded universe stories, but I know that with Star Wars, all of the expanded universe work (Dark Horse, Del Rey, etc) actually is part of the canon.

    Cheers!

    Colleen

  55. Of course, writing tie-in fiction is not without its risks. Just ask Bruce Bethke, who’s promising writing career was basically killed dead in a single stroke by agreeing to write the novelization for the Will Smith “Wild Wild West” movie.

    (Bethke used to have a great essay about the experience online, but his website went mostly tits-up a while ago, and it’s not available on the wayback machine.)

  56. Caveat — most of the tie-in reading I did was in college, via my local library, so “my hard-earned dollars” don’t enter into it.

    That said, I have never given a flying fairy about canon if I’m reading a book. The “alternate universe” idea has never been a problem for me to accept. I do care about the book sucking, in all the ways a non tie-in book might suck — or be spectacular. (The non-canon-but-fantastic “Rihansu” series comes to mind.) At one point, being a student and having a lot of time on my hands, I read every ST:TNG tie in I could find, in numerical order, because it didn’t take but an hour or two tops and was pretty much as fun as watching an episode, and as I came to sci-fi relatively late, there were never enough episodes for me.

    I got older, and began to stick to David, Duane, ab Hugh, and some others.

    I recall having these arguments in the early days of AOL — you’d be trying to discuss a book, and random dudes would swing by going “It’s not canon!” and I’m sitting there going — “But…*splutter* — this isn’t an argument! We know this already? Tell me the dialogue sucks, or there’s no denouement or something!” I already KNOW it’s not part of what’s on TV…because I can identify the action I’m committing as “reading a book”!

    But, basically, it was two different approaches to enjoying the same material — neither more or less valid, but sometimes mutually exclusive, I think. (I’m having trouble articulating the boundaries of the two. One involves what I do — leave my world to mentally inhabit another for a little while — and the other involves memorizing the trivia, buying the guidebooks, and remembering — or caring to remember — what a tachyon does. Or learning Elvish — different fandom, I know, I know.)

    One thing I do resent the books for? Nobody could ever agree on the color of Picard’s eyes!!! Not even on the covers! What freaking color are Picard’s eyes? I must know! (I actually briefly MET Stewart, and still couldn’t tell you.)

  57. “Maybe some people want to crap all over that and call them hacks. I heartily raise a middle finger at them.”

    Not content with calling tie-in writers hacks, Scalzi also flips them the bird.

    (still chuckling…)

  58. @ PJ The Barbarian #39: Word!

    It’s the “carefully calculated” part that annoys me most with media tie-ins. I may be in the minority, but as a reader, don’t like being pandered to. Not to this extent, at least. (Hey, if I wan’t fan-fiction, I’ll find it for free on the Net. Good fan-fiction, too, sometimes.) But this is a risk-adverse industry producing tons of finely calibrated stuff for surprise-avoiding readers. Whatever the craft involved in producing said stuff, it’s still not as exciting as original material.

  59. @57

    It’s second-class canon, at best. I appreciate that they do consider it pseudo-canon and try not to let contradictions in, when the chips were down and Lucas was making I-III, he had carte-blanche to invalidate anything that had been printed about the clone wars.

  60. I read the Star Wars ones – they’ve NEVER been 100% great. Even when you just had Zahn there was the spectacularly weird Splinter of the Mind’s Eye from the 70′s. And the more of Traviss’ SW work I read the more I feel like I’m being lectured at, but YMMV. That’s the nature of the beast.

    The funny thing about Star Wars and canon is that Lucasfilm actually has official levels in regards to all the different stuff going on – movies, books, cartoons, games, etc. (Wired’s interview with LFL’s Leland Chee is a must-read.) I’m knee-deep in all this and it still makes my head spin. But I’ve also spent a lot of time in the fanfic community, and honestly I value a decent story over everything else, including canon.

  61. Well, my first SF book was STAR TREK 3 by James Blish (I found it odd that he had Sulu in THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES–now I know he must have been working from an early draft of the script). I went from that to the Heinlein juveniles, and never looked back. So I have no trouble with the idea of tie-in books. As for the quality argument, remember that Sturgeon’s Law applies to everything! So perhaps a bit of chill-pilling is in order…

  62. Yes, fanfic of scifi is itself scifi. But it’s not what most people browsing the sci fi section are looking for. Obviously some people like it, and it sells. That’s perfectly fine.

    No one is saying that it shouldn’t be written or read. If that’s what you want, have at it. Just don’t tell the rest of us we have to think well of it.

  63. Scalzi, given Michael Kirkland’s apparent use of “fanfic” for what you’ve called “tie-ins,” do you see meaningful differences between tie-ins and fanfic, other than the obvious points about the former being authorized and paid for, while the latter is not?

    I don’t really feel like tie-ins are contracted, paid, authorized fanfic, but I sure don’t have any concrete reasons I could present to those with Mr. Kirkland’s view.

  64. Hi Dunc! Long time no anything!

    Oh … fanfic and tie-ins? I do regard media tie-ins as fanfic someone got paid to write, but I think there’s some mind-blowingly good fanfic out there. And getting paid to write is a fine thing. I think there are some writers who regard media tie-ins as conveniently lucrative second-rate slumming, and they don’t put the care into it that they put into their non-media stuff, because all they really want out of it is a pay check and improved name recognition (this can backfire – I can’t bring myself to pay for Kevin Anderson’s original fiction to this day; I don’t care how many bloody awards he’s won). But the ones who pour their craft into it have produced some really enjoyable stuff. Sure, the gem:crap ratio follows Sturgeon’s Law – that’s where review sites come in so very handy.

  65. Steve Ely:

    “do you see meaningful differences between tie-ins and fanfic, other than the obvious points about the former being authorized and paid for, while the latter is not?”

    Well, but that’s a fairly significant difference, isn’t it? And not one to be lightly brushed over.

    Another difference is that fanfic is self-serving (i.e., based wholly on the desires of the fan) while tie-in writers have to take in the considerations of a number of constituencies. Note that I don’t mean “self-serving” as a denigration, merely observing that the fanfic writers can write whatever they have an interest to, and have the characters do anything they want them to do. Tie-in writers have a hell of a lot more restrictions.

    It does make the job tougher, and is one reason why tie-in stuff requires pros; that is, people who can writer to specification and still make what the write interesting.

  66. Scalzi:

    I disagree with your distinction between “tie-ins” and fanfic, but you’ve made me realize why I loathe the stuff. The whole point of it is to violate what should be the first rule of any author: leave them wanting more.

    Fanfic (whether commercial or not) is an attempt to satisfy that want, and thus it necessarily sullies the original. The only defence is to pretend it doesn’t exist. (Case in point: Highlander 2.)

  67. Scalzi @ 71: “Well, but that’s a fairly significant difference, isn’t it? And not one to be lightly brushed over.”

    Yeah, I suppose it is a pretty significant difference. I think if I was brushing over it lightly there, it’s because Mr. Kirkland seems to be dismissing it outright, so I became interested in fleshing out the other differences. Thanks for the point about whose interest is being served and specifications being met.

    For my part, the example of a Scalzi-written BSG episode vs. a Scalzi-written BSG book does make me markedly less disrespectful of tie-ins in general, though vian’s Sturgeon’s Law reference is surely a good one.

    Nonetheless, I expect I’ll continue to ignore most tie-ins. Only one I can remember buying was the 3-issue Serenity comic book miniseries based on Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Actually, do comics count as tie-ins? Would it count as a tie-in since Whedon himself collaborated with writer Brett Matthews on it? (Certainly not fanfic at this point.)

    If comics, as well as novels, are tie-ins, is it safe to say the tie-in is always a print item based on a film or television franchise? If there’s a novel based off, I don’t know, Justice League or something, is that a tie-in? What if someone makes a movie set in the OMW universe that plainly not any of your OMW stories but is licensed by you to use OMW’s characters and concepts? Tie-in movie based on a novel series? Does it work in that direction?

  68. Steve Ely:

    “What if someone makes a movie set in the OMW universe that plainly not any of your OMW stories but is licensed by you to use OMW’s characters and concepts?”

    I wouldn’t sign a movie contract like that, unless it first specified that a movie from the book were made first. In which case, the movie you describe wouldn’t be a tie-in, it would be a sequel.

  69. Mr. Scalzi, all of that is so absolutely true. I’ve always believed that books are good or not solely upon their own merit.

    Oh, and I challenge anyone to find any book out there at all; any genre, time period, whatever; that is better in any way than Traitor or Shatterpoint(Stover’s SF tie-ins). The only ones that I’ve ever found that come close are Blade of Tyshalle(an original Stover book) and Fight Club.

  70. Steve Ely:

    No, no. I was using Highlander 2 to illustrate the point that the only way a narrative can survive a work which does not leave the audience wanting more is if the audience collectively agrees that the work does not exist.

    It explains why people react with such vitriol to fan fiction. We have to scrub its existence from our minds in order to continue enjoying iterations of the original.

    Read and write your Sulu space pirate slash fiction if it makes you happy, but don’t ask me not to turn up my nose at it. It’s a defence mechanism.

  71. @ John #75: “I wouldn’t sign a movie contract like that”

    Never say never? And if they offered a LOT of money for the license to use the OMW universe, provided you let them write the script and didn’t interfere? After all, a lot of films made from books are just that: a title, some recognizable names and features of the universe depicted in the book, but the original story just goes overboard.

  72. Irene Delse:

    Nope, never. I don’t need the money that badly, and I think the book itself is filmable. Mind you, this is not the same as saying that I wouldn’t expect them to make changes; I would be silly if I didn’t expect that. But that’s not the same thing as saying it’s not based on the book at all.

  73. I enjoyed the few of Vonda McI.’s Trek tie-ins that I read, but be warned that her one attempt at a Star Wars novel (The Crystal Star) sucked an abundance of crusty ass. Skip right past it, I implore you!

  74. My nomination for the best tie-in novel (actually, novelization) of all time: Orson Scott Card’s adaptation of James Cameron’s script for The Abyss. Particularly the first three chapters, which provided backstory for the three main characters, and the motivations provided for the aliens, which Cameron did not provide because there wasn’t any way to portray the aliens’ motivations visually.

  75. I suspect Kirkland’s trying to bait me and that I therefore shouldn’t respond, but I can hardly help myself, so: Nope, not involved in fanfic, slash or otherwise. Don’t write it, don’t read it. (Again, Scalzi vs Kirkland definitions, but I don’t write any tie-in novels either, in case people start wondering.)

    Amazingly, I’m able to give the Scalzi-written BSG novel as much respect as the Scalzi-written BSG TV episode and still ignore [Scalzi-defined] fanfic altogether.

  76. Alan Dean Foster is the king of the tie-in novels. He novelized Star Trek: The Animated Series, greatly expanding on the original scripts. He is said to have ghostwritten or co-written the novelization of Star Wars, and he wrote a fine sequel to episode IV titled Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

  77. There is often some really excellent writing in the various media universe books, and I sure wouldn’t sneer at anyone who wrote a good book for good money. Why do some folks equate “popular” with “tawdry”?

    John @79: I think the book would make an excellent film. It’s very balanced. Do you have, in your mind’s eye, a cast?

  78. Oh, I may have spoken too soon on my lack of fanfic reading. I am a big fan of the Alan Moore comic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Bill Willingham series Fables. I suppose those might count even by a narrower definition.

  79. Steve Ely:

    I wasn’t trying to bait you, and I was “you” in the generic rather than specific sense. I didn’t intend to imply that you, specifically, had a dog in the race.

    I agree with Scalzi that the people actually putting pen to paper are professionals. Far from disputing that, I’m pointing out that it makes things worse. Ultimately, the publishers are exploiting the want to hear more without renewing it, because no real change can happen.

    Sure, it’s arbitrary to assume all film to book works are doing this, but how many aren’t?

    This phenomena certainly bleeds into films as well. Wouldn’t most of us prefer that Highlander 2, the Star Wars prequels and the second two Matrix films were simply never made, at least in retrospect?

  80. Just to echo a theme already sounded here: tie-ins are a great entry-point into READING science fiction for young people. As an old guy (46) the first science-fiction novel I read (I think the first NOVEL I read) was probably also the first Star Trek tie-in, called “Spock Must Die!” by James Blish, a very well-established SF writer at the time who also wrote the original Star Trek episode adaptations. I just took it down from the shelf (gently, its a fragile old paperback) and its from 1970, so I was eight years old.

    Thats not to say it was a juvenile novel. It was a good SF novel then by anyone’s standards, and it remains so.

  81. @84 DebGeisler

    “Why do some folks equate “popular” with “tawdry”?”

    A popular book or universe is fine. It’s when they just start slapping the name on everything, no matter how good it is. Star Wars, Star Trek, and the one I’m most disappointed in…Dune. From my vantage point the publisher is saying, “The fans are idiots. They will buy anything with this name, so crank’m out!”

    I also rarely buy any book with dual authors, where one of them is huge and the other just starting out. You know the huge author was only paid in name and didn’t really contribute much.

  82. Michael, thanks for that clarification.

    “Wouldn’t most of us prefer that Highlander 2, the Star Wars prequels and the second two Matrix films were simply never made, at least in retrospect?”

    That’s certainly an easy sentiment to agree with in itself, but I see it as less illustrating less anything about tie-ins than the idea that Sturgeon’s Law will strike even when the same creators are making stories with the same characters. Some stuff’ll be good, a lot’ll be crap. Sometimes it’s plainly a good idea to make another movie with the same characters that worked in an earlier, popular one. Empire Strikes Back turned out pretty well.

  83. Steve Ely:

    It’s not just that the fan fiction is bad. It’s that it’s bad in such a way to reduce my enjoyment of the “real” productions in that universe.

    Maybe that doesn’t apply to everyone, but it does to me and I expect many others. Though I hadn’t thought it through, that’s why I shun fan fiction. So let us shun it. Think of it as spoilers.

  84. Anyone actually like some tie-ins by authors better than their “original”( ie, non-tie-in) work? I’m thinking of A.C. Crispin and Peter David. I enjoy their sense of humor much better in their ST work, when they don’t have to do a lot of explaining and backstory.

    I’m with ya on really enjoying Stover, Hambly, McIntire, and Keyes on whatever they write. They’re just good.

  85. Michael at #92: You say of fanfic “It’s that it’s bad in such a way to reduce my enjoyment of the “real” productions in that universe.”

    I’ve heard this before, and I wonder if you could elaborate. I’m not doubting what you’re saying, but how does reading fanfic alter (for you, or in your perception) the canon on which it’s based? Many fic writers and readers liken fanfic to playing in someone else’s sandbox – you seem to be saying that the sandbox itself is altered … actually, let’s not carry that analogy any further, unless you want to make a cheap shot …

    My point is, although you can’t unread it, it emphatically has no bearing on the official story. It’s someone else’s speculation; a game, if you will. As a reader, I can entertain the notions in it even if I don’t agree with them, and no harm done. What is it about your experience which is different?

  86. As an author of tie-in and original stuff, I’d just like to say thanks to John for his pithy and intelligent words on this side of the biz; I’m especially pleased because it’s not often a mainstream SF author without tie-in credits comes out on our side.
    Sadly, every time someone like Vonda or John talks about this kind of work, the same tired old arguments come rolling out – it’s not canon, it’s fan fiction, it’s killing real books, you’re all talentless hacks, blah blah blah… – and usually from people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about.
    I’ve fought my corner on all these accusations and more, but still the snobbery remains; and I never fail to be amused by the irony of how lit SF snobs wail about how mainstream lit looks down on them, only to turn around and do exactly the same to tie-ins.
    But never mind; as Karen Traviss once said to me – “If those guys bother us, we can just run them over in our Porsches.”

  87. Jeez, guys, what’s with the misattribution on this thread? A couple of people have already pointed out that “How much for just the planet” was actually written by John M. Ford, but a quick check also shows the Xcom: UFO tie in was written by Diane Duane. I know, because as soon as I heard such a thing existed I wanted to buy it :D

    I think novel tie-ins may suffer from the same issue as game tie-ins: if the instigator of the project is relying on something other than the quality of the end product to sell the work (i.e. the popularity of the source material), then quality can take a back seat and it will still make money.

    I’m not saying it always does – I grew up on Terence K. Dicks “Dr. Who” novels from my local library – just that if something other than quality is expected to drive sales, the product is more likely to make it to market without it.

  88. Is there a name for the Internet Law that says “Any comment which snarks at an error will suffer from an example of the error the snarked about”?

    In my complaint about misattribution above, a random K. seems to have embedded itself in Terence Dicks name (in retrospect, it probably migrated in from an off-screen Philip Dick…). Sorry.

  89. The biggest downside to tie-ins is that kickass writers are writing things which are not as good as their original work.

    Compare Stover’s Blade of Tyshalle to Traitor. Now, I liked Traitor; as far as SW goes, it’s one of the best. But friggin’ Blade of Tyshalle? One of my very favorite books. Ever.

    Jeff VanderMeer, critically acclaimed writer that he is, wrote a Predator novel. Now, I love my Predator, and I love my Jeff VanderMeer. But compared with Shriek: An Afterword, there’s…no ‘there’ there.

    I’m not claiming that, say, these people are horrible monsters who deserved to be clubbed to death; I understand the value of paying down a mortgage. And their tie-in books are good; just not AS good. I’d prefer that the same people who are guaranteed to throw down ten bucks at anything featuring any guy named Skywalker, ever, would be willing to pick up more original fiction by these people. Estimates are that 1-2% of people who enjoy a particular writer’s tie-in fiction go on to get their original. That’s a lot more readers…but percentage-wise, pretty damn low.

  90. Russ@96: Oh crap. You’re right. I don’t know how that got crosswired in my head, since I own a freakin’ copy of the X-Com novel. Probably just because Cherryh’s another amazing author who’s done franchise tie-ins like Lois & Clark novels. (It’s also not helped by the fact that Duane’s Trek novels feature a very thinly fictionalized version of Cherryh — Janice Kerasus, head of Enterprise’s Linguistics Department.)

    Which brings up an interesting side topic — writers putting fictionalized versions of each other in their work. The examples that come to mind, besides Janice Kerasus, are Neil Gaiman’s appearance in How Much For Just The Planet as “Ilen the Magian”, and Niven/Pournelle’s Footfall, which features a bunch of thinly disguised SF authors (Robert A. Heinlein, Niven and Pournelle themselves, and I’m fairly sure that “Sherry Atkinson” is another incarnation of Cherryh). I’m sure there are plenty more examples. Is there a name for that phenomenon? Seems like some sort of distorted corollary of Mary-Sueism (without the requirement of bad writing, of course).

  91. I use to read Star Trek tie-ins. I enjoyed some, did not enjoy others; the names that are mentioned were the ones that I enjoyed (Peter David, Diane Duane, Vonda McIntyre). What I found enjoyable while reading them was that I was familiar with the characters and the authors assumed that familiarity and could then do stuff with characters that I found interesting.

    There was admittedly some really bad drek in all of this. I remember reading one star trek novel where the characters appeared to be cardboard cut-outs moving through a (not very good) plot. I thought that it took a special kind of bad to do this to a character when they were essentially handed to you.

    I stopped reading all tie-ins about 10 years ago. Strangely enough this thread makes me want to go pick a few up and read them.

    Cheers
    Andrew

  92. 100: Tuckerisation is the practice of giving fictional characters the names of real people (though that’s often the only similarity). Example: the Master of Assassins Dr Follett in Terry Pratchett’s “Night Watch” is named after the author Ken Follett, who paid a staggering amount of money (to charity) for the privilege at an auction.

    Not sure what giving fictional characters the attributes of real people but different names is…

  93. Commercial writing, whether nonfiction or fiction, is work, and helps pay the bills, something important for all of us, not just writers. I don’t see why a writer of tie-ins should be ashamed, any more than John is for his bond fund brochures.

    Yes, it would be nice if writers could spend all their time on their own worlds, but then we have the problem of getting publishers to buy the books.

  94. Aw, heck, the first SF novel I remember my mother buying for me was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. When Luke and Leia turned out to be siblings, I was vaguely bummed that their relationship wasn’t going to work out the way it was hinted about in Foster’s book. Didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the decent SW movies by any stretch, though.

    I also find the “Oh, but those aren’t REAL SF novels” snobbery to be amusingly hypocritical. I’ve seen some crap tie-ins. I’ve seen crap that was printed in hardcover by major publishing houses (casts baleful glance at Anne Rice). And another Trek novel that hasn’t been mentioned but is influencing canon is the one McIntyre wrote about the Romulans. It’s been cited as a major influence over the reboot movie. And by itself, it’s a sweet piece of detail work on how one planet’s people can split into two and why.

  95. Is part of the issue people have with tie-in novels to do with how much they love the original show/film/etc? Presuming that they have the same chance at being terrible as any other novel, the problem might be that people are much more disappointed with a novel that screws up characters that they already love and adore than one that screws up characters and a world they don’t give a damn about.

    Or of course it might just be snobbery — maybe after feeling looked down upon by literary fiction types, SF fans want somebody to look down upon to? Certainly among the fairly geeky phd students I hang out with, admitting to being a star trek fan would probably involve a wee bit more mocking than admitting to reading SF.

  96. My own feeling is that most filmed science fiction is at its root pretty mediocre science fiction. I may not make many friends saying this, but I’ve always felt that “Star Trek” was more of an amusing adventure series than real SF. (Until around the Voyager timeframe, which it just went to hell entirely.) Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy Star Trek, the earlier Star Wars, Stargate, Firefly, etc., but other than a few aberations like “Blade Runner”, I’ve always felt they were more an amusing way to pass the time rather than something deep.

    When I see a good writer writing a Star Trek novel (or whatever) I feel like I am missing out on the novel they could be writing, the one with their own characters and their own setting. I don’t fault them for it…everyone’s got to make a living…but I do feel a sense of loss.

    Related to this is, I think, a fannish behavior I dislike, which is to fixate on one world and then obsessively consume until the ends of the Earth. It causes those things that get attached to (Star Trek being the worst offender) to expanded far beyond the bounds of where it had anything interesting or original to say. I’d personally rather more effort was spent on original fiction rather than on milking an existing franchise. How many John Scalzis never wrote their own “Old Man’s War” because they were too busy writing something to sell to people who buy everything with “Star Trek” on the cover?

    Again, I don’t fault anyone for choosing to make their money that way…it just makes me sad the way watching a gifted artist spend all his time painting products for ads would.

  97. Steve Burnap, I think that actually, writing tie-in fiction actually enables a lot of writers to work on their original stuff, both in the sense that it can help them break into the publishing world, and that it can provide necessary funds needed to help wean them off their creativity-killing day jobs.

    If I ever manage sell any of my original material, you can thank Star Trek for it.

  98. Scalzi said “I don’t write tie-in SF for my own reasons…”

    Care to share those reasons? (And sorry if someone else already asked the question. I didn’t notice it in a quick scan of comments.)

  99. vien:

    Good fiction needs interesting horizons for the characters to set off into. Fanfic tends to explore those horizons to the point that they’re no longer interesting. It’s looking behind the curtain at the wizard.

    There’s also the “non-canon” issue. Contradictions will break my suspension of disbelief, and I’m the sort of person that will remember the details.

    Again, it’s like spoilers. Some people like spoilers, and there are lots of places online that make good money publishing them. But most people have the decency to cover up spoilers.

    If you like fanfic, that’s just fine. I wish you well. Just don’t be the guy in the theatre who loudly points out the killer.

  100. Britta Dennison: I guess I’m just decrying an industry where new authors have to play in someone else’s playground in order to get the cash to get going. I feel that SF would be better in general if all the dollars going to Star Trek novels were going to original fiction. If the shelves containing Star Trek novels instead contained original fiction, wouldn’t you have an easier time selling your original fiction?

    John Scalzi:It sounds like what you are saying is that what separates you from the average Star Trek novelist is that you’ve reached a level of success where you can choose to ignore that sort of contract work.

  101. Britta Dennison: I guess I’m just decrying an industry where new authors have to play in someone else’s playground in order to get the cash to get going. I feel that SF would be better in general if all the dollars going to Star Trek novels were going to original fiction. If the shelves containing Star Trek novels instead contained original fiction, wouldn’t you have an easier time selling your original fiction?

    Steve: I wouldn’t presume to speak for John, but when has it ever been easy selling fiction? Was it easy for Robert Silverberg or Michael Moorcock when they were doing their apprenticeship in the pulp mines back in the 50′s? Are Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman any the less as artists because they started out in the comic industry “in someone else’s playground,” before getting the chance to torch the swing-set with ‘Sandman’ and ‘Watchmen’? Steven King is perfectly candid that he started his career selling stories to magazines that were, to be blunt, the masturbatory equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

    I don’t mean this as a personal slam, Steve, but its very easy to be high-minded and snotty when you’re not the one having to choose between making the next mortgage payment and paying for medicine that might stop you infant child screaming in pain 24/7.

  102. Let me be perfectly clear: I am making absolutely no value judgments about the people who write Star Trek novels. I understand that Silverberg had to write soft porn…that’s really kinda my point. I wish we lived in a world where he hadn’t had to. We likely lost a couple damn good novels he didn’t have time to write because he was writing soft porn novels.

    I don’t see how wishing authors could make money doing what they want instead of having to choose to write whatever paid the mortgage is “snotty” or “high-minded”…

  103. “masturbatory equivalent of Hamburger Helper”?

    Thanks a lot, now I need to get my imagination steam-cleaned!

  104. I think that’s because it’s dismissing other people’s tastes in media tie ins (even in soft core porn) as worth less when compared to your own tastes in what you’d rather the authors wrote. You’re not considering that some of them might even enjoy writing those books, and think it worth while.

  105. It’s an old argument, and a valid one, just not realistic. The industry panders to what sells. This has always been true, going back to the very roots of Sci-fi. Going back to the very roots of *art.* Many of the great classical works of art we’ve come to attribute to one artist or another were commissioned pieces, not just something the painter made because he wanted to make it.

    Happily, with the advent/rise of the internet, writers can write whatever-the-heck they want all the live long day on their blogs, if they feel so inclined.

    But there’s only room for a scant few of them to make any money at it.

  106. We likely lost a couple damn good novels he didn’t have time to write because he was writing soft porn novels.

    OTOH, Silverberg might not have written anything at all, because he might have decided to go get a ‘real’ job rather than starve to death. Would T.S. Elliot have written more poems if he didn’t spend his most productive years going off to the bank every morning, or was that the grit around which the pearls of his poetry was formed? (He certainly got rather pissed off when he discovered Ezra Pound was trying to raise money to release him from the “drudgery” of a 9 to 5 job.) I don’t know; nobody can know.

    One of the truly lovely grace notes in ‘Sandman’ is that in The Dreaming there’s a vast (possibly infinite) library of unwritten books that never cross the line from dreams to reality. And I’d say for a true artist, nothing is ever wasted or a lost opportunity.

    And I personally rather like the attitude of Florence King towards the soft porn novels she wrote — it wasn’t only the best paid work she ever had (she could make more out of a dirty book banged out in a week than in months as a journalist), but she learned an awful lot about writing for a very specific market, even if it played merry hell with her prose. However, the pornos are the only books of hers she doesn’t have copies of — not because she is ashamed of people knowing she wrote them. she just couldn’t bear the thought of dying in her apartment, and having total strangers think she read the damn things. :)

  107. Josh: if thinking that works written to contract for a buck are, on average, inferior to original works written because the authors just wanted to write them is snotty, then yes, I am snotty. If thinking that soft core porn is, on average, inferior to SF is high-minded, then yes, I am high-minded.

    Britta: I agree. The industry panders to what sells. That’s why I cringe to see people read Star Trek novels.

    I don’t think commissioned pieces really relate, because those were decidedly NOT created to pander to the masses. They were created to pander to one very rich guy, which is a totally different matter.

    My own feeling is this: you buy a Star Trek novel, you are paying someone to write a Star Trek novel. You buy an original work by an unknown author, you are paying something to write something original. Personally, I think that when people write what they want rather than what they are paid for, they tend to write better stuff.

    Yes, the industry panders to what sells…but “what sells” varies over time and place.

  108. OTOH, Silverberg might not have written anything at all, because he might have decided to go get a ‘real’ job rather than starve to death.

    There is no conceptual difference between “writing soft core porn” and “real job” in what I was saying. I was saying that I wished Silverberg had had the financial means to write what he wanted.

  109. Personally, I think that when people write what they want rather than what they are paid for, they tend to write better stuff.

    Perhaps Mr. Shakespeare and Herr Bach would have something to say about that?

  110. “I don’t think commissioned pieces really relate, because those were decidedly NOT created to pander to the masses. They were created to pander to one very rich guy, which is a totally different matter.”

    I’m not too sure I see the difference, especially since many commissioned pieces were created to pander to the congregation of a large public church…aka “the masses.”

    At any rate, I do disagree that when a writer writes what he or she “wants” it’s going to be “better” than for-hire work. It’s just flexing a different set of writing muscles. I do feel like, having done contract work, my writing is exponentially better now than it was before I did any tie-in writing. Before I was hired as a tie-in writer, I was trying to do mainstream literary fiction, but hadn’t had any luck selling a single story, had two unsold novels I’d been trying to hawk, universally rejected. I jumped at the chance to do Star Trek, even though (I shouldn’t admit this publicly, but…) I had never watched it. It was a HUGE opportunity to get my foot in the door. Did it make me a sellout? Maybe. Do I care? NO. I’m just pleased as punch that I was able to fill my heating oil tank this winter. Also, it was kind of cool to be introduced to Star Trek so late in the game, when I was able to netflix every single episode and watch them in one big long orgy cram-fest, but that’s only vaguely relevent…

    Those original books of mine are still unsold, and it’s probably for the best, as they were actually crap. Mainstream literary fiction is hard to sell nowadays, and why shouldn’t it be? Bookstores are clogged with it, and how much of it even has anything original to say anymore? If anything, writing tie-ins helped me figure out what I want my original “voice” to sound like, and I feel a million times more confident about the writing I’m working on now than I did about the stuff I was doing pre-Star Trek.

    It’s kind of a moot argument, to say, “I wish people would read stuff that I, personally, perceive as being better than Star Trek.” Better according to you, maybe, but you might be forced to thumb-wrestle a whole lot of vehement die-hard geeks to qualify that.

    It’s kind of arbitrary. And dumb to argue about in the comments section of someone else’s blog.

  111. Thank you, Britta, you said it better than I could have, and with more (*ahem*) authority. It’s been a while since I read any Trek novels. I should grab some next time I get the chance.

  112. I read a lot of tie-ins as a kid, some of them were bad and some were good (just like the rest of sf). I think my favourite probably was Blaze of Glory (Picard has to stop a piratical Constitution-class starship with a cloaking device). One of the things that made it good is the author didn’t hew too close to the series – he got to invent new characters and such. The world was not quite Star Trek (Featured an evil Federation-based corporation) and the terminology was all wrong (Federation “light cruisers” and a Federation “Chairman” instead of a Federation President) which definitely conveyed that the author was doing his own thing.

    Wow that got pretty nitpicky. I guess I’ll continue that theme for some of the comments (.

    @5 1) Have you successfully (e.g., commercially or to peer acclaim) created something in that medium?
    2) No?
    3) So shut up, then.

    I don’t have to be a chicken to know an egg tastes bad.

    @37Then there are series that feature new characters exclusively or to a large extent. Like New Frontier[.]
    I haven’t read the others but there were a lot of familiar faces in New Frontier (like Cmdr Shelby and Robin “Ashley Judd” Lefler).

    @58I know that with Star Wars, all of the expanded universe work (Dark Horse, Del Rey, etc) actually is part of the canon.
    Star Wars canonity is incredibly complex with the “Holocron” divided in five different levels of canon (G– T– C– S– and N– canons).

    @113 Are Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman any the less as artists because they started out in the comic industry “in someone else’s playground,” before getting the chance to torch the swing-set with ‘Sandman’ and ‘Watchmen’?
    Well, technicially, weren’t they still playing in someone else’s playground? I mean, Sandman is in DC Continuity – you have all sorts of superheroes and supervillians (like Element Girl and Dr. Destiny). And Watchmen was orginally going to be written based on Charlton Comics characters (just acquired from DC) and instead was just based off them and others.

  113. There’s some pretty aggressive point missing going on here. Yes, Shakespeare and Bach did their thing for money…so do writers of original fiction. But for the most part, Shakespeare chose his own subjects and Bach chose his own melodies. Would the world have been a better place of Hemingway wrote “Moby Dick 2: Revenge” instead of “Farewell to Arms” to pay the bills?

    If a person *wants* to write Star Trek novels, then more power to them, but I refuse to feel ashamed if I think it is a sad commentary that authors feel forced to write to someone else’s tune to pay the mortgage. (And there’s a reason why Haldeman’s “Forever War” is still in print while “World Without End” is largely forgotten, though I am glad for him if that paid his mortgage.)

    What depresses me is that every spring, I go to the local bookstore to buy whichever of the Hugo nominated novels I haven’t read, and the last two years running I haven’t found a single damn one. Last year, for instance, Borders couldn’t apparently find space for “The Last Colony”…fortunately that I’d already read. Yet there’s a good 12 feet of shelf space dedicated to tie-ins to every SF TV show you can think of.

  114. There’s some pretty aggressive point missing going on here. Yes, Shakespeare and Bach did their thing for money…so do writers of original fiction. But for the most part, Shakespeare chose his own subjects and Bach chose his own melodies.

    That’s pretty disingenuous, Steve: Shapespeare wrote for the commercial theatre — and in an environment where every play required a licence from the Master of the Revels before it was performed, so anything offensive to court sensibilities or politically contentious was pretty much out of the question. Nor did Bach have any freedom to fiddle with the Mass or sacred texts in his religious music, or offend the power patrons who kept him and his family out of the gutter.

  115. It explains why people react with such vitriol to fan fiction.

    You mean like Wicked? Or The Red Tent? Or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?

    Wait, that’s all lit’rary so it doesn’t count. My bad.

  116. What depresses me is that every spring, I go to the local bookstore to buy whichever of the Hugo nominated novels I haven’t read, and the last two years running I haven’t found a single damn one. Last year, for instance, Borders couldn’t apparently find space for “The Last Colony”…fortunately that I’d already read. Yet there’s a good 12 feet of shelf space dedicated to tie-ins to every SF TV show you can think of.

    You might want to refresh your smelling salts, Steve, but that’s probably the call I’d make if I was a buyer for a very large retail chain barely keeping its nose above a rising tide of financial shit during a depression. (And there’s only so much deep discounting, loss-leading, and screwing publishers down to heavy bulk discounts you can do.) That says more about the state of the book trade than the desperate need to scourge the media tie-ins and the hacks who write them from the temple of “real” SF.

  117. “They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house. I’m not made of stone!” -Krusty the Clown

  118. That says more about the state of the book trade than the desperate need to scourge the media tie-ins and the hacks who write them from the temple of “real” SF.>

    Christ…I surrender. I have gone out of my to repeatedly say I *DON’T* think media tie in authors are hacks and still I get this shit. I am out of here.

  119. Steve:

    Oh, I’d apologise but being that insincere would just insult the both of us. You’ve made it pretty clear that you regard media tie-ins as a lowbrow form that is a waste of the time of any decent writer, which could be better expended on more significant ‘real’ work which is being driven from bookstores. I call that hack writing, and if the term offends you tough.

  120. #93 Yes I have read tie-ins that I liked better than the original work.

    I read some Trek tie-ins over the years and could mostly take or leave them. I came across Traviss’s City of Pearl and fell in love with her work. When I finished all her Wess’har books out at that time I stumbled across her website and read some stuff she said about writing the SW Republic Commando books so I picked up the first one Hard Contact.

    I fell in love with her work all over again. I have seen all the SW movies, but not read many of the tie-in books just because I wasn’t all that in to SW., sort of thought the whole set-up was a yawn after awhile. Traviss sets the SWEU on it’s ear on her books, makes her readers look at things from a completely different angle. I think the RC series is better than all but two of the movies. I’d even go so far as to say that the RC books are better than 75% of the SF I’ve read over the past few years no matter what it’s point of origin.

  121. Steve, not to belabor the point, but some authors enjoy writing these media tie-ins, because they are fans of the property, and ask to write them. And many of these authors don’t consider them inferior to their other works.

    Just because you are playing in a universe that has rules doesn’t mean you can’t make the work your own. Besides once you write a novel and do some world building, after that all of the work in that universe has rules – the only difference is who created them.

    Lastly, Star Trek, for instance, is a concept, and it allows for some shorthand in writing – if you know the universe, you can grasp who the main players are quickly, and it allows the story to play out in more economical and interesting manner, and actually gives the story a bit more gravitas. (Not always, mind you. They aren’t all gold.)

  122. Scalzi@72: “Another difference is that fanfic is self-serving (i.e., based wholly on the desires of the fan) while tie-in writers have to take in the considerations of a number of constituencies. Note that I don’t mean “self-serving” as a denigration, merely observing that the fanfic writers can write whatever they have an interest to, and have the characters do anything they want them to do. Tie-in writers have a hell of a lot more restrictions.

    It does make the job tougher, and is one reason why tie-in stuff requires pros; that is, people who can write to specification and still make what they write interesting.”

    I’ve been working on a POTA fanfic that follows the TV show mythos. I am trying to both stay true to the original ideas of the show and to what other people would want to read – not being wholly self-serving. Yes, it’s a story I thought would be interesting, but mainly I thought other fans would enjoy it. It does require some knowledge of the show, though. In a case like this, where it’s not a Mary Sue character, etc, if I wanted to get it to Fox, would I need to go through an agent, and are there agents that specifically handle tie-ins? Since you mentioned that is how pros have to write, to specification, and that’s what I’m trying to do, I was just curious if it would behoove me to follow up on it, assuming I ever finish it.

  123. Quick follow up (sorry about the multiple posts): I’m gonna write it anyway. I was never intending on submitting it. But after reading what you said, it just made me curious. Your answer has no bearing on whether or not I write it, just whether or not I decide to do anything with it other than release it into the wild.

  124. I don’t read a lot of tie-in books but I do read some. I loved John Ford’s Final Reflection (probably the best Star Trek novel I’ve ever read). I read more Star Trek than Star Wars because I like the setting better, but I’ll read either on occasion.

    I’ve sought out tie-ins because I know the writers, and avoided others because I didn’t like the setting. I generally prefer original fiction because the authors are not bound by some of the restrictions a licensed property requires.

    Just as an aside, it’s funny that a respected author can write a comic book (the epitome of a licensed work) and not get any flack for it.

    Personally, I’ve ghostwritten one tie-in novel. It was a lot of work and I’m as proud of it as any other work I’ve done.

    A good tie-in is a good book.

    A bad one is a bad book.

  125. 118: “One of the truly lovely grace notes in ‘Sandman’ is that in The Dreaming there’s a vast (possibly infinite) library of unwritten books that never cross the line from dreams to reality.” COUNTABLY infinite. Open question if there are an uncountable infinity of possible dreams or possible realities.

    123: Shakespeare wrote lots of plays that had lots of characters and stories that the audience also knew. One presumes that his Courtier friends said: “William, we wish you’d stop writing that god-awful popular swill for the unwashed groundlings, and get back to those serious sonnets and a ‘Venus and Adonis’ sequel.”

    Homer sang tales that had many familiar parts to his audience. “The Illiad” — fan fic, right?

  126. @Steve Burnap: I’ve done work for hire. It paid well, got my name out in not just bookstores, but the local Kroger and Meijer, and I insisted on maintaining my standards of professionalism.

    I guess it depends on whether or not you like the background material or not.

    I certainly didn’t feel my work wasn’t “original.” I wrote every word.

    And if you feel it’s shameful that authors do work for money (sort of like an orthodontist who spends most of his time straightening teeth, rather than reconstructing jaws damaged in accidents–much more “honorable” work), the solution is for you and your friends to buy a lot more copies of the authors’ “original” works. Problem solved.

  127. the solution is for you and your friends to buy a lot more copies of the authors’ “original” works. Problem solved.

    mzmadmike: see…that was really the point I was trying to make in the first place…The root cause is that there are a hell of a lot of people who are think that the words “Star Trek” on a book cover are more important than the words “Vonda McIntyre” on a book cover. I think that’s sad. I am having a hard time understanding why people think this is anti-author.

    Also, the logical extension of your “solution” is that one should suggest that others also buy original work. You can see pretty clearly right here how that goes. It got me labeled as an author-hating elitist.

    I *like* Star Trek, or at least some of it, but there’s a hundred thousand pages of it on the shelves. I don’t think it is elitist to suggest that is enough. Such statements unfortunately seem to be like red-flags before bulls. People act like I ran over their puppy. No, I don’t hate Star Trek, and no I don’t think Star Trek authors are “hacks”. If Scalzi and others wrote five hundred books set in the Old Man’s War universe, I’d feel exactly the same about that.

    It used to be that new authors cut their teeth in the SF magazines. That’s where all that old Heinlein and Dick and Silverberg and Ellison and, indeed, Vonda McIntyre came from. Today, those magazines are all but dead.

    Go buy some.

  128. I have a fairly simple system for listening to media criticism.
    1) Have you successfully (e.g., commercially or to peer acclaim) created something in that medium?
    2) No?
    3) So shut up, then.

    This is some pretty ridiculous thinking. Fans aren’t allowed to have opinions on what’s good and what’s bad? Who the hell are writers writing for, then?

  129. Ryan:
    I understand where you’re coming from, and of course I think Shriek is ten thousand times better than my Predator novel. BUT, the reality is–like Scalzi said about his own work and what he felt has been the best creatively versus what’s sold the best–that the majority of readers out there would read Shriek and read the Predator novel and prefer the Predator novel. That’s just the reality of a readership that’s always going to trend more toward pure entertainment.

    Another reality is that without writing the Predator novel there is NO WAY I could’ve written my new original novel, Finch, which I think blows Shriek and City of Saints out of the water. So, you have to look at it from a lot of different points of view. I learned so much from doing the Predator novel that I can’t even tell you. It added so many weapons to my arsenal.

    Third, doing the Predator novel doesn’t mean there’s an original novel I *didn’t* write. I would’ve just filled that slot with more nonfiction and some short stories.

    I think John’s got the right perspective: you just can’t make a blanket statement about tie-ins. At the same time, from the writer’s perspective, they probably won’t be as *personal* as the original work. The question then becomes: does that necessarily mean they’ll turn out worse than work that’s more personal? Yeah, sometimes. And sometimes not.

    Jeff

  130. “Scalzi@72: “Another difference is that fanfic is self-serving (i.e., based wholly on the desires of the fan) while tie-in writers have to take in the considerations of a number of constituencies. Note that I don’t mean “self-serving” as a denigration, merely observing that the fanfic writers can write whatever they have an interest to, and have the characters do anything they want them to do. Tie-in writers have a hell of a lot more restrictions.”

    Depends on the fandom, actually. You get into a more popular or more anal fandom, and if you screw up a detail or go alternate-universe without your writing justifying the hell out of it, the die-hard fen will DESTROY you. Figuratively. Mostly. (Of course, as you’re not getting paid, you don’t have to care anywhere near as much — but if your goal is to become “Internet Popular,” as the majority of “PLEASE, O PLEASE, COMMENT ON MY STORY” beggings seem to indicate, you do have something to lose.)

  131. It’s flatly insane to say “hurr, this author wrote a tie-in instead of their own work, now we’re out a really good novel!” Sometimes, it’s not just to pay the bills, but sheer leverage to write those tie-in books.

    Since he’s been brought up, I’ll point at Matt Stover, whose condition (as I recall from his blog) for writing Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor was that he got to write more of his own stuff. Without those tie-ins, we WOULDN’T get more great original work from him, and I would bet many other authors are in similar situations.

  132. I know fuck-all about the business of publishing fiction, but it would seem to me there’s another factor that encourages bad tie-ins: a media tie-in book doesn’t have to be nearly as good to sell well. And commercial products are, generally, as good as they have to be to sell.

    In particular, I could see two ways a shoddy novel could get published as a tie-in when it wouldn’t regularly.

    One is where you have a less-than-awesome person in charge of the product. They’ve been given the position by a money person and with clear business goals. Artistic merit may be a close second or a distant one, but either way I expect that depends more on the character of the person in charge than any necessary feature of the process.

    The other is when even a good product line manager ends up, for whatever reason, with a manuscript that isn’t so great. I’d expect that for somebody running a line of tie-in books, there’s a much greater incentive just to print it and move on to the next one, rather than killing it and starting over. It’ll sell anyhow, and you have a quota to meet.

  133. Sure, there are good tie-in novels out there. But then there are those which are genuinely atrocious, which can be laid at nobody’s feet but the author’s – and, presumably, the franchise holders who have no bloody care for the quality of their tie-ins. Case in point; Richard A. Knaak.

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