This is the guest blog I did for Coyote Con.Â I thought some of you folks here might enjoy it as well.
TIE-IN DOESNâ€™T MEAN PHONE IT IN
by Marsheila Rockwell
Weâ€™ve all heard the comments.Â Okay, well maybe you havenâ€™t, but those of us who write tie-in fiction have.
â€śâ€¦second-tier storytellingâ€¦â€ť â€“ David Gerrold, author of about a billion novels, some of which are (gasp!) tie-ins
â€śâ€¦a dead-end, creatively speakingâ€¦[presenting] the poorest face of the genreâ€¦â€ť â€“ Alan Beatts, owner of SFâ€™s famed Borderlands Books, which refuses to even carry tie-in fiction
â€śâ€¦demonstrates [the] low standards of the drooling massesâ€¦â€ť â€“ some random guy on a message board
â€śâ€¦you write what?Â Eeewwwwâ€¦â€ť â€“ my neighbor (and probably yours, too)
Why does tie-in fiction get such a bad rap?Â Why are writers of tie-in fiction assumed to be hacks who arenâ€™t good enough to get their own stuff published?
Well, like any good insult, thereâ€™s a grain of truth to it.Â As Kevin J. Anderson admits, â€śBack around the seventies or so, novelizations and tie-in books were, for the most part, execrable and often written under pen names for a quick buck.Â Thatâ€™s just the way the business used to be.â€ťÂ But thatâ€™s no longer the case.Â Nowadays, he goes on to say, â€śbig name authors are falling all over themselves to writeâ€ť tie-in fiction, and, indeed, the member list of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW) reads like a veritable Whoâ€™s Who of genre authors, including Mr. Anderson himself.Â The â€śbad quickie books from the pastâ€ť would seem to be, for the most part, just that â€“ a thing of the past.
And yet the perception of tie-in work as substandard persists.Â Why?
Iâ€™ve noticed a few gripes in my own (admittedly short) tie-in career that seem to pop up with tiresome regularity, and those are the points Iâ€™ll address here.Â First, there is the notion that tie-in work is somehow â€śeasierâ€ť to write than original fiction, since tie-in writers already have the setting/character/plot/what have you laid out for them.Â Second, people think that because the work is part of a larger universe with a â€śbuilt-inâ€ť fanbase, writers of tie-in fiction donâ€™t have to work as hard to attract and keep readers.Â Third â€“ and this is my personal favorite â€“ is the contradictory idea that writers of tie-in fiction are wasting their talents/cheapening themselves/demonstrating their lack of ability by doing work for hire rather than trying to get their own original work published.
Letâ€™s address that first fallacy â€“ that since youâ€™re working in a setting someone else created, with characters that someone else created, following a plot that someone else created, your task of writing an interesting story is somehow easier than if you had to create all of those things from scratch.Â To that I say, Bullocks!Â To date, Iâ€™ve written dozens of original stories (and a few novels that will hopefully see the light of day sometime soon) and two tie-in novels, and Iâ€™m here to tell you that the tie-ins were much more difficult to write.Â Why?Â Precisely because there are already so many things that other people have created.Â You have to find a way to make your story and characters stand out in a world where you donâ€™t make the rules.Â In an original story, if you want to submerge a continent, kill a king or just invent a really cool creature to fit the needs of the story, you are only limited by your own imagination and whatever laws youâ€™ve laid down (which in a fantasy setting, can be tweaked, if need be).Â You donâ€™t have that kind of freedom with tie-in work, yet you still have to write a story that is as engaging as any of the original work filling up the other two SF/F aisles in the bookstore.Â That, my friends, is not an easy task, and anyone who implies otherwise has never tried it.
The â€śfanâ€ť argument is a fun one, too, and one that does disservice to both tie-in authors and their readers.Â Star Wars fans, these detractors say, will buy â€śanything with a lightsaber on it, regardless of quality.â€ťÂ (Admittedly, this quote was about video games, not books, but video games are just another form of tie-in writing.)Â Only someone who is not a fan themselves could make such a sweeping and erroneous statement.Â If anything, the opposite is true.Â In my experience, fans of a setting are often at least as familiar with it as the authors are (many are more so), and mistakes will not be forgiven.Â Fans form tight-knit communities and have many authors from which to choose â€“ if your work in the setting isnâ€™t up to par, word will get around, and your sales will reflect that.Â And as your sales go, so goes your tie-in writing career.Â Having a â€śbuilt-inâ€ť fanbase for the setting youâ€™re writing in may get you some initial sales, but it will not sustain your career if you donâ€™t have the writing chops to deliver stories that those fans want to read, period.Â If you donâ€™t believe me, just google â€śworst (insert fandom of choice here) bookâ€ť and see how many of the mid-list* authors mentioned are still writing books (under their own names, anyway).Â Â
(* â€“ I say mid-list, because the Big Name Authors will survive, no matter how many people hate a particular book â€“ theyâ€™ve got the backlist and the track record to absorb even a â€śworst bookâ€ť tag.)Â Â
Finally, thereâ€™s the contradictory â€śwasting your talent/not good enough to do anything elseâ€ť accusation.Â Vonda McIntyre wrote a great article a few years back on her own experiences writing tie-in fiction.Â Ms. McIntyre, who has won both the Hugo and the Nebula Award (twice), cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to fall into the â€śnot good enoughâ€ť category, so why would she â€śpolluteâ€ť herself by writing tie-in fiction, after having received the highest accolades the genre has to offer a writer?Â In her own words, â€śThe folks who invited me to write it knew Iâ€™d been fond of the series and they trusted me to treat the characters with some respect.â€ťÂ Her reasons are my reasons, and the reasons of all the people I know who are currently writing tie-in fiction.Â We do it because we love the setting(s).Â And because we love them, we give those books the same care as any of our own original work.
Which is the number one reason todayâ€™s tie-in work is not crap, despite what you may have heard to the contrary.Â You only have to look at the New York Times or Publisherâ€™s Weekly Bestsellers list for any given week to see the truth of that, but I have a better idea.Â If youâ€™ve never read tie-in fiction, give it a try.Â Check out some of the authors in the articles Iâ€™ve cited.Â Choose Ms. McIntyreâ€™s work, or Mr. Andersonâ€™s (or, heck, you know, maybe even mine).Â You donâ€™t even have to buy anything â€“ head down to your local library.Â If they donâ€™t have it, they can get it.Â What have you go to lose, besides an outdated misconception? Â
1 â€“ www.sfsignal.com/archives/2008/09/mind-m...
2 â€“ www.metafilter.com/79266/KHAAAAAAAN
3 â€“ www.iamtw.org/art_are.html
4 â€“ www.massively.com/2010/04/24/the-daily-g...