The Perils, Pitfalls, and Pleasures of Writing a Media Tie-in Novel by Chris A. Jackson
Writing tie-in fiction, there are days when you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into, and others when you can’t believe how lucky you are. Being invited to write a media tie-in novel is a bit like when you were a kid and your new friend asked you over to play with his cool new toys. If these are toys you’ve been dying to play with, it’s going to be fun, but these are not your toys, and you can’t break them. If you do, you risk never being invited to play in his sandbox again.
I’m currently writing Pathfinder Tales, for Paizo, Iron Kingdoms for Privateer Press, and short fiction for Legendary Games, and have written Shadowrun for Catalyst, and for other shared world publishers. Each is different in what they want and what they will allow. You have to respect the wishes of the owner of the IP you’re playing with. Sure, these are some of the coolest toys around, but unless you have express permission, you really shouldn’t blow up planets, sink islands, or kill heads of state in their universes. Sometimes, you may get a contract to write world-changing stories under the publisher’s direction, but these are generally special cases. Their universe, their rules, and every IP publisher has different rules.
Writing for several different publishers, I have to keep several sets of rules in my head at the same time. For the game publishers, these rules are actual gaming rules for spells, weapons, mythologies, etc, but for all the publishers, the rules of “you can do this, but don’t break that” apply. So, when you’re pitching to your favorite gaming publisher, it’s important to get the rules straight from the beginning. For instance, will you be creating your own characters, or using “iconic” characters that are part of the game or world. What levels of mayhem can ensue? Can you blow up cities? Can you kill or maim these iconic characters? Can you sink islands, or raise new ones? What is the magic or technology system in this world? Are there specific spell effects, telepathy, mind reading, empathy, teleportation, FTL travel, etc. that are established IP elements or rules, or can you introduce new elements? In order to not break the rules, you should get all the reference documents, rule books, histories, character descriptions, and gazetteers that you need to write your story. Important point here: if you request these materials and are denied or told you have to purchase them, seriously consider walking away from the project. You are being hired to create something that will make the publisher money. They shouldn’t balk at giving you the tools you need to make that product.
That brings up a less-fun issue of contracts. The vast majority of these types of projects, save for simply writing stories in a shared world, will be contracted under standard “Work for Hire” agreements. These terms are very limiting as to what the author retains in the way of rights to the product, characters, story, that they create. You get paid, surely, and if the story is a novel, you *should* get royalties, but the author generally retains no rights to the work after it is published. Most IP publishers also require several steps of “approval” before the advance, or a portion of it, is paid. Detailed, chapter-by-chapter outlines are generally required, so if you are a pantser, you may want to stick to writing in your own world.
This all sounds very draconian, doesn’t it? Well, maybe so, but writing for IP publishers is a special niche, and is definitely not for everyone. There are upsides. There’s something very special about being able to write in a game world you’ve played in for years. Really, my play has become my job. How cool is that? Writing tie-in fiction can also make you a lot of valuable connections in the business of publishing, gaming, and writing in general. The editors I’ve worked with have, each and every one, taught me something valuable about my own writing. I know for a fact that I’m a stronger writer now than I was before I started writing tie-in novels.
With all that said, you might be thinking “Is it all worth it?” Every writer has to answer that question for themselves with respect to that given publisher. One piece of advice I will put out there for free, however, is to make sure you like that IP before you write a story in it. If you have never played Game X, and don’t really like Game X for whatever reason, you probably shouldn’t try to write a story in Game X. I approached Paizo’s fiction editor after having played and loved their game for years. It took about a year for things to click into place, but everything since then has been a labor of love that has been rewarding on many levels. So, if you think you’re interested in writing for Game X, ask yourself these questions: Do I like the game? Do I play the game? Do I know the rules already, or will it take me three months to assimilate them? (You don’t get paid for that effort, by the way.) And perhaps most importantly, do I like the people who I will be working with? If most of these answers are “yes,” then writing in that world might be your labor of love.
About the author:
CHRIS A. JACKSON is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Pirate’s Honor and Pirate’s Promise. His self-published and small-press work includes the Scimitar Seas and Weapon of Flesh series, which have won three consecutive gold medals in the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year awards, as well as becoming Kindle best sellers. Jackson has also written a novella set in Privateer Press’s RPG fiction line. He lives on a sailboat in the Caribbean.
- Series: Pathfinder Tales
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books (February 2, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765375478
- ISBN-13: 978-0765375476
Paizo Publishing is the award-winning publisher of fantasy role playing games, accessories, and board games. Pathfinder Tales: Pirate’s Prophecy is the continuation of their popular novel series.
Captain Torius Vin and the crew of the Stargazer have given up the pirate life, instead becoming abolitionist privateers bent on capturing slave ships and setting their prisoners free. But when rumors surface of a new secret weapon in devil-ruled Cheliax, are the Stargazers willing to go up against a navy backed by Hell itself?