I remember reading an interview with Angela Lansbury a few decades ago in which she commented on the fact fans frequently told her how much like the "real" Jessica Fletcher she looked. What the fans had seen, of course, were pictures of her on the covers of "Murder, She Wrote" novels. There is no Jessica Fletcher and to my knowledge Angela Lansbury has never written a mystery; those novels were media tie-in.
Media tie-in writing is writing in a universe or intellectual property (IP) owned by someone else. In the minds of most people this means novels and stories based on characters from television series or movies. Mysteries are popular -- Monk novels and novels in every iteration of C.S.I. can be found in any big-box book store -- but far and away the most popular genre is science fiction. (Try getting away from Star Wars.)
Only about one percent of the people who are fans of the shows or movies buy related novels and the net profits from print sales would maybe buy everyone at the office a small latte. However, written fiction provides a way to explore ideas that are not commercial enough to warrant the investment a show requires. Among the many precincts of the Star Trek print universe, for example, are the "DS9 Relaunch," which carries the storylines of "Deep Space Nine" forward from the end of the series; the "Starfleet Corps of Engineers," following the troubleshooters who solve the mysteries and clean up the messes the guys who do all the fighting leave behind; and "Vanguard," novels about life on a frontier space station in the early days of the Federation.
Far greater than movie or TV tie-in fiction, however, is the game fiction market. No, I do not mean novels about the grueling championship badminton circuit. Tabletop games, collectable card games (CCG), role-playing games (RPG), and even video games are often set in complex and interesting universes that can only be -- or best be -- explored through fiction.
There are two levels of fiction when it comes to games. First is the "nonfiction" of the universe-- the whos and whats and hows and whys that give gameplay meaning; the atlas and encyclopedia of whatever realm you're playing. In the industry this in-character nonfiction is called "fluff" and provides the context for competition. The second and larger level of game fiction is the novels and stories set in the universe. Go to the science fiction or fantasy section of a big-box bookstore and look at the series. World of Warcraft, Forgotten Realms, Dungeons and Dragons, BattleTech, Dragon Lance, Warhammer 40,000, and Halo, just to name a few. A wall of novels, each one set in a game universe. And unlike movie or TV media tie-in, game fiction is an important part of the IP. More people read Warhammer 40k novels, for example, than play the game, and many newcomers to the game begin playing because they became fascinated with the universe through the novels.
The world of media tie-in writing can be invisible unless you're looking for it, but it is diverse and growing and worth taking seriously as you develop your own writing career.
My next column will explore the differences between media tie-in writing and "regular" writing.