Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When Dreams Meet Reality.

I’m pretty sure this has come up before during our little chats and time spent together, but—among other things—I write Star Trek novels. Because of this, I’m occasionally contacted by enthusiastic fans who would also like to write Star Trek novels. Or, maybe they’ve already written a Star Trek novel, and now they want to know how they go about getting it published.

Earlier this month, I was approached by just such a fan. He had completed the manuscript for a Star Trek novel, and now he was seeking advice. It was evident that he had done some research, as he knew that the company which publishes such books only accepts submissions via a literary agent. So, how was he to go about obtaining representation for such a book?

I really hate these kinds of letters.

As I explained when I discussed this on my Facebook page, it’s not the letters themselves I hate. Instead, I really don’t like having to answer them and tell the sender something he or she almost certainly doesn’t want to hear. I truly dislike having to tell them that all of the time and effort they’ve invested in their novel likely won’t be rewarded. Why? Simply because of how the process works for tie-in novels like those written for Star Trek, or Star Wars, HALO, and so on, and I always caution writers never to write an entire manuscript in the hopes of having it reviewed and approved. For one thing, the development of these sorts of books usually is a two-step process, with an outline or proposal first being submitted and approved by an editor and then the property owner (CBS, Lucasfilm, Disney, etc.) before any contracts or actual writing of manuscripts takes place. So, if you’re showing up at their door with a full manuscript, you’re going about the process all backwards, and they’re not going to read it.

As for agents, they’ll almost never agree to represent a new writer looking to secure representation for a tie-in novel. For such books, there’s only one shot at selling it: to the publisher holding the license to develop and sell such books. Also, the contracts tend to be very boilerplate, with very little room for negotiating advances, royalties, and other points. There’s just nothing in it for an agent, though they can and do handle tie-in books for their clients who already are writing original fiction.

So how does one become a “tie-in writer?” As legends tell, one must first be bitten by another tie-in writer.

Okay, while the real answer isn’t as exciting, it’s not that far removed, when you think about it. Editors of tie-in novels tend to rely on writers they already know or who are recommended to them by colleagues; proven commodities who can work in concert with other writers, who are easy to deal with and deliver solid work in the face of often insane deadlines. Landing such a gig as a new writer with little or no previous professional writing experience is a rarity.

Meanwhile, original fiction offers many more paths to success. Instead of a single publisher, now you can take your manuscript (or outline and sample chapters, depending on the submission guidelines) to many, many more potential publishers, and agents are always on the hunt for new talent. Smaller publishers and self-publishing also are options which aren’t feasible (or even legal) when it comes to tie-in fiction.

I explained all of this to my hopeful e-Mailer. In addition to the above, I also offered some suggestions and recommendations so far as pursuing publication of his original fiction and seeking agency representation. Yes, it likely was disappointing, but I figure if someone takes the time to reach out for advice, they deserve honest, respectful answers to their questions, and who knows? Perhaps one day his dream will become a reality.


Donna K. Weaver said...

Nice of you to take the time.

Charles Gramlich said...

For many years I wanted to write a Star Trek novel, but given the realities of trying to get such a contract, and then hearing from George Effinger, who had a contract and didn't enjoy the process, I gave up the idea.

daytonward said...

Things have changed since Effinger's last forays into tie-ins...some good, some bad :)

For Trek, we enjoy a great deal of latitude so far as what we can and can't do. We still have to remain true to the shows, but the list of "don'ts" has shortened considerably, now that the shows are no longer in production and there's little chance they'll be revisited.

Something like Star Wars, on the other hand, is more tightly controlled, as they're attempting to coordinate everything and keep it in sync with movies coming out every few years.

It also depends on the IP owner. Some are very controlling/micromanaging, while others are far more laid back. Trek is more the latter. They're involved and weigh in on story proposals and so on, but tend to trust the editors and authors to do their jobs. I've been working with the licensing people for well over a decade now and they're great to deal with.

Liane Spicer said...

I hope the writer who asked appreciates the value of your response. In my experience, some who ask for advice don't want a reality check, but some magic keys to publication.