Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Will Agents Consider Tie-In Queries?

We received this question the other day:

How receptive are literary agents to getting media tie-in novel queries? Is there a reason they aren't listed in the genres that the agent will accept, or are tie-ins considered just part of the 'fiction' genre?

To answer this question, you have to understand what a tie-in is: it's a piece of fiction using characters licensed from a rights-holder like a movie studio, a literary estate, a gaming company, etc.

Usually the way a tie-in novel comes about is that the rights-holder will approach publishers with a property or publishers will approach the rights-holder. Several publishers, for instance, sought the rights to do "Monk" novels and Penguin/Putnam eventually won out. Only after the rights are licensed to a publisher do editors seek out authors to write the books. That's when an agent might enter the mix.

So it wouldn't make any sense for you to query a literary agent with an idea for a tie-in novel...or the manuscript itself... unless you are the person who holds the rights to those characters. Otherwise, what you're asking an agent to do is sell your fanfic...and no agent will do that. That's why tie-ins are not among the genres that agents are willing to consider for submissions.

If what you'd like to do is write for an existing line of tie-in novels (like, say, the STAR TREK series), querying an agent isn't the way to go. Agents simply aren't looking for new clients to take to the editors of tie-ins...for one thing, there isn't enough commission money in it to make it worthwhile. If an agent is going to suggest someone for tie-in assignment, it will be one of their current clients.

So, in general, you need to already be on a editor's radar to get an assignment for a tie-in... it's the editors you need to reach, not agents.

Monk Scraps

I'm in the midst of reading the copy-edited manuscript for MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS. My editor has made some trims and I agree with all of her cuts. But I thought you might get a kick out of this deletion:

We passed the turn-off for Buttonwillow & McKittrick, a collection of fast-food restaurants and gas stations right off the freeway. I didn’t know anything about Buttonwillow, except that it probably wasn’t as charming a place as it sounded. But I’d written a report about McKittrick when I was in fifth grade and I was tempted to terrify Monk by telling him what I knew.

It was a pioneer town that was built to serve the people who mined the natural tar that seeped out of the earth. Because of the intense heat and the sticky gunk, the miners worked in the nude. They wouldn’t bother cleaning up for lunch, they just gather naked and covered with tar, and sit on newspapers in the communal mess hall. At the end of the day, they’d have to scrape each other clean with knives.

That was an image that would have haunted Monk but I took mercy on him and kept the story to myself.

The passage may still end up in a future MONK book. I have a file of deleted bits and pieces that were either cut in the writing stage or later during the editorial process. I never throw anything out.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A real-life mystery...

...or, How To Distract Yourself From Your Real Job When You Should Be Working

I'm currently in the outline stage of a new tin-in novel job--creating a storyline that will (one hopes) wow the bejeesus out of the various people at the publishing house and license-holder who have to approve it, so I can go ahead with the fun part of writing the novel. Since the contract is not yet signed, I'm not going to say what the job is, but it's based on a TV show, and just to write the outline is requiring a great deal of forensics research.

On a recent trip to Tucson with my pal, writer Steve Mertz, I hit several used bookstores. At one of these I bought a copy of a book called BODY IN QUESTION, a great big hardcover full of gory photographs and descriptions of forensic investigation. Today, for the first time, I started really flipping through it.

And inside, I found four pieces of paper tucked away, presumably for safekeeping. These were a birth certificate, a GED diploma and report card, and a technical school transcript, all belonging to a young woman from Georgia. Contained on these pieces of paper is enough information to steal her identity, obtain a fraudulent credit card, and fly to Paris for lunch.

Since the book I'm working on involves criminal investigation, I couldn't just shove the papers aside and focus on the job at hand. Instead, I started "investigating." A Google search eventually led me to a listing on for a person with the same name, who attended high school in the town in which her parents lived at the time of her birth, and who went to school there at what would have been the right time, given the date on her birth certificate.

A Q&A on Classmates indicated that she no longer lives in Georgia, but in Arizona. Aha! quoth I. Now the papers turning up in Arizona makes more sense. Classmates also told me that, sometime in the intervening years, she got married, and gave her married name.

Google's telephone directory option gave me a Tucson phone number and address for her, under the married name. I called the number, but it's disconnected. My suspicion now is that she sold the book to the store because she was moving, and it's heavy.

I also checked one of those "peoplefinder" services, which promised me satisfaction for $10, but which seems to think she still lives in Georgia. So much for that.

With one dead end after another, I tried simply e-mailing her via I'm not sure that those e-mails ever reach their intended recipients--or that she still uses the same e-mail address that she did whenever she signed up. If she gets it and contacts me, well and good--I'm saving her paperwork for her. If she doesn't, I guess I'll have to assume she's replaced it by now.

It's strange to have a mystery fall in your lap while you're trying to plot out a mystery novel. But one of the joys of tie-in writing is that we get to write all sorts of different things. In the past year, I've had tie-in novels published that were straight fiction, horror, and sword & sorcery, based on TV shows, comic books, and a literary character. Now I'm working on a mystery novel and another horror novel.

And, frankly, I'd rather have a mystery fall in my lap than a ghost.

When Ink and Celluloid Collide

There's a symbiotic relationship between books and films. The movie business likes to use books for content and cut their risks by relying on pre-sold characters and stories. The book biz likes to use movies as big-budget commercials for their products and piggyback on the huge promotional effort that surrounds new films and TV shows. But as the December issue of Moving Pictures magazine points out, there are some dangers. In one article, headlined "Sin or Synergy," the magazine discusses the recent surge in alliances between publishers and studios...many of whom are owned by the same parent companies. But that doesn't guarantee hits...for either studios or booksellers.

Maria Campbell, a highly regarded book scout for Warner Brothers, believes "good movies are made because people are passionate about them and have a vision. Alliances can create conversations, but they can't create good movies.

Ron Bernstein, head of the West Coast Book Department at ICM shares Campbell's caution. "Books will always be part of the landscape, but it's certainly not the glory days. With movies based on video games, remakes and TV series, the extraordinary hold that the printed word had on movies is not what it once was."

It works the other way, too. Books based on movies -- also known as tie-ins and novelizations -- aren't the booming business they once were, either. The short window between the theatrical release of a movie and it's availability in DVD has cut down on the need to buy a tie-in novel to re-live the movie experience. Why re-live it when you can own it?

In an article headlined "Novelization is a Nasty Word," the magazine also explores the publishing industry's continuing practice of turning movies into books. Among the authors they interview is Max Allan Collins, who they dub the "Leonardo da Vinci of pop culture fiction," co-founder with Lee Goldberg of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. "Novelization is an unfortunate term that tends to diminish the process or, anyway, the end result," Max told them.

Max and Greg Cox do a good job describing in the article the enormous obstacles confronting writers of novelizations...including ever-changing scripts, insanely short deadlines (two weeks to three months) and bad pay. Not to mention lack of respect.

Cox points out [that] novelizers almost never get to see the movie in advance. All they have to work with is an early draft of the script.

"If you're lucky," he says, "you get a stack of still photos and maybe a copy of the movie trailer. "

But when a novelization scores, it can score big. Max's adaptation of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN sold over a million copies in the U.S. alone. And when a movie does well, the book it was based on reaps the benefits -- according to the magazine, the tie-in reprint of the DA VINCI CODE, with Tom Hanks on the cover, sold five million copies.

Regardless of the potential for these partnerships, the business still remains driven by agents, writers, and studio execs who have to read the material and get excited by it. As Maria Campbell observes, "it takes a village to publish a book. It takes a continent to make a movie."

Who Are We?

We Are Tie-In Writers

We write science fiction, westerns, mysteries, romance and thrillers and sometimes all of the above. Our work embraces just about every genre you can think of, from STAR TREK to CSI, from GUNSMOKE to MURDER SHE WROTE, from DUNE to James Bond, from RESIDENT EVIL to Lizzie McGuire.

Our books are original tie-in novels, comic books and short stories based on existing characters from movie, TV series, books, games, and cartoons... or they are novelizations (books based on screenplays for movies and TV shows).

Tie-ins and novelizations are a licensed works... meaning they are written with the permission and supervision of the creators, studios, or other rights-holders of the original characters.

Well-known tie-in writers include Kingsley Amis, Kevin J. Anderson, Raymond Benson, Gregory Benford, Lawrence Block, Davd Brin, Greg Bear, Max Brand, Orson Scott Card, Leslie Charteris, Arthur C. Clarke, Max Allan Collins, Peter David, Ian Fleming, Alan Dean Foster, John Gardner, Elizabeth Hand, Stuart Kaminsky, David Morrell, Robert B. Parker, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, and Jim Thompson to name just a few.

Our books are published by the major publishing companies, are available everywhere, sell tens of millions of copies worldwide and regularly appear on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists... but the actual craft of tie-in writing goes largely unrecognized and is greatly misunderstood.

The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers will change all that.

Why the IAMTW? (I AM a Tie-in Writer)

Tie-writers and their work are often overlooked and under-appreciated by existing organizations like the Mystery Writers of America, Science Fiction Writers of America, and the Romance Writers of America, even though some of their most respected members work in the field. Tie-ins represent a huge percentage of the books published each year, they are enormously successful and are widely enjoyed by readers. And yet we have no organization that represents our unique business and professional interests nor acknowledges excellence in our field.

Until now. Until the IAMTW. The name itself is a declaration of pride in what we do: I AM a Tie-in Writer. We say it with pride because we are very proud of what we do and the books we write.

The IAMTW is dedicated to enhancing the professional and public image of tie-in working with the media to review tie-in novels and publicize their educating people about who we are and what we do....and to providing a forum for tie-in writers to share information, support one another, and discuss issues relating to our field (via a monthly e-newsletter, our website, and our active yahoo discussion group). Our members include authors active in many other professional writer organizations (MWA, PWA, WGA, SFWA, etc.) and who share their unique perspectives with their fellow tie-in writers.

Every major industry has an award for excellence in their field...not just books, movies, records, and TV shows. Awards are a demonstration that people take pride in their work and strive to constantly do better. Respect from ones peers is important...and, up until now, tie-in writers haven't even been able to enjoy that, despite our impressive sales. Our Scribe Awards will celebrate excellence in our craft and, at the same time, draw attention to tie-in writers among publishers, booksellers and readers.

Who Qualifies for Membership?

You do if you've written licensed fiction based on a TV show, motion picture, computer game, stage play, comic book (or strip), radio serial or other dramatic work as long as you were paid for it and it has been published (or is about to be). The membership committee will determine, on a case-by-case basis, what qualifies as "other dramatic work" (for instance, a series of books based on a toy or doll).

It doesn't matter whether you've written forty novels or one short story, whether it was published last week or thirty years ago, you qualify for membership as long as you were paid for your licensed work and it was published (or is about to be).

Fanfiction does not qualify.

Please visit us at