Days of High Adventure: How to Write a Tie-In Novel

Matt Forbeck | 22 Jul 2010 17:00
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Games have changed a lot over the years, and fiction about games has changed with them. Going all the way back to H. G. Wells's Little Wars in 1913, game fiction started out as snippets of text that you read in either the tabletop rulebook or the video game manual. It wasn't until 1978 that we saw Andre Norton's Quag Keep, a novel based on the author's experiences playing Dungeons & Dragons with Gary Gygax. It took another 16 years until the first official D&D novel appeared, Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

Today, though, shelves and bestseller lists everywhere are jammed with books based on games. They cover everything from Halo and World of Warcraft to Warhammer and All Flesh Must Be Eaten. They've become an integral part of both gaming and fiction, a means of broadening the game's brand into other media and giving the game's characters and world a deeper examination than you could cram into any cutscene.

Tie-in novels - as such novels are called, whether they're based on games, movies, TV shows, or any other sort of media - have become a huge part of the fiction business. Just about every major publisher in America has dabbled with tie-ins at some point or another, and many of them have huge lineups of tie-in books. It's become a big business, and like any other business, it's developed certain standard and procedures over the years.

I've written more than a dozen gaming tie-in novels over the past six years. Here's how it usually works.

Unlike with most novels - which begin with the author - the process starts with the publisher, a company filled with people who not only know how to create books but how to get them on shelves and sell them. The publisher puts up all of the money for the book and then pays everyone involved out of the book's sales.

For gaming tie-ins, the publisher either owns the game in question or has picked up a license from the game's owners. Wizards of the Coast, for instance, publishes its own novels based upon its own games, mostly Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Games Workshop does the same through its Black Library division, which publishes fiction based on Warhammer, Warhammer 40K, Blood Bowl, and its other games.

Simon & Shuster, on the other hand, doesn't publish games. For the Guild Wars novel I co-wrote for them with Jeff Grubb, they had to obtain a license from ArenaNet. Doing this usually involves paying a chunk of money up front as an advance against a promised royalty. This is over and above what the publisher needs to pay the author.

Once the publisher has the original game lined up, one of its editors formulates a plan for its tie-in novels. This involves details like how many titles to publish, when they will be published, and so on. Then the editor goes out hunting for authors.

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