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

Matt Forbeck | 22 Jul 2010 21:00
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Gaming tie-in novels come in at anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 words, with the majority tending toward the top end of that range. Most of these books are written over the course of months rather than years, and that means the writer needs to focus on getting the work finished. After the writer is done, he submits the book to the publisher for approval. If he's followed the outline, there's normally little to worry about, but sometimes better ideas spring up during the writing process. Getting those changes through on a tight schedule can be tricky, but if the author knows the game well enough the improvements these make are often apparent.

Usually the editor comes back a few weeks later with a list of requested revisions. Some of these may be negotiable, but often others are not. Because this is a tie-in novel, the author does not own his work. Instead, the novel is considered work-for-hire, and it belongs to the company that owns the game upon which the novel is based. When it comes down to the revisions, the owners get the final say. The only recourse a recalcitrant author would have would be to give back any money paid or to insist that his name be removed from the book. Fortunately for all concerned, this rarely happens. As an editor, James Lowder has led the charge on showing how writers and companies can share the rights involved, but so far this has mostly involved anthologies of short stories and essays.

Once the novel is approved, the author's work on the book is done, but his involvement with the promotions surrounding the book has just started. It's rare to see a book tour for any but the top-selling authors today in any field, but interviews, conventions, podcasts, blog tours, and more help authors and books at all levels and have a much better rate of return on the time spent.

The editor takes over the book from there and guides it through a gauntlet of printers, editorial boards, public relations, sales staff, and more. Eventually, the book goes to press, and it hits shelves - and e-readers - around the world a few weeks later. Then fans can snatch it up and devour the work of months in a scant number of hours. By then, if the book has shown promise of selling well, there's already another book in the works, waiting for its chance to make those same readers happy.

Next time around, I'll back up a bit and cover how writing a novel for a released game differs from writing the same novel for a game that's still in development. Each has its own plusses and pitfalls.

Matt Forbeck has been designing award-winning games professionally for over 20 years and has also written over a dozen tie-in novels. His next novel - Guild Wars 2: Ghosts of Ascalon, co-written with Jeff Grubb - hits shelves on July 27. Visit for details about his current projects.

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