More Thoughts & Links on Genre Bias

The 24th is usually  my day to post at SF Novelist, but my kids have shared another cold with me, and I’m still brain-fried.  (But hey, at least they’re learning to share!)

I came home from Gen Con earlier this week with the realization that I have a bias about gaming fiction (Forgotten Realms, etc.) and other tie-ins.  I posted a long examination in my own blog, but the bottom line was that I believed “original” fiction was somehow better than tie-in work.

There are problems with this belief, not the least of which include the fact that my next “original” series is a bunch of fairy tale retellings.

There’s been a lot of discussion on this issue.  You can read thoughts by gaming writers like Erik Scott de Bie and Steven Schend, follow the post and comments at SF Signal, or lurk at any of the other discussions I’m forgetting.  (See brain-fried, above.)

Thinking some more, I’m finding whole new layers of irony in my own bias.  As a kid, I read nothing but Trek novels, and once wrote to Jean Lorrah asking how to be a Star Trek writer myself.  (I got a form letter.)  I have an outline and 5000 word sample chapter of a Buffy novel I submitted back in 2002 (it was ignored).  I pitched my work to Peter Archer at Wizards of the Coast back in 2002-2003 (they weren’t interested).  So I’ve got to wonder, was I biased back then but so desperate to break in somewhere that I just didn’t care, or did this only come along after I broke in with a “real” publisher?  I don’t think it’s sour grapes, since I’ve been rejected by non tie-in markets far more than I have by the tie-ins.  But it’s strange to think how easily I could have ended up on another publishing path….

While I recognize my bias is irrational and probably wrong, I’m also not ready to accept the idea that ”All publishers and genres are equal and contain good and bad stories both, and if you ignore them you’re only cheating yourself.”  While it’s true that any publisher might put out a gem, the odds vary.  For example, I’m more likely to find a worthwhile read from Tor, where a cadre of professionals have screened and edited the work, than at Publish America, where Atlanta Nights qualifes as publishable.

(That’s not to say gaming publishers are on the same level as PA.  Quite the contrary — I know first-hand that they’ll reject work they don’t feel is good enough, which is not the case with the vanity and scam publishers.)

Bottom line, I’m out of touch with the tie-in markets, and I’m not really qualified to judge one way or another.  I know we have some tie-in writers here at SF Novelists, and I’d love to hear their thoughts and experiences.  I’ve also got three gaming novels waiting for me on my To Be Read stack.  (Thanks, Gen Con!)

I’d insert a witty conclusion here, but I think my pills are wearing off.  So I’ll just ask what y’all think, and I’ll be back later after I’ve grabbed more drugs….

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  1. 1. Tim of Angle

    I suspect that tie-in fiction has gotten a bad rap because most people just assume that it’s going to be mediocre writing — as happens with so many of the episodes of what the tie-ins are tied into.

    I know that I just presumed that Star Treck tie-ins were not worth the effort until an acquaintance of mine, whom I knew to be an excellent writer did one; I read it, and was pleased, and so read the second one that he did, and was equally pleased … but it didn’t really undercut the assumption, because I was confident that it it would be good going in.

    Then I read one (The Romulan Way, of you must know) by somebody I’d never heard of (and still can’t remember the name of, off the top of my head), and it blew me away. So you would think I’d know better now, right? Wrong. There’s still that psychological curb that I find it very difficult to get over.

  2. 2. Tom Gallier

    I don’t read much tie-in stuff anymore, but for a while there I read every DragonLance novel that came out. Some were great, others poorly written or poorly executed in some way I couldn’t put my finger on, but they left me feeling like I wasted my time.

    With a more traditional publisher, one writer writes all of the books in the series. Not true with media tie-in series, so it’s a crapshot. I crapped out.

  3. 3. Marie Brennan

    I think my prejudice against tie-ins comes from the perception that the connection to the franchise is the most important feature; everything else seems secondary to me, even if it isn’t. And if it’s a tie-in to a franchise I don’t follow, I have no particular reason to care; if it’s a tie-in to a franchise I do follow, then all too often it doesn’t feel right to me, like the author didn’t get the voices quite nailed.

    By that, though, I’m referring to things like Star Trek novels, et al; I tend to view shared universes like the Forgotten Realms as a different exercise entirely.

  4. 4. Karen Wester Newton

    I think tie-ins are dependent a lot of the franchise they are tied into. If the characters were interesting to start with, it’s easier to write a good book about them.

    And as for reading them, I only do that if it’s a franchise I can’t get enough of.

  5. 5. Adam Heine

    I think Tom put it best: it’s a crapshoot. The only thing all the tie-ins have in common is the setting and (in many cases) the characters, but that doesn’t guarantee anything about the story or the writing. It doesn’t guarantee it’ll be good.

    I’ve only read tie-ins by authors that were recommended to me. Without a third party recommendation, tie-ins don’t provide me with the means I normally use to determine if I’ll like the book. The cover art and back covers give me mostly information that I already know, or that I expect to be there.

    On the other hand, I had a dream just last night that a publisher asked me to write a Star Wars novel for them. I’ve rarely been so sad to wake up. I guess that says something too.

  6. 6. Kelly McCullough

    I’m not really a tie-in reader, not because of any real thoughts on the quality of the writing or story, but rather because one of the main reasons I read f&sf is that I want to go to new places and meet new characters and kinds of people, and tie-ins tie me to one universe in a way I’m not all that interested in being tied down.

  7. 7. David Keck

    I think I probably go along with Kelly at #6, myself. But I want to resist my natural (sometimes self-inflicted) snobbery.

    I am a writer with a day job and I’d love the chance to throw myself into the business full time. While I haven’t done much knocking upon the tie-in door, there are probably less all-consuming day jobs — and there are few that give you a chance at real creativity.

    Of course, the potential of tie-in writing as a day job must depend on the writer’s work habits. (I’d probably end up bogging down on developing the gloomy underpinnings of Papa Smurf’s resentment of Smurfette, or what have you).

    As for reading them, it’s been a while. After a while, I only wanted to know what the creator had to say about the creation — autograph work by the auteur.

    ~Dave

  8. 8. Greg B

    I remember some time ago picking up a Buffy novel, back when I was into the show. I made it about two chapters in before quitting out of disgust.

    My reason?

    After a prologue chapter which introduced the pending threat, we had the Meet the Characters chapter. Except we didn’t. I read through it and realized that if I had never seen the show before, I would have no idea who these characters were, how they looked or acted, or anything. The author had taken the shorthand of the licensed property to zip arond characterization.

    NOW, that said, I also know that these books tend to be tainted with editorial interference. The author may well have written or intended to write a very rich and textured introduction to each of our principles, but been told not to for fear that Alexis Bledsoe’s lawyers may sue over unsecured likeness rights or some other brand of horse crockery. Which leads nicely into the other problem I have with tie-in books, in that they can be severely hampered by editorial contraints.

    How many truly great Star Trek novels have we been denied because of a Paramount mandate that Geordi couldn’t ever be shot dead by a Ferengi hooker?

    Sadly, we may never know.

    (It is interesting to note that Fan Fic by contrast has no such problem, and in fact Geordi has no doubt been unofficially murdered by alien prostitutes a multitude of times.)

  9. 9. Greg B

    Also, on reflection, I should have written “principals,” and not “principles.”

    My apologies to all whom this may have affected.

  10. 10. David de Beer

    most interesting thing about tie-in novels was when I discovered there were some authors I loved and some that put me to sleep in a bad way. Dragonlance, White Wolf, Battletech, etc. Didn’t matter.
    Eventually I was reading Weiss&Hickman, not Dragonlance, and reading Michael Stackpole, not Battletech. Liked Stackpole’s Rogue Squadron Star Wars too, and his Shadowrun stuff.
    In both those franchises, he’s the only one I genuinely enjoyed reading.

    What I’m saying? end of the day it’s still the writer self I was a fan of, and that particular author’s books I bought.

  11. 11. Alana Abbott

    Since tie-in novels and game novels are similar markets in my head (all grouped under “shared-world”), I thought I’d just link to my original response to your gaming fiction blog. :)

    http://alanajoli.livejournal.com/88550.html

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Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.

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