Merchandise Me!

- by Elaine Isaak

One of the things I’ve been working on these days is the issue of my literary estate.  So far, it’s not large, but I keep adding to it, at the rate of a novel or two a year  and any number of short stories and articles, published and not.  And so, someday, other people will need to know what to do with the rights for all of these things.

There are lots of useful models for how to establish a literary legacy, from the Phillip K. Dick Award to the Heinlein Society blood drives, to the various Tolkien properties.  I understand this last group has seen some wrangling in recent years about how, exactly, to handle their father and grandfather’s great works.

I’d like to take some inspiration from the first two, and establish a means of giving back to my genre and my fellow authors, as the Dick award does, or to the larger society, as the Heinlein group does, and I don’t mind offering some benefit to my children and their children, and so on.

Thus, in the interests of securing all of these high-minded ideals, I’d like to say:  merchandise me!  in the event that my work begins making an unseemly amount of money, I think we might as well exploit it to the hilt.

Book rights all over the world are only the beginning.  Next comes the media empire of films or maybe miniseries, or even the full-on cable show, which seem to be doing well by George R. R. Martin and Charlaine Harris.  But all that is really a drop in the bucket compared to the Star Wars model of intellectual property licensing.

I understand that when George Lucas started out with his modest mythic space films, he settled for a pittance of what other directors received, in exchange for keeping the merchandising rights.  At that time, merchandising didn’t mean much. Maybe a toy or two?  sure, George, whatever you want.  Maybe he even pictured the Millennium Falcon in a Happy Meal.  But how much did he understand what he was doing?

Did his vision include a theme park ride? Star Wars Lego’s?  Star Wars Angry Birds? Star Wars bobble heads, inspirational posters, desk ornaments, hoodies and Crocs?  In the literary world, Tolkien, thanks to those movie rights, is approaching this level of market penetration.  And Rowling doesn’t have a single ride, she has a whole Wizarding World!

Is it crass commercialism?  Is it selling out?  Maybe so.  It is keeping the work of the author in the minds and wallets of millions?  Yes, absolutely.  So I say to you, my literary agent, my executor, my heirs, if my work should ever be on the verge of exploding outside of the literary realm:  Bring on the Bobbleheads!

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