Writing Media Tie-In

- by Laura Resnick

purifyingfireMy new book, The Purifying Fire, is a completely different kind of venture for me. It’s a novel based on Chandra Nalaar, a character in the popular fantasy card-game Magic: The Gathering.

In work of this type, known as a “media tie-in” book, the media company that owns the rights to the game on which the novel is based (or, similarly, the rights to the TV series, the movie franchise, or the video-game on which such a novel may be based) hires a writer to write a book, but the media company retains ownership of the intellectual property—including holding the copyright of the novel. For that reason, this kind of writing is known as “work-for-hire;” the writer is paid to do the writing but, like a screenwriter or scriptwriter, doesn’t own the rights to the finished work and has no artistic control over it.

The way things work in my regular writing career, I come up with an idea for a book, I write a proposal, I sell it if I can, I deliver the completed book, and the editor gives me some notes with her suggestions on how I can improve it. I own the rights to the work, and I have artistic control over it. That is to say, if any changes are made to the finished book, either I make them, or I see and approve them (and any changes that I don’t approve just don’t get into the book).

A media tie-in book is a more collaborative venture, since the subject matter (in this case, the Multiverse of Magic: the Gathering and the planeswalking fire mage Chandra Nalaar) are the creations and property of the gaming company, and they have specific ideas about how they want the character portrayed and the setting used. Additionally, the setting is very elaborate, and it’s important to the media company (as well as to the game’s fans, who are the target audience of the novel) that the world of the game be portrayed accurately.

At the time I was offered the contract, due to the editor’s familiarity with my own fiction, I had at least heard of Magic, but that was about it, and I’d never written a media tie-in novel or done any work of this type. So there was a steep learning curve in store for me.

The creative team at Wizards of the Coast, which owns Magic, had created an excellent Writers Guide, as a private working document for novelists, which was immensely helpful to me. They also gave me numerous links to specific pages on their vast website, thus whittling down the overwhelming sea of available information to just the stuff I really needed. The game’s creative team met with me by conference call to discuss the game, the setting, and its characteristics with me, and to answer my questions. My editor was readily available with information, answers, and feedback whenever I needed it. And the editorial team, in charge of the whole series of books that create an overall story arc for these characters and this world, gave me notes about where they’d like the story to start, a few things they’d like to see happen, and where they’d like the story to end.

Between the parameters they gave me for the story and my need to keep looking up stuff in the background materials they gave me, I found that the thing this writing process most closely resembled, for me, was writing research papers in graduate school. Except that, by contrast, someone was paying me well for all this work!

5 comments

  1. Hey, Laura,
    Awesome–I’ve always wondered about media tie-in work and you’ve provided some illumination. Great post!

  2. BTW, the SFWA BULLETIN, a bi-monthly mag published by SFWA, has been running a series of articles about media tie-in fiction. The current issue, June-July 2009, runs an informative interview with two prominent literary agents talking about the pros and cons of tie-in writing. Additionally, Ninc’s own Lee Goldberg is quoted in the article.

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