I received an email today from a guy who writes fanfic in "the SEAQUEST universe" and would like to see it published as novels. Here’s part of what he wrote me:
We see novels based on other universes published all the time. Be they
the Extended-Universe Star Wars novels written by people like Timothy
Zahn or the Star Trek novels which go largely uncreditted by Paramount
studios, and they seem to do fairly well. Do you have any tips on how
I may actually go getting Atlantis published? Obviously there would be
copyright issues that need to be resolved with Universal studios and
so on, but I don’t have the foggiest on where to begin!
First off, your initial premise is wrong: Paramount maintains rigid control over the STAR TREK novels as does Lucasfilm over the STAR WARS books.
I would say it would be impossible to get Atlantis, your SeaQuest-derived work, published and it would be an utter waste of time to pursue it. But, for the sake of argument, you would have to contact Cindy Chang at Universal Licensing in Los Angeles for permission to shop it around. Then whatever publisher you found would have to pay Universal a license fee to publish your work.
There are two ways that licensed novels are usually pursued.
1) The studio offers their TV or movie property to publishers.
2) a publisher contacts a studio and says they are interested in a particular property, what would it cost to license it?
In either case, the studio is paid a license fee, receives royalties, and usually maintains creative control over the property (ie they can approve or reject writers, stories, manuscripts, etc.).
For instance, in my case, Penguin/Putnam had tremendous success with the MURDER SHE WROTE novels (licensed from Universal) and wanted to come up with a companion series that would appeal to the same audience. So they approached Paramount and licensed DIAGNOSIS MURDER from them, then they came to me to write the books (though I had to be approved by Paramount first). I am paid an advance and a royalty. Paramount, in addition to the license fee, also gets royalties. All my manuscripts are read, and approved, by Paramount before they are published.
My advice to you is to move on. It’s time to write something original…and to put your efforts into getting that published instead.
23 thoughts on “Selling Fanfic to Publishers”
Well…question: how did YOU go about initially writing novels for your various shows? Did you always start as a screenwriter first (I seem to recall that from your Diagnosis Murder and Seaquest work, but wanted to be sure) or is it possible for an interested fan to draft a novel based on the show and then attempt to have it published among the show’s other novels?
I seem to recall that the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises do permit that. For a first-time writer, is that such a waste of time? I’m sure an experienced and known author could get some kind of advanced contract, but what about fans who would like to break into the franchise?
is it possible for an interested fan to draft a novel based on the show and then attempt to have it published among the show’s other novels?
I think it depends on the attitude of the copyright holder: a friend of mine had a Dr Who novel published by doing exactly that, but he knew (from fannish sources, as it happens) before starting it that the copyright holder (the BBC?) were interested in receiving manuscripts from previously unpublished writers.
There’s a really interesting column written by one of the authors of the Star Wars novels about how to break into franchise novel-writing. It was up on one of the Sci Fi Writers websites. I’ll see if I can find it.
Another question for Lee: How would you recommend that interested writers start out if they want to screenwrite for an existing series?
I haven’t got a series I’m especially interested in at the moment, but that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
PS–Note to all published authors here, I’m starting a discussion on my blog for published writers of screenplays, franchise novels, original novels, whatnot to toss out their suggestions for amateur writers.
This isn’t about fanfiction–most fanwriters DO have original stories they’re working on and hoping to publish.
If you’d care to join us and share your suggestions/experiences, we’d love to hear from you.
Jocelyn, if you’re interested in writing for television, the first thing you should do is read Lee’s invaluable book “Successful Television Writing,” which is linked on the right side of the screen.
I already answered that question in the post. For the DM books, the publisher approached me (Same thing happened on the MONK books). But in a broader sense, I got started by writing original novels. One of the books sold to the movies and I got hired to write the script, which is how I got into screenwriting. After a few years in TV, I wrote another original novel and got back into the publishing biz.
It’s still a waste of time. The publishers tend to go to writers who have established themselves with original works elsewhere.
It would take a book to answer that question…luckily, I’ve written one (with Bill Rabkin). It’s called SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING and you can order it by clicking on the icon in the column on the right-hand side of the screen … or by visiting Amazon.com
The best advice, I think, for people who would like to write tie-in novels or work on a series or any of a variety of other writing projects is write your own stuff first and become a success at that. Once you accomplish that, you’ll find getting in the door for those other projects much easier.
In a recent feedback you discussed that you were asked to leave the DM series but still enjoyed writing the books which you say are doing well – What is “doing well”? I see at Amazon Diagnosis Murder #5: The Past Tense (Diagnosis Murder)Amazon.com Sales Rank: #302,443 in Books –
You’re non DM books like The Walk Amazon.com Sales Rank: #1,244,756
What is the definitrtion of a book or series doing well?
This is related to my question on what is mid-list on this ranking numerical scale? Lee has two copies one of wach book, on the shelf at my BN in Burbank. Isn’t that mid-list on the shelf?
I never said I was “asked to leave” DM (wishful thinking on your part?). I chose to leave DM to produce MARTIAL LAW (for the same network as DM, by the way). As far as the books doing well, the first four are enjoying a 65% sell-through and the first DM book is into its second printing (the first was over 50,000 copies). I’ve also been signed by Penguin/Putnam for eight DM books as well as three MONK novels. I think that qualifies as “doing well,” don’t you?
As for the Amazon ranking for THE PAST TENSE…here’s a newsflash for you: it hasn’t been published yet It will be out in August.
As for THE WALK, it’s done fine…in fact, the publisher bought a second novel from me, THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, which will be out in November.
I find it amusing that anonymous comments (but all from the same IP address — what a coincidence!) have been left randomly across my blog over the last few days that clumsily imply that I was fired from DM and that my books are all tanking. I don’t see the point of the campaign…but whatever it is, he won’t be making it here. I took the bait today, but I will be deleting future comments along the same line in the future.
The person posting those message is obviously Griddy. The fat Belgian hag is up to her old tricks again. She still hates you for upstaging her on the PAX forums. Once you showed up there she couldn’t pretend to be the expert on DM any more. How could she with the executive producer of the show around!? You rendered her impotent. You made it worse when you started writing books because you were continuing DM and not her fanfic. The fat Belgian hag will always hate you and haunt you, Goldberg
//is it possible for an interested fan to draft a novel based on the show and then attempt to have it published among the show’s other novels?//
Quick, someone send this to Keith Snyder’s blog.
Oh, Joc, baby, sweetie, if I wasn’t so in love with you…
Please, Guyot, try to contain your lust in public already!
It’s a fair question, because that’s how Star Trek novels USED to be published. Pocket Books had an open transom, and fans were welcome to send their novels in to be published. Several of the authors of the earlier (first hundred or so) ST novels got their start there, and have moved from there into original novels or other tie-ins.
However. Pocket Books no longer accepts unsolicited ST manuscripts; they have to be agented, and you need a track record. Why? Because the market has shifted, especially in science fiction; there’s a much greater proportion of tie-in/continuation/media-universe novels to originals being published. And that means that novelists would previously have had their original novels published — in fact, many who HAD their original novels published — are now doing media tie-ins. So if the publishers can get agented, experienced novelists for their tie-ins, why would they maintain a fan-friendly submission process that (let’s be honest here) would net them unpublishable crap by the bargeloads for every publishable gem?
“Pocket Books had an open transom, and fans were welcome to send their novels in to be published.”
“Pocket Books had an open transom, and fans were welcome to send their novels in to be CONSIDERED FOR PUBLICATION.”
So if the publishers can get agented, experienced novelists for their tie-ins, why would they maintain a fan-friendly submission process that (let’s be honest here) would net them unpublishable crap by the bargeloads for every publishable gem?
Good point. Too bad, really. I had read the Star Trek tie-ins back when they were new, when I was a kid, and I seemed to recall that lots of fans got into the franchise that way.
But the publishers’ policy makes sense, as disappointing as it is for interested fans. It’s the same dilemma that faces us readers of online material (original or fanfic). There are gems out there, it’s just that you have to sift through so much dirt.
The publishers tend to go to writers who have established themselves with original works elsewhere.
In general, true. But not always: until fairly recently the copyright holders of Dr Who (which, once I’d found my one Dr Who spinoff book are the BBC) at least until very recently took manuscripts submitted by unpublished writers.
And also perhaps worth noting that some of the fans felt that the Star Trek spinoffs lost direction (the words ‘lazy and slapdash’ were kicked around a lot) once they stopped taking the best fan written stories and started relying on so-called ‘published writers with a history of original work behind them’ because, as I understand it, those writers didn’t know the universe inside out and backwards in the way the fans did, and relied on the background they were supplied with. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never read a Star Trek spin off.
Dr Who spinoffs, I know reasonably well, and I have a marked preference for those written by people I know to be fans, or to have worked on the original series. People brought in off the street who don’t know the series… Well, least said, really.
If a tv show doesn’t yet have a tie-in novel series going, then a fan’s request to start one with his or her book isn’t going to get them anywhere. However, if the books have already been licensed, then it is possible. For instance, I know the publishers of Quantum Leap books opened the door to fan writers, and did indeed publish some of them. Currently, the (overseas-licensed) Stargate SG-1 books are actively soliciting fan writers.
In point of fact, I think novels written by fans are often *better* than those done by a “professional.” Why? Because fans are invested in the show they’re writing about. They care about continuity, about character, about not repeating the plots of aired episodes, far more than someone hired from the outside ever could. A number of them are very good writers, too. And where did they practice their skills on the way to actually getting paid for their work? I think you know the answer to that.
This is news to me…and, to be honest, I have a hard time believing it. I have friends who have written both QUANTUM LEAP and STARGATE novels. I’m also close to the licensing folks at Universal (which owns Quantum Leap) I’ll ask them about this and get back to y’all with what I learn.
UPDATE: I checked with Universal and yes, it’s true, they did solicit fan submissions for the last few books in the series.
I’ve been checking into Sara’s post, and here’s what I’ve learned. Universal confirms that the publisher did solicit fan contributions for the QUANTUM LEAP books, but that it was certainly not the norm. STARGATE is also an unusual situation. The STARGATE books were published in Europe by Fandemonium, a very small publisher that solicited fan submissions because, after paying for the license, they couldn’t afford to pay advances to writers (which naturally ruled out hiring any professionals). What’s really interesting about Fandemonium is that it appears to be a group of STARGATE fans who put together the company specifically with the intent to license and publish STARGATE novels. If so, I applaud them: this is how to do fanfic right!
In your last post about Fandemonium and Stargate, do you know of any contact information to send submission requests to Fandemonium, or for that matter Titan Publishing that currently produces the fan magazine and episode companions??