This Writer For Hire

Paperback Writer (author Lynn Viehl) has posted an excellent article on writing-for-hire. It’s great meat-and-potatoes publishing info.

A publisher, packager or franchise that wants a book or books written
to their specifications solicits and hires a novelist to write them.
The writer is contracted, usually for a flat fee. The assignment can be
anything from a vague idea to a complete package including specific
plots, characters, settings, maps, themes and so forth. Wordcounts,
page counts and certain creative restrictions (like sexual content) are
also generally spelled out.

To break into writer-for-hire
work, you usually have to audition, which is a lot like pitching one of
your own novels, or the publisher may seek you out based on your
published work or a recommendation from someone who knows you and your

I’m a writer-for-hire on DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK books. I got the DM job because I was an exec producer on the show and the publisher was aware that I was a novelist, too. So they came to me with an offer. The MONK books are being done by the same publisher…and I’ve worked on that show, too.  Writing-for-hire is a huge business and I know a lot of writers who make their living almost entirely on franchise work…

6 thoughts on “This Writer For Hire”

  1. As exec. producer of DM you have the advantage,I hope, of not having someone tell you that such and such character “wouldn’t do that,” or “wouldn’t say that.” I’ve only done two tie-in novels, one series continuation novel, and one “making of..” book, and I’ve been mostly fortunate in that regard, however I have had some (what I thought) innocent changes to the screenplay sent back for revision, while a few major changes (one’s I worried about) were approved without comment. One screenplay had a woman taking a certain medication and drinking like a fish when, i real life, one MUST NOT drink with that medication as it can be fatal. I made her refrain from drinking in the novel because of that danger, and no one blinked. In the same novel, I eliminated a passing reference to her Catholic school when the event mentioned would never take place at a Catholic school (Hassidic Country Line Dancing, for example) and they insisted I put it back in. Pehaps such alterations and revision ar requested just so someone can say they corrected something? What is your experience?

  2. I don’t get “wouldn’t say that”/”wouldn’t do that” notes on DM. It’s as if I’m writing my own novels. The only notes I get are the usual editorial suggestions. As for MONK, I have the benefit and pleasure of working hand-in-hand with Andy Breckman, the creator of the show. So I get his note at the story stage and I show him the manuscript. I turn it in to the studio and my editor with his approval already in hand…so I don’t get those “wouldn’t do that”/”wouldn’t say that” notes from them either. I’ve been blessed on both books as far as my relationships with the publisher and the studios goes.

  3. Lee,
    Thanks for this. In my youth I was a keen collector of all sorts of novelisations of different tv series and have wondered on and off about the process.
    One question though – is the writing for fanchised works any different on a creative level than non-franchised writing? Do you feel at any time ‘constrained’ by having to fit into a pre-existing universe?
    (Okay – that was two questions!)

  4. It’s sort of the literary equivalent of what I have to do every day as a writer on a TV series… where the constraints are much greater (budget, shooting schedule, actors, network notes, studio notes, etc).
    Writing the DM books feels very comfortable to me… and not like “franchise work” because I feel, after producing and writing the show for many years, like they are my characters (even though they aren’t). Writing the DM books, for me, is no different than writing original novels.
    MONK is different. I am more acutely aware of my boundaries as I write. I am always thinking “Will Andy like this? Does this fit in with the show and the character? Is this funny enough? Is this too funny?.” I don’t find it constraining — it’s more of a challenge than anything else. To use a cliche, it keeps me on my toes.

  5. Lee,
    Do you ever find yourself plotting within those TV constraints out of habit when writing a novel? And/or do you ever consider whether a particular story is better suited to a novel or screenplay?
    Thanks – Mark


Leave a Comment