Tied Up in Tie-ins

I got an email from someone who has written his first original tie-in novel, which will be released very soon in paperback by a major publisher. He was paid a
flat, work-for-hire fee of $5000 to produce a 90,000 word novel and was
put through at least one revision.  He had this question for me:

Assuming I do get offered another
contract, it’s likely to take place before the first book hits the stores.
Wouldn’t my best bargaining point be the degree of success of the first
book, and I won’t know that before being asked to make a decision on a
second contract? I don’t want a second contract on the same terms as the
first. In other words, how much leverage does a tie-in
writer have, especially a newbie? Any light you can shed would be much

really depends on your financial situation now. How long did it take
you to write that 90,000 words? My guess is that if you were to figure
out the time you put in writing the book on a dollars-per-hour basis,
you got far less than minimum wage.  And you gain nothing
financially if the book is a success. If they want you back, I would
ask for at least a $5000 advance against a percentage of royalties…or walk away from it.  That
really is the only leverage you have — a willingness to walk

I posed this question to other tie-in writers in the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. They pointed out that the publisher has  done the number crunching on the tie-in deal and believe they are already paying all that they can afford (given that they also have to pay a licensing fee and share royalties with the studio). However, now you’ve demonstrated that you can write a novel on time and to their specifications, so you’re not an unknown any more. And that proven dependability is now worth something.

4 thoughts on “Tied Up in Tie-ins”

  1. It’s a good idea to do two or three books, to create a track record, before negotiating anything or walking away from anything. Sure, it’s minimum wage, but that’s the usual pay and it may lead to journeyman wages later. I always advise those who ask me to take whatever they can get, at whatever the pay may be, for the first few years. Then, some day, if they have done well, they’ll have leverage.

  2. There was a time not too long back when romance authors who couldn’t get the publishers to bite on their romance books were approached by Precious Gems, packaged exclusively for Wal-Mart by Kensington. The authors knew it was a flat out payment, but not “work-for-hire”. The payment I think was something like $3,000 for around 60,000(?) words. Additional money for foreign sales of each book, and apparently there were at least a few sold overseas and my source tells me overseas sales did involve actual royalties.
    Well published authors bristled because of the lack of royalties / flat rate here in the states, but were most bothered by the relatively low amount paid for the books. Harlequin, by comparison, paid around $4,500-$5,000 advance before royalties for a similar book. There was significant discussion at one RWA Conference over whether the books could officially qualify for the RWA RITA Awards. Some authors worried at the time that if the Kensington books took off, Wal-Mart might push aside the Harlequin books and by some remote chance Harlequin might lower the initial advance to new authors. This of course, never happened. Precious Gems did sell alongside Harequin romances at Wal-Mart but never did have a big impact on the market or author’s salaries. I don’t believe Precious Gems are published any longer.
    Sorry for the long reference, but the point is (although I am not an author) that yes, you’ve proven you can write a book and that goes in your resume proudly, but unless you can crank those books out, look elsewhere for real income.
    While I’ll defer to Lee on all things tie-in related, if you think you can crank out another 90,000 words for say, $5,500, then sure. I seriously doubt they’d offer much more than that until they know about sales, too.
    The only question I’d ask the new author is to whether he/she would be willing to write a non tie-in book completely on spec and then try to sell that. If the answer is yes, then spend the time doing that and try to sell that instead. Getting an agent with one published book in your resume is certainly easier than having no book at all, so that first book does look good, even if the characters are owned by someone else.

  3. Hey Lee,
    In a throwback to a conversation on this blog earlier this year, I was considering entering one of WD’s short story contests. However, I always believe in doing some research prior to getting into writing contests because of the number of scams out there. When I googled Writers Digest, the first two pages were all sorts of congratulatory links about WD. Then I got to your blog. Your summary of the problems with WD and PODs I felt was accurate and convinced me to stay clear of any sort of ‘easy’ solution to getting published. It’s going to be a bitch getting published the right way, but after reading your blog, I’m reminded once again that it’s worth the struggle.
    I will become a frequent reader of your blog from here on out, and I thank you for helping to remind me that what’s truly important isn’t getting published, it’s writing a good story.

  4. Xaedalus,
    Thank you so much. It’s nice to know that I’m not just talking to myself…and that I at least steered one person away from a POD scam.


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