Tie-ins: The Final Frontier

Author Vonda McIntyre blogs about breaking-in as a tie-in writer with her STAR TREK novels and the snobbery she encountered.

Back in the 1980s, I wrote a bunch of Star Trek novels. I thoroughly enjoyed writing them. Pretty much the only drawback was that some of my colleagues took exception to my polluting my precious bodily fluids with evil tie-in novels. You’d’ve thought they believed they had to save my soul, blathering about the improvement in my moral character that would result if instead I took an honest job as a waitress.

But mostly she shares a lot of amusing and interesting anecdotes about her tie-in days in the post and subsequent comments. Her post sparked a debate over at Metafilter and at John Scalzi's blog. He writes, in part:

With very few exceptions, media tie-in SF outsells original SF, often by a significant amount. Now, we can argue about why this is and whether this is a good thing for the genre or not, but at the end of the day, it’s a fact and it’s something authors give serious consideration to, in terms of its value to their overall career. […]I don’t write tie-in SF for my own reasons, but it’s not to say I wouldn’t if the right project came along. I have quite a number of friends who do or have written tie-ins, and you know what, when all is said and done they’re generally getting paid well to do work they love in universes they’re fans of, for audiences who well appreciate their efforts. Maybe some people want to crap all over that and call them hacks. I heartily raise a middle finger at them.

Obviously, I agree. I read some of the comments on Scalzi's blog and at Metafilter and the argument some folks are making against tie-ins is that they are so successful that they are squeezing better, original books off the shelves. It's a disingenuous and dumb argument. The fact is if the non-tie-in is selling well, it won't be pushed off the shelf by the latest STAR TREK novel. The reason the tie-ins are on the shelf in the first place is because people are buying them. If there wasn't a voracious market for them, they wouldn't exist.

10 thoughts on “Tie-ins: The Final Frontier”

  1. Some of Beverly Cleary’s earliest books were Leave It To Beaver tie-ins. I thinks she wrote 2. I have the first one, and it feels like a Beverly Cleary book, that same episodic chapter structure. Kind of cool.

  2. So the criticism is that tie-in “dreck” (their opinion) will push brilliance off the shelves, huh? More so than, say, true dreck pasted together by pseudo-celebrities (can anyone say Joe the Plumber?) pushes brilliance off the shelves?
    Give me a Monk or Burn Notice story any day!

  3. The reason tie-in novels work (as adverse to why they sell), is that you can see and hear the characters in your mind. It almost becomes a full immersion situation. I know with Monk, I can see Traylor Howard rolling her eyes while Tony Shalhoub actually speaks the dialog on the page. Of course, Tony’s wearing that brown suit and has that little grin on his face while he’s saying it, even if you haven’t written it. I just KNOW.
    I like to do my own imagineering most of the time, but it’s nice to get the full-service package occasionally.

  4. I grew up with tie-ins, and still own most of them. (Ace Books MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., anyone?) Michael Avallone was a favorite of mine, reliable as clockwork for a fun, entertaining read over an evening or two.
    My only complaint is there are not enough tie-ins these days. There was one J.A.G novel, but no NCIS (yet). 24 did a short series of six or seven, but no THE SHIELD or RESCUE ME (both of which one would think lend themselves to tie-ins).
    I’m sure the reasons are many and varied, but yeah, I miss the tie-in rack….

  5. Mel Odom has published three NCIS novels, but they’re only available as trade paperbacks. They were published by religious publisher Tyndale House, so they might not be carried everywhere. OTOH at least one of them is available in audiobook format. I’m not sure why they haven’t put out NCIS novels in mass market and through a secular imprint — you’d think it would be popular enough.

  6. My understanding is that Mel Odom’s NCIS books are NOT based on the TV series, they are books about the NCIS…in the same way a book about the NYPD isn’t NYPD BLUE. They just happen to share the same generic title. Remember, the actual title, as redundant as it may be, of the CBS series is NAVY NCIS.

  7. “I like to do my own imagineering most of the time, but it’s nice to get the full-service package occasionally.”
    Great line!
    I used to think that tie-in’s were dreck, but for some reason I didn’t feel this way about Star Trek stories. They were somehow legitimate. And maybe they opened the door. 24 novels seem legitimate. I enjoy Monk and I’ve bought the Burn Notice. It’s a weird sort of genre, but one that is on the rise. I guess it depends on how well written they are. Way back in the 1700’s in England, the novel was on the rise, but it was almost a sin to read one, they were looked down upon so much. But great writing overcame all the objections, and probably will for tie-in’s too.

  8. I read Vonda McIntyre’s novelizations of the three ’80’s Star Trek movies when they came out, and enjoyed them quite a bit (even when her characterizations of the ST characters were at right angles to the TV show and movie characterizations). I saw them as being in the tradition of the James Blish novelizations of the original ST episodes (which novelizations drew me into written SF) and Alan Dean Foster’s even better novelizations of the ST animated series.


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