Writing Media Tie-ins

Writing Media Tie-ins

One perennial need is for novelists to write film or gaming tie-ins.

If you are a successful writer, the chances are excellent that all kinds of people will approach you to write for them.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a producer and you’ve created a major motion picture, a television series, or a video game. You want to advertise it, but you probably don’t have a big budget. You could spend the money on television commercials or posters, but those quickly drain your funds. This is why they need someone to be writing media tie-ins. 

A wiser course may be to create ads that actually make money instead of spending it. 

If a producer licenses a novelization, he or she may get book displays in thousands of bookstores, grocery stores, and airports around the country. Each book shows an image from the movie, tv series, or video game. In short, novel covers become miniature billboards, and sales of the novel produce revenue for your company instead of costing money. It’s a huge win-win situation.

Writing a tie-in can also be a big break for an author. For most new authors, we start in relative obscurity. We often can only afford to write part-time at first, so we’re looking for a steady income while we build our reader base. Now, you might enjoy teaching elementary school or working at McDonalds, but if you want to be a full-time writer, even a great day job can feel soul-destroying.

Writing a tie-in can help you widen your name recognition while providing some decent income. 

So, new authors often ask, “How can I get a deal writing a media tie-in?”

  1. First, identify a property that you love. This might be a television series, a video game, or a bestselling book series. Remember the “that you love” part. If you’re not a fan, chances are excellent that you won’t do well at it.

Don’t be self-defeating when you consider novelization and check out this link if you need help with a concept. If you think you see a novelization somewhere, ask the right people.

Years ago I wrote a video game proposal for a Tom Clancy “Rainbow Six” game. I sent it in to Red Storm, Tom’s company, and the next day, Tom called me personally to ask if I would be interested in writing a Rainbow Six novel with him. To be honest, I never would have dared approach him with the idea, but once he suggested it, I realized it kind of made sense.

So be adventurous. If you’re a fan of a movie star, you can ask to ghostwrite an autobiography. If you have a game you love, it doesn’t matter how huge it is, you can always ask about it. The worst that can happen is that the rights holder will say no, and you have to find something else.

  1. Once you know what to write, find out who the rights holder is. You can usually contact a film distributor to identify just who you need to talk to on films, or if you want to work with a gaming company, just call them.
  1. Prepare a proposal. Tell the producer that you’re a writer who loves their intellectual property and that you’re interested in doing novelizations. 

The chances are excellent that a film producer or the president of a video game company won’t be familiar with how to distribute books, so you might need to educate them as to how you would find a publisher, get the books distributed, and so on. 

Basically, by talking to them you can find out if they would like to see a proposal, and what that proposal would entail.

  1. Write the proposal. Usually the rights holder to a property will want to see a sample of your work. You’ll want to make sure that you show them something that meshes with the style and tone of the project that you want to work on. 

For example, if you’ve got a rich fantasy world that you want to write in, you’ll want to show them some fantasy stories that match their tone. Don’t worry about writing the stories. If they’re any good, you can always sell them to magazines and make a little extra money. You might even throw out some suggestions for storylines to a producer—a short list of some cool ideas.

  1. As you talk to the rights holder, find out how you can best meet their needs. If all you do is try to jack up the price on them higher and higher, they’ll lose interest quickly. Instead, you need to let them know that you can:
    1. Write beautifully. Your writing sample should help, but winning awards or rave reviews can’t hurt, either.
    2. On time. Ask them about any schedules and deadlines they want you to meet. Assure them that you can work within that kind of framework.
    3. Let them know that you can work with a team to create content. If you’re working with a television series, for example, you might find yourself writing novelizations that bring in whole new characters or explore upcoming story arcs. You need to be versatile.
  1. Be realistic on what deadlines you can meet.  You can’t write a great book in a day. It may take you months of work, so don’t “over promise.” 

I’ve heard producers bait authors by asking, “So, can you have it done in three weeks?” If you say, “Sure,” they know you’re full of crap. The correct answer is probably, “No, but I can have it done in four months,” they’ll appreciate the honesty. 

  1. Don’t ask for the moon. Most of the time, when you’re writing a novelization, you’re going to get paid well for a product that you can write quickly. You don’t get paid millions of dollars for novelizations.

What you do get, typically, is money up front. I normally have gotten paid 1) about half up front money for starting the project, 2) half of the money upon completion, 3) and a royalty split on the sales.

Thus, for writing a book for a motion picture, you might get $20,000 to start the novel, $20,000 when you finish, and a 3% royalty on sales. 

By structuring the deal this way, the movie company really only pays you well if the book becomes a bestseller. It incentivizes the writer to write quickly and produce their best work.

Remember, once you write in another person’s universe, please have the decency not to denigrate them afterward. They’re your business partners. Treat them with respect.


I have published a story in a new anthology edited by Aiki Flinthart, called “Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins” Check it out here.

Also, Rober Mullins is giving away a free book: https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Arise-Wells-Worlds-Book-ebook/dp/B00AM4V02G
Coming up in Apex, we’ll be hearing from:
Author and blogger Hayley Milliman on Jan. 19;
Author Jennifer Brozek on Jan. 26;
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