Writers are certainly odd creatures, wouldn’t you agree? We have this mental duality where, as we write, we can think “This is brilliant!” one minute, and then bemoan our ability to stick two words together the next. We have to believe our stories are worth telling (and selling), and then be merciless when we go to crush our prose during revisions. That ego flip-flop happens more often than I care to admit—except in one area.
When I’m writing for tie-in stories. There’s just no room for it there.
Oh, I can feel passionate about the plot and characters, and I can believe the story is one worth telling. But when it comes to work-for-hire contracts, if you don’t play by the publisher’s rules, if you refuse to let go of your ego…you’re going to run into trouble.
See, tie-in writing means it’s not really “your” story you’re telling. Someone—in my instance, Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG and other game developers—have decided they need a tale told. And they’ve decided I have the potential to tell it the way they want it. I got to write a sword and sorcery adventure called Forge of Ashes, and I had marvelous fun doing so. In the end, they own the full rights to it. I’ve just been allowed to play in their sandbox.
But did you catch that a few sentences back? The way they want and need it.
If I flounce in, refusing to accept the editor’s feedback, refusing to give up my grand vision for the work then it’s hardly likely I’ll stick around for long. Best case, I’ll finish the work and become known as a difficult diva. Who wants that sort of reputation or to work with someone who has it? Worst case, I’ll be booted for not complying to contracted terms and the publisher will find another eager author all-too-willing to shelve the ego.
So if you’re ever wanting to write tie-in content, be it for games, movie adaptations, or other licensed properties, recognize that you can provide the talent, but you have to leave the pride behind (except for completing a job-well-done). If you want to write only ever on your terms, write-for-hire may just not be your cuppa. And that’s fine if that’s the path you choose. For me, I enjoy the variety and fun tie-in writing provides—so I’m willing to make that concession.
Now, recognize this doesn’t mean the editors are going to hammer down on your every idea or be brutal taskmasters. Hardly. In fact, most of the editors I’ve worked with so far, with Forge of Ashes and beyond, have been incredibly encouraging and helpful. But even they’ve had to draw a hard line occasionally, whether for canon, mechanics, legal reasons, or otherwise. And I have to accept that and do the work to fix whatever they point out.
The upside is getting to write in some fantastic universes and even being able to add new and unique elements to the canon. Plus, getting to offer fun adventures to player communities around the world.
Oh, and getting paid to write in the first place, of course! That’s always a bonus.