Because I have written three STAR WARS novels, and three novels set in Isaac
Asimov's Robots-Foundation universe, I get a lot of standard-mail and e-mail letters
from readers who want to know: "How can I get to write that sort of book myself?"
It's not much fun to give the answer to that question, because the answer is:
"You can't." No one who mails in an unsolicited idea or story or novel
to Lucasfilms (the folks who run STAR WARS) or Paramount (STAR TREK) or any of the
other media "franchises" ever gets it published. Period. End of story.
I know of one possible complicated and trivial exception to this flat statement,
which I am not going to go into, because even that door is, I am sure, now shut,
and I don't want to raise false hopes.
ALL of the writers who have written STAR WARS books were approached
by the publisher and hired to do their books. These professional writers,
once contracted to do so, submitted outlines. The outlines were critiqued, modified,
rewritten,and (with luck) approved. Part of the approval process in such cases concerned
itself with whether the story was good. Part of it concerned itself with making
sure the story idea matched the rest of the imaginary universe, and didn't cause
continuity trouble, now or later. (In the case of my three STAR WARS books, one
key plot line was thrown out by Lucasfilm because what I wanted to do might interfere
with future plotlines.) Only after contracts were signed, and the outlines were
approved, did the writers actually write the books. And, of course, the final books
were likewise subject to approval.
ALL of the writers hired to do the STAR WARS books had written and published
books of their own before they were approached. They had track records. They had
demonstrated the ability to write a complete, commercially publishable novel in
the only way possible: by actually doing it. (Lots more people start writing books
than finish writing them.)
NONE of the published STAR WARS books were written by unpublished amateurs,
or written without prior approval of the outline. None of them ever will be. All
of the above holds true for the other media franchises.
Hundreds and thousands of unsolicited story proposals, stories, book manuscripts,
screenplays and so on descend on the franchise offices every year. None of them
will ever be published or produced. In fact, the vast majority of them will be returned,
unopened, to sender. There are good, hard-nosed reasons for all this.
First and foremost, to be blunt about it, most of the unsolicited submissions
are no good. Based on what I have heard from editors, and have seen for myself,
I can tell you that most of these submissions are badly written, or based on a bad
idea, or formatted improperly, or inaccurate or careless about the known facts in
the universe in question, or just incredibly sloppy. Some are written by people
who, judging by their writing, appear to be deranged.
(I am sure that the vast majority of people who submit books and other material
to the franchises are sane and competent. But with all due respect to that majority,
I strongly suspect that, for various reasons, the nut-author count is higher for
media tie-in submissions than it is for regular books. People obsess on some favorite
character from the movie. On the other hand, and in fairness, the nut-author count
is pretty high just about everywhere in publishing.)
In other words, even if your unsolicited STAR WARS novel is an absolute gem,
it is likely to be quite literally buried under a mountainous heap of unpublishable
gibberish. It's going to be literally in the same pile with all the nut manuscripts,
and will be lumped together with them.
But even your that diamond of an unsolicited manuscript were the only one to
arrive at the publisher's offices, even if they were starved for material, they
would would return it unread, for one simple reason: lawsuits. Let me try and explain
Let's say that Fervent Fan F, who loves Media Franchise Z, writes a book set
in that franchise, in which Character X marries Character Y. (Marrying characters
up is a very popular notion among writers, and not much loved by the folks that
control franchises. Marriages change too many things and complicates the continuity.)
The book gets to Editor E, who reads the book, decides it's no good, and rejects
Now suppose that, two years later, in the movie series or TV series or book series
or comic book (sorry, graphic novel) series linked to the franchise, Character X
does indeed marry Character Y. Or even suppose that Character X marries Z, or marries
some new character never heard of before. Fervent Fan F decides that Franchise Z
has stolen his idea of X getting married. Fan F goes to Lawyer L, and sues.
Now, even if Lawyer L knows there is no case at all, she might well decide to
go for it anyway, in hopes that Franchise Z will offer a settlement just to make
Fervent Fan F go away. And, if there is enough bad publicity, and Franchise Z concludes
that they are going to have a lot of trouble proving a negative (ie: that they never
heard word one from Editor E about Fan F's book in which X and Y get married), then
Franchise Z might well decide it would be easier and cheaper just to pay up.
Never mind that the franchise holders thought up the Franchise Z universe, and
invented Characters X and Y. They have just, in effect, been sued for violating
their own copyright. And suddenly every unpublished writer in the world realizes
that Franchise Z has caved in and settled one suit, and who knows, they might settle
another, and another, and ...
There is a very simple way for Franchise Z and Editor E to avoid this nightmare
scenario: all they have to do is never look at unsolicited manuscripts. If
they return the unsolicited manuscripts unopened, and/or return them with a letter
stating they have not been read, and that the office does not wish to see any further
material from the submitting writer, or take various other precautions, they will
able to demonstrate they had never seen Fan F's tale of romance and marriage, and
they can avoid this nuisance suit, and the hundreds of others that would almost
certainly follow a settlement or a judgment against them.
Unsolicited media tie-in manuscripts don't get read. The franchise holder and
the publishers thus avoid a very real and highly probable danger by turning their
back on the rather hypothetical and quite highly improbable hope that Fan F has
written something vastly better than anything they could get from their stable of
professional writers, and something that exactly fits in with all their future plans
for the franchise.
Variations on the above logic apply to cases such as the Asimov universe, where
the "franchise" is a book series, rather than a TV series or movie, and
likewise apply to other cases where someone holds an existing copyright. Further
variations cover the writing of scripts for TV and movie series. As far as scripts
go, I am no expert, but here are the rules as best I understand them: no one in
Hollywood will read your script based on their characters, show, or
premise until you sign a release form promising not to sue them for reading it.
(See J. Michael Straczynski's THE COMPLETE BOOK OF SCRIPTWRITING for a detailed
discussion of this topic.)
It's not fun to tell people the bad news, but there it is. You're not going to
be able to publish your unsolicited STAR WARS, or STAR TREK, or X FILES, or Asimovian
Robot, or HERCULES, or REN AND STIMPY novel, story, poem, or comic book. Period.
Now that I have explained that it is impossible to get one of these writing gigs,
a rather obvious question pops up: How did I get two of them? Simple. I wrote a
lot of books that were all my own, and developed a name and a reputation in the
science fiction field. By so doing, I proved that I knew how to write a commercially
successful book, and proved that I understood the business. I had to write my own
books before they came to me and asked me to write their STAR WARS and Robot novels.
This brings me to another topic. I am firmly of the opinion that writing in someone
else's universe is, generally speaking, not a good thing for a beginning writer
to do. Books and stories are built out of three interlocking things: plot, setting,
and character. If someone else has already dreamed up the people, and worked out
precisely what the world they live in is like, that's two out of three -- character
and setting -- that are gone. You, the beginning writer, will have no chance to
practice creating the people and places in your story. All you are left with is
plot, and even there, your freedom will be severely limited by all the things that
have already happened in the existing storyline.
A beginning writer wishing to develop his or her skills will do far better working
on his or her own material, as such will give the new writer the chance to work
on all the aspects of telling a story. And, ironically enough, the only way
to get a chance writing in your favorite franchise universe is by first becoming
a professional writer in your own right. You get to write in their world by writing
in your own universe first.
I know of exceptions to much of what I have just laid down as flat-out, absolute,
unalterable truth. But virtually all of those exceptions are misleading, or trivial,
or so wildly improbable that they might as well not exist. Going into details would
just raise false hopes. What I have said here is 99.999 percent true. Your odds
are much better writing your own stuff, rather than pursuing the .001 percent I
One last side-note. I myself have completed my contracts with the STAR WARS and
Asimov franchise holders. I'm working on my own material, and have no further contractual
right to do work in either of those universes. Unless and until I get asked again,
I can't write in those universes again, either. Therefore, it's no good sending
me STAR WARS or Robot ideas. I can't do anything with them, and there's no way for
me to act as a conduit, passing the ideas on.
So write your own stuff. Believe me, that's the best way to get published.
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