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Tie-in novels not “real” novels?

I’m taking a break from the Hugo controversy. No, I’m not backing away. Nor am I changing my stance. I’ll be posting more about the nominations and the reaction from both sides later. But for now, I want to discuss something that came up on another blog where an author completely dissed tie-in novels as (and I am paraphrasing here) not real novels and the authors who write them are, at best, sell-outs.

For those of you who don’t know what a tie-in novel is, the simple answer is that it is a novel that is either a new edition of a novel that has been made into a movie or a novel that is based on a film, TV series, video game or the like. It is licensed by the holder of the copyright base material. It is often a work for hire piece and written to conform to the canon of the underlying material. Sometimes the author is given a detailed outline he has to follow. Otherwise, it is a general idea but the author must follow canon.

drewOf course, there are situations where the author fails to do so and that is when the fans of the series/game/whatever rise up and let the world know that something is wrong, very wrong. The Mass Effect tie-in novel, Mass Effect: Deception by William C. Dietz, is one such example. Out of 136  reviews, it received 93 one-star reviews. The previous three books in the series (Mass Effect: Revelation, Mass Effect: Ascension, Mass Effect: Retribution) had been written by Drew Karpyshyn and had received good reviews. But this one, oh this one, went down the sink, into the sewer because it broke canon. It broke the timeline set by the games and the previous three books in the series. It broke the terminology known by the fans. Add in a drop in writing quality and there were a lot of unhappy fans out there.

But I digress. . . .

I can understand why some authors look down on tie-in novels and on work-for-hire in general. After all, part of what so many writers believe makes them an “author” (said in a very posh voice, of course) is the creative process. If someone gives you a plot and all the world building has already been done, then all you are doing is filling in the blanks. Right?

Wrong.

As the reaction to the Mass Effect book shows, readers want a well-crafted book that 1) is well-written and then 2) follows canon for the underlying material. That means the writer has to not only follow the plot as laid out for him but he has to create a believable world and characters.

From a reader’s point of view, I don’t care if the book is a tie-in or work-for-hire or “original” work. If it doesn’t entertain me, I’m not going to keep reading. A basic plot outline isn’t going to entertain. How a writer crafts that outline into a novel determines that. So, yes, from this reader’s point of view, tie-in novels are “real” novels.

From a mother’s point of view, the answer is a resounding “Hell, yeah, they’re real books!” The reason for this is simple. Had it not been for manga and tie-in novels, my son would not be the reader he is today. Thanks to a third grade teacher who hated boys and who also used reading as punishment, my avid reader turned into a kid who did everything he could to avoid reading. His father and I did everything we could, but the damage had been done.

Fortunately, one of the librarians at our local library had the answer. She turned me on to manga and then to tie-ins. I watched my son go from someone who avoided reading to one who read everything he could get his hands on. He did that because the stories drew him in. They were stories that let his imagination soar. They were stories that inspired.

In short, tie-ins or not, they were books that entertained and that, to me, is what a novel should do. Grab your interest and hold it through good writing and characters you can identify with.

Have I liked every tie-in novel I’ve read? Absolutely not. A lot of them are hack jobs, put out too quickly by traditional publishers trying to make a few bucks on a current hot movie or video game. But some have been excellent novels, better written than some of the so-called best sellers I’ve read.

So, as far as this reader, writer and mother is concerned, tie-in novels are most definitely “real” novels. You just have to be careful choosing the ones you want to read, but then you have to do that with any book.

What do you think? Are tie-ins real novels or not? What are your favorites?

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About Amanda

writer, mother, owned by a cat and not necessarily in that order.

11 comments on “Tie-in novels not “real” novels?

  1. Real novels. Mind you, like you, I’ve read tie-in novels that were junk and some that were “good reads”.

    My “problem” with “tie-in” novels is that if I like the movie/show that they’re “based on” is that I like them to be “considered canon” by other “tie-in” novels and they rarely are. Mind you, this problem might be considered some-what silly by others. [Smile]

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    • I hear you, Paul. I’m wondering how big the uproar will be when the new Star Wars movies come out and we see for sure just how far they have gone from what we thought was canon and they have, as the new owners of the franchise, decided to throw out the window.

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  2. Of course they’re real. Those and the best fanfic pieces – the only differences I see there is the tie-ins are paid and the fanfic isn’t.

    I can’t list favorites because it’s been a while since I read any, but for a long time, when I saw a movie I really liked, one of the first things I did was look for the book.

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    • Kate, you are exactly right. I’ll admit, I went for years not reading much, if any, tie-in work. Yes, I read Timothy Zahn’s first Star Wars novels back when they first came out. But until recently when I started thinking about this topic — and before a certain author dissed these sort of works — I did read some of the Mass Effect tie-in novels as well as one Halo. The Mass Effect novels, the first of the tie-ins, were good, sometimes very good in places. The Halo was good but not good enough to get me to buy more. Shrug.

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  3. Definitely real.

    And take real skill– same way that good TV show writing vs bad TV show writing take skill.

    It’s like someone claiming that only individual combat is “really” fighting– if you’re part of a team, much less an army, then you’re not fighting.

    They’re similar skills with a different focus.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Excellent analogy, Fovfier, and you are right. I think what got me the most about the statement was the implied “it’s dirty” attitude simply because the author is paid upfront for the piece. Sure, it is in someone else’s sandbox, but that doesn’t deserve credit for writing a book that is entertaining and true to the source material.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As a non-writer, I’ve always thought it was harder to write a tie-in novel/story than to write a novel/story “set in the writer’s created universe”.

    If Amanda writes a story set in the “Star Trek” universe, she has to worry about “getting the universe correct” according to Paramount and all the fans of the Star Trek universe.

    While when she writes in one of her universes, nobody (sane) is going to claim she “got it wrong” by comparing her universe to another person’s universe.

    Note, some lunatics complained about the Babylon 5 universe because Star Trek “established something”. [Sad Smile]

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  5. I love Tie-Ins! I buy them of movies I don’t even watch & any TV show I love (or even kinda like – if I find it used & cheap). Some I search high & low for (e.g., Tomorrow People & the Prisoner).
    Some tie-ins are beyond awesome (e.g., Star Wars (I stopped reading during the New Jedi Order) and some are just good fluff & some are “oh well, it was a quarter.”
    I have many Star Trek, Star Wars (I don’t like the NJO) expanded universe books, but I also have Buffy, Angel, Murder She Wrote (I bought for mom – but the print was too small), Charmed, X-files, A-team, Partridge Family ($.25), and I really can’t say what other TV shows and movies of all sorts – I even have ones for old Disney movies like the GnomeMobile.
    I’ve just started watching Babylon 5 so I have to go find B5 Tie-Ins (I saw a whole stash at a used bookstore cheap a couple months ago and I’m kicking myself).
    My love of tie-ins is probably why I enjoy reading cross-over fanfics. (no smut – just good stories). If I love something, I want to read about it. I love reading novelizations of my favorite movies or episodes because I want to see the “deleted scenes” and what the character was thinking.
    I have to say while reading tie-ins, I’ve been known to be annoyed when the tie-in contradicts canon (usually because it was written before) “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” was one of the first that bugged me.
    Back to the point:
    Kevin J Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Diane Duane, Peter David are some of my favorite authors. I’m pretty much guaranteed a good read with them. And I bet Zahn & Anderson can write circles around most “real” authors – that’s with one hand tied behind their back and they’ll spot them a thesaurus.
    Sorry this was so long, but I really love tie-ins. Can you tell? 😀

    Liked by 2 people

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