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.
Of 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?
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?