Coming off of a trilogy about Ghostwriting, it’s only appropriate that I address the issue of franchises. After all writing for a franchise is a lot like ghosting – there’s more money involved than the average writer bags for his/er own work, and while your name is on the cover, it’s somebody else’s sandbox you’re playing in and you have to follow their rules.
And as it happens, I’ve had a couple of chances to do franchise work.The first time was after Desperate Measures was published. My agent at the time was Kurt Busiek, who was on hiatus from the Comic Book industry. As my agent, Kurt worked at an agency that also happened to represent the estate of James H. Schmitz, author of the cult favorite The Witches of Karres.
Kurt saw a resemblance between the witty, rollicking space opera I had written and Schmitz’s witty, rollicking space opera. He said that the agency was always looking for ways to further monetize their clients’ properties1. They’d been talking at the agency about what they could do to get The Witches of Karress back into print, and one of their ideas was to have somebody write a sequel to it. Thing was, they hadn’t found the right person yet, but in yours truly Kurt was confident he’d found a match.
When he called me with his proposal, I had two thoughts. First, wow, I can’t wait to tell my wife. She was a huge fan of Karres, and was the one responsible for my reading it. Second was, how do I explain this to Jerry Oltion? I’d met Jerry a year or two earlier at a science fiction convention. His first novel was a rollicking space opera of sorts, and in our writer’s bull sessions he mentioned that he was working on a proposal for a sequel to… guess what? I didn’t want him thinking that I had stolen his idea, although in retrospect, it was apparent that a lot of people were thinking about sequelizing the book.
I decided not to do anything about Jerry. He was going to the agency with his idea, and the agency was coming to me for my idea, so I figured I could avoid any potential conflict. And who knows? Maybe Jerry’s proposal was what made the agency think about doing a sequel. I don’t know.
So over the next couple of weeks I reread the book and then slowly put together my proposal for the novel. Because I wanted to make sure it advanced the Karres universe while staying true to the original book, I kept running it past my wife and bouncing ideas off of her. Once I had something that met with her approval, I sent it to Kurt and company. Then the verdict came back. They loved it. They thought it advanced the Karres universe while staying true to the original book.2 It was all looking like blue skies and green lights as they sent it off to the publisher.
And the publisher said “No.” Their reasoning? It was too much of a cult novel to justify republishing it, let alone a sequel. I moved on to other things.
A decade or so later, this cult novel was picked up by Baen, and in 2004 they issued a sequel, The Wizard of Karres, by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer.3 Then in January of this year, Flint and Freer’s name appeared on The Sorceress of Karres. What is curious is that the original and the first sequel are seemingly out of print. New hardcovers of the Schmitz book are going between $50 and $80, while paperbacks run about $30. Of more interest to me is the fact that the first sequel is going for $60 for a new hardcover. Hmmm, I guess somebody wants to read them.
My second brush with a franchise was much briefer. Kurt had returned to comicdom and I had another agent, who called me up out of the blue one day, again not with news of an update on one of my own manuscripts. Instead, he asked me if I’d be interested in writing a Star Wars novel.
Because I once promised my wife that I would listen to any offer with an open mind instead of laughing and hanging up the phone, I asked my agent, “Why me?”
Here’s how he explained it. The Star Wars franchise had started with Del Rey books many moons ago. Over the years, it left Del Rey for, I think, Bantam. Even more years passed, and, as is the manner of all things, Star Wars returned to Del Rey, under the editorship of Shelly Shapiro. Shelly, it turns out, was the editor of my five Del Rey novels, so my agent knew that she knew that I was capable of turning a good phrase and getting a clean manuscript in on deadline.
Impressive. My agent had done his homework.
I asked, “Would my name have to be on the cover?” Meaning, I might do it for money, but let me salvage my personal pride, since I loathe Star Wars.
He said, “Well, I think the whole idea is to have a name author on the cover.” Nice gambit there, appealing to my writer’s ego.
But I ultimately said no, and for the most part was glad. I found out later that the Star Wars franchise paid the author a Big Advance up front for writing the book, and then paid no royalties after that. That’s not something I would have liked.
Do I have any regrets about saying no?
Only one. A year or two later, there was a lot of hoo-hah in the press that Vector Prime, the new Del Rey Star Wars novel by R.A. Salvatore was about to be released, and Chewbacca was killed off in the book. Yeah. you’re thinking what I thought when I heard that. If I had known that I would’ve had the chance to kill off Chewbacca, I would have been all over it, lack of royalties notwithstanding.
Oh, well. Maybe someday the wheel will turn full circle and I will be offered the chance to kill off Captain Pausert of Nikkeldepain in something called The Last Sequel of Karres.
But I really doubt it.
- Okay, but not in those words. Monetize seems to be more a modern term, used a lot with the way people make money off of their blogs. Me excepted.
- Or words to that effect.
- Hmmm, let me figure out who wrote the outline, who tweaked it, and who did the actual writing on that one.