What is “Media/Tie-In” Anyway? [My Book Launch Week!]

Gorramn Dictionary

All this week, I’m celebrating the release of Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse from Titan Books. Each day, I’m going to post about an aspect of working as a media/tie-in writer. I hope you enjoy this series of posts!

When you hear the words “media/tie-in”, what do you think of? This industry-facing term is a description of a product that is created for an existing property such as a game, movie, book, etc. There is some legal mumbo-jumbo behind that, too, like licensing terms and agreements. In many cases, a media/tie-in book/game/movie is published and distributed by a company that is not owned or operated by the license holder. Instead, Company B inks an agreement with Company A, to legally produce and sell anything from T-shirts to video games. Individual artists, editors, or writers like myself, are then hired to produce that new title.

On the surface this might sound simple, and I’ve heard the phrase “glorified fan fiction” bandied about to that effect, but there can be (and often are) many complexities and layers involved in this process depending upon the size and interest in the property. Those layers often help shape the story itself, which is partly why I feel “glorified fan fiction” is not an accurate representation of what media/tie-in writers do. Plus, I think this hurts fan fiction writers as well, because many fan fiction writers go on to work in publishing. Thus, they start out of the gate thinking all they need is the ability to tell a story. While storytelling is required for media/tie-in fiction, just as it is for original fiction, there are many other skills that we develop over time. These not only help us tell better stories, but also give us opportunities to build relationships and master the ability to work in tandem with other people on these projects as well.

Behind the Scenes

My role as a writer usually begins after an agreement has been signed and the publisher knows what they want to produce. From here, the project is managed in any number of ways, and it’s my responsibility to be flexible to the publisher’s needs. For example, some properties have what’s known as a “setting bible” and an “exclusions list” that details the key elements of a setting for their writers; others don’t. When a setting bible doesn’t exist, I wind up creating one for my project in order to provide proof of concept to save time. After all, the decisions I make when writing media/tie-in fiction, reference materials, or games are not entirely up to me. I am producing materials that often require a number of approvals, and this process can be very technical–especially if the publisher wants to feature a signature character, ship, setting, etc. For this reason, I feel it’s essential to keep a digital-or-paper trail or a record of the conversations I have between the publisher and myself. That allows me to research and confirm older decisions during the project, ones that naturally get missed given the amount of e-mails that occur throughout the development process. Often, this might include character sketches or proposed outlines as well.

This type of background work is important in my experiences, because any decision I make is subject to further scrutiny during any leg of the process for both business and quality assurance purposes. Unlike my own work, in which I’m “the boss” and can flesh out as many or as little details as I desire, media/tie-in properties are often produced within a fabric of other publications and may or may not be bound by a larger framework. For example, a movie novelization’s outline might be guided by a screenplay or the studio’s direction. Writing a new Star Trek novel on the other hand, which precedes a long and storied legacy of other books based on the TV show and movies, can have more levers and pulleys since there’s more material to draw from. Sometimes the smallest detail, such as the color of a uniform or a minor character’s name, might have to be confirmed and attributed to its original source in the outline, too.

Why I Enjoy Writing Media/Tie-In

To me, writing media/tie-in is a lot of fun, because I love writing that employs a level of complexity that channels my skills and forces me to grow creatively. Often, there are many aspects that feel like putting a puzzle together. The harder the challenge, the more I thrive on it–especially if I’m on deadline! But, media/tie-in has the added benefit to me as a writer, because most properties have an existing fan base.

This means that my work has the potential of reaching more readers than my original work at this stage of my career, simply because fans are hungry for more of their beloved characters and stories. Long-term, this is something I’ll continue to build upon, because many of my readers who check out my original work have done so because they saw and liked what I wrote elsewhere. Not to mention, I get the added bonus of channeling my own fandoms into my work–which is ridiculously awesome!

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s look at media/tie-in. Tomorrow, I’ll be celebrating Firefly!

Signal Boosting: Rosarium Publishing on Indie GoGo!

Dancing Chick Avatar

Rosarium Publishing, which was established in 2013, is a small press publisher featuring comics and stories with a multiculturalism in mind. While the discussion and need for diversity in media continues to grow, there is a significant number of authors, like Nisi Shawl who will be part of our upcoming anthology Upside Down, who are and have been working in publishing to varying degrees. There are, however, minority-owned publishers as well, and Rosarium (owned by Bill Campbell) is one of those publishers.

This post is not to convince you that multiculturism is important, because you either believe that it is or you don’t. Regardless, this is a growing aspect of our media, and it is a path to the future as we become more connected. The challenge, unfortunately, for any small press publisher is to deal with the rising costs of doing business. From distribution and shipping to paying writers a fair wage, being a publisher is not a cheap proposition. This is why many publishers have begun leveraging crowdfunding efforts (Patreon/Kickstarter/IndieGoGo, etc.) to help raise the capital in order to grow or fund projects that are normally a cost sink.

As a writer, editor, and game designer myself, I feel that multiculturalism is crucial to engage and encourage new readers and players, as well as support existing professionals and nurture new and interested artists. We live in a world of media that reaches across borders to every corner of the world, and many fans of the properties I’ve worked on live overseas. And, as I’ve said many times before, multiculturism is also important to me personally as well, because I feel that reading widely is important to becoming a better writer.

It is for all these reasons and more, that I hope you’ll consider checking out the Indie GoGo for Rosarium Publishing and their stellar catalog of titles.

    Mood: I am all out of f-bombs to give today.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Working on my third cup o’ coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Still coughing. Oy.
    In My Ears: Soma.FM’s Deep Space One station
    Game Last Played: Some puzzle game. Not sure what it’s called.
    Book Last Read: Raising Steam by Tanith Lee
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Two Towers.
    Latest Artistic Project: Um… Let me get right on that. Still, even.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

On Permission and Self-Care

Last night, I learned that depression took another writer. If you want to know what happened please visit Phil Brucato’s post titled: Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence. If you’d like to contribute to Logan’s memorial fund, you may do so here. It’s not my place to talk about it other than to say that I think our (meaning all of us) exchanges online would be so different if we remembered there’s a person, not an avatar, on the other end of the screen. And, while I understand that depression killed Logan, we often forget we have no idea how important our words are, even online. If you are in a critical situation, please consider calling your doctor or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This is what brings me to the reason for my post today, and it goes out to all of you who are suffering right now. As I am not a medical doctor (and your health or pain is not something I am remotely qualified to diagnose), please know that these are meant only as words of encouragement, love, and support.

Maybe you are flat broke, and you feel guilty about all the things you could have done to prevent your current situation—even though you’ve already done everything you can.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you were abused for a long time, and you didn’t realize that’s what was happening, so now you blame yourself because you didn’t figure it out sooner—even though you couldn’t have.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you fell in love, and your relationship didn’t go the way you wanted it to. Now you’re heartbroken, and you wonder if you’re worthy of being loved by anyone—even though you are.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you don’t fit in, because you can’t relate to anybody else around you, so you feel like you’re fundamentally broken—even though you’re not.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you feel like a fuck up, every day, because you feel you’re responsible for every thing that happens to you, like when someone frowns or when your coffee is cold–even though you understand you cannot control the actions of other people.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you hurt someone deeply in a fit of anger. Now you’re secretly punishing yourself, because you feel you’re not worthy of being forgiven–even though you are.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you feel like your body has betrayed you, and you wish you could do something about it without help, but you can’t and you still feel guilty like you did something wrong—even though you know in your head you shouldn’t.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Maybe you had to make a gut-wrenching decision, to establish clear boundaries you never thought you needed, and deep down you feel if you were just a little stronger you could’ve handled an impossible situation—even though you can’t.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

Whoever you are, however you’re hurting, please know this: I may never know you, I may never meet you, but I can only reach you through these words.

I give you permission to be kind to yourself.

On Alternate History and Investigative Research

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

One of the techniques I feel very strongly about when writing alternate history which, in many ways, is a component of many games, stories, and reference materials I write, is to take an investigative approach to research. There are many reasons why I feel this is necessary, and much of my thoughts on the subject come from the mistakes I’ve made or from the realizations I’ve come to over the years as I’ve delved into this approach on many occasions, for many projects.

Often, in games this approach is crucial because the point of a game is to be immersed in a world where you, as the player, make choices for your character either by yourself or in a group with the guidance of a games master. In both, however, the more specific the details, the better the readers/players are able to submerse themselves in a world similar, but different, from our own. The ability to be inspired by historical events is also impacted by popular media, what you’ve learned in school, what you’ve internalized, etc. Thus, sometimes a writer’s research might turn up facts that are often misrepresented, which can push narratives and settings into new directions for the reader–but have been there all along. “The Aliens Built the Pyramids” is a common example, and the idea that ancient peoples were less intelligent and less capable than people today, often reduces their accomplishments and their humanity.

As another example, I’ve written about the Salem Witch Trials. Did you know that Salem Town and Salem Village were two separate, but nearby, places? Or that this unusual event occurred at the tail end of the so-call witch hysteria in Europe? Or that prisoners had to pay for their own room and board which often bankrupted them? Or that the female Puritan believers were often taught to read the Bible, but not to write? Or that the supernatural was blamed for everything that went wrong, even crops failing? Of course, you might have known all of those things (and more) already, but my point here is that stories often condense facts in order to best fit the plot and characters or, for a game, its setting and the potential of telling stories. Instead of having Salem Town and Salem Village, sometimes we’ll see representations set in “Salem” to simplify the setting. I didn’t do that, myself, but it’s not uncommon to see a hyper focus on a specific aspect of the Salem Witch Trials as opposed to the broader overview due to budgetary, time, and narrative constraints. This can result in the same story being told over and over again, which can hurt writers, editors, and designers because it forces us to do something extraordinary in order to bring a fresh perspective.

I’m of the mind that conducting research benefits writers and designers in many ways. It allows you to avoid repeating the same, tired tropes and presents you with better choices to tell a more compelling story and create better games, because you’ll have more information to work from as opposed to starting with the expectations everyone already shares that stem from prior coverage. After all, there have been many changes in technology which have allowed the facilitation of faster and better research materials than were previously available five, ten, and even twenty years ago, which means the expectation to get the background details is a lot higher, even though there’s also been a substantive rise in the need to produce stories and games more quickly than ever before in order to remain financially soluble. And, of course, even beyond the creative there is the 24-hour news cycle and the constant stream of information begging to be read and no guarantees that what you’re reading is based in fact(1).

But often, investigative research tends to get a bad rap not because it requires time or critical thinking, but because it necessitates the understanding that bias exists. This, unfortunately, can be highly politicized even though the existence of bias really doesn’t have anything to do with politics. It is, simply, how our minds work. Avoiding the acknowledgement of our own personal biases is where research can fall down before it begins, because it essentially means that we have to be open to the possibility that what we know is wrong. This fear typically manifests in an assumption that fiction is all just made up stuff and, if that’s true, then what’s the point of reading and analyzing historical materials for our made up worlds? For others, this might challenge personal beliefs that are held dear, and force uncomfortable thoughts that could bring about a change to the way we think or what we believe. As time passes, however, materials within the historical record will include what we create–games, stories, etc.–and readers are often influenced by alternate history to the point where misinformation becomes true(2), for that is the power of a story. In other words: what we make becomes part of the historical record and public consciousness, especially if our reach is broad. And, that carries with it a certain amount of power that can create both positive and negative effects. Some of these effects can and are mitigated by research.

When the historically-inspired details resonate positively, they can be a force for good because it may encourage people to question what they know, to correct misinformation by thinking more critically about a topic they haven’t before, or to feel empathy for another human being(3). When details reinforce misinformation or stereotypes, however, it can do a great deal of damage, even resulting in the bullying of children(4). The discussions about race or gender or what-have-you, which is also connected to bias, has been attributed to politics and often raises eyebrows for the simple fact that when a claim is heard it isn’t believed. “It didn’t happen to me, ergo I don’t believe it’s true because it doesn’t fit my worldview.” But, I find it sometimes is affected by the idea that non-fiction is written rationally, and those materials are part and parcel to investigative research. That same idea can also be shaped by the trust we do (or don’t) place in our source material and that, too, can be affected by bias as well.

While the idea that non-fiction is written with a rational mind may have some merit to a certain degree, all information is often relayed for a specific purpose of some kind, and its meaning or reception is impacted both by context and how words change meaning over time. An example of this is the discussion related to the term “redskins” and the intersection of that slur and the Washington Redskins logo. The history of the term “redskin”, according to Goddard in that article, evolved over many years. This is just one story why I believe it’s crucial to think critically and research when attempting alternate history. Not only does the meaning of words change over time, but the words we use impact different groups of people differently as well. If we are making games and telling stories to be widely read, we don’t know who that ideal reader or player is anymore–especially in an era where we can digitally distribute works all across the world at a touch of a button. This doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t make mistakes, or that we’ll always make choices based on what happened in history. There is no such thing as a perfect story, game, comic, painting, sculpture, etc.–there will always be flaws, because we are not perfect. However, for myself I feel that the best thing I can do for my publisher and for you (reader, player, etc.), is to do the best job I possibly can–and that means I have to research and work with my editors and fellow contributors to make smart, informed decisions for the final result.

Before I go, I want to give you two tips if you’re interested in investigative research. If you’re researching an event or a subject, try to find sources from multiple perspectives–even advertising!–as opposed to relying on texts written through an anthropological or a victor’s lens. A 360 degree view is hugely helpful, and it might even give you insight and perspective that you never would’ve achieved otherwise. One word of caution, however, if you are researching groups of people you don’t identify or associate with. I’d avoid finding “a” representative and then treat their words as indicative of how that entire group feels or thinks. People will always have a varying degree of opinions, and what you want ideally is a bell curve of perspectives whenever possible to avoid the extreme ends of the spectrum. That can be a challenge, for sure, but I feel it’s also very exciting. After all, you are not only connecting with other people in a unique way through your research, I find that your work will be positively impacted because you’ll make better, more informed decisions that can reach more readers and players. Plus, the more you take this approach, the faster you’ll be able to apply those techniques for your next project.

My second tip is to build a research phase into your project–even if it’s for a couple of hours to find a broad range of sources or time to read them. This phase will also help you manage expectations if you’re working for a publisher, too, because it’ll help frame your internal process so you can still meet your deadlines and boost your confidence knowing that you’ve got a strong foundation to work from. You might decide to do this after you’re done with your first draft, or you might do this before you write your story or design your game to figure out what perspective you’d like to take. Regardless, I strongly suggest not relying solely on other media sources in the same subject matter for your research, because you don’t know if non-fiction sources were used to create them unless you can find the bibliography that was used. That said, I find it’s always helpful to read broadly.

(1) An open letter about Irish slaves is a good example of this, given the coverage was addressed in Scientific American, which is a source given a lot of credence.
(2) Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and its effect on religious beliefs comes to mind, here.
(3) For example, you might think about what happened when Alex Haley’s Roots first aired, or the movie Philadelphia, and the resulting conversations that occurred from them.
(4) There is a fair bit of work done, every year, around Halloween to explain why dressing up in feather headdresses and leather shifts hurts Native Americans regardless of tribe throughout the country. And yet, these costumes still exist despite the harm they cause. See also: there are dozens of links on the subject.

Announcing the Final List of Contributors and Tropes for Upside Down

Less than 48 hours to go, and I couldn’t be happier with the way the Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Kickstarter has gone. We have over 1,000 backers, and today I am happy to announce the final list of contributors. I’ve contacted everyone on the short list that I had contact info for, so if you do not have a response please let me know and I’ll be happy to follow up. Jaym and I are concerned about ensuring all of our authors are treated well; the caliber and quality of stories we received was nothing short of fantastic, and our decisions were very difficult to make.

Short Story & Poetry Contributors

Kat Richardson, Maurice Broaddus, Michael Underwood, Anton Strout, Shanna Germain, Ferrett Steinmetz, Haralambi Markov, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Alyssa Wong, Nisi Shawl, Sunil Patel, Rahul Kanakia, Sara Harvey, John Hornor Jacobs, Delilah Dawson, Adam-Troy Castro, Alethea Kontis, Katy Harrad & Greg Stolze, Alisa Schreibman, Alex Shvartsman, Rati Mehrotra, Elsa S. Henry, Michelle Lyons-McFarland, Michael Choi, Michelle Muenzler, and Michael Matheson

Tropes Examined

Asian Scientist, Blind People are Magic, Chainmaille Bikini, Chosen One, Damsels in Distress, Epic Fantasy, First Period Panic, Gendericide, Girlfriend in the Refrigerator, Guys Smash, Girls Shoot, Heroine Loves a Bad Man, Jewish Magic, Love at First Sight, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Prostitute with a Heart of Gold, Retired Pro’s “Last” Job, The Black Man Dies First, The City Planet, The Magical Negro, The Power of Names, The Singularity will Cause the Apocalypse, The Super Soldier, The Villain Had a Crappy Childhood, World Ends/Sets/Reboots, and Yellow Peril


Patrick Hester, Lucy Snyder, A.C. Wise, Victor Raymond, and Keffy Kehrli

Essay Topics

Are Tropes Bad?, an examination of Detta/Odetta from The Dark Tower series and how it relates to the gothic trope Jekyll and Hyde, the differences between the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey using Labyrinth as an example, tropes from a queer (LGBTQA+) perspective, and the intersection of race and culture with respect to tropes and cliches.

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