Would you write a novel in someone else’s universe?

Today’s Boston Globe has an article (behind their paywall) about the estate of the late Robert B. Parker hiring writers to continue his various novel series.  Apparently the guy writing the new Spenser novels is doing a pretty good job.

This is, of course, standard practice nowadays.  Why stop a successful series just because its author is dead?  The author had a style and a formula; just hire someone to copy them.  If the new author does a good job, why should the reader care if he isn’t Robert B. Parker or Ian Fleming or Robert Ludlum?

Similarly, lots of authors write novels in the Star Wars world or the Battlestar Galactica world or the World of Warcraft world.  There’s nothing wrong with any of this–it pays the bills, which is not something that writing your own novels tends to do.

The closest I came to this sort of work for hire was when my agent set up a deal with a famous New Age guru.  (I’d love to name the guy, but I can’t recall if I signed a confidentiality agreement.)  He had an idea for a novel and wanted someone to ghostwrite it for him.  For some reason my novels with psychic protagonists seemed to qualify me for the task.  I signed the contract and read a couple of the guru’s nonfiction books.  They were terrible — filled with absurd profundities supposedly based on the deep truths of quantum physics.  The universe is conscious!  We are all one!

On the other hand, I worked out what I thought was a pretty good plot for the novel.  I can’t remember a thing about it, alas.  Before I could send in an outline, the guru changed his mind and decided he would write the novel himself.  I never checked to see if he actually did.  My agent worked out a settlement where I got to keep half of the advance, which meant I earned a couple thousand dollars, and all I had to do for it was read a couple of the guy’s books.  It was reasonable compensation for my pain and suffering.

5 thoughts on “Would you write a novel in someone else’s universe?

  1. I don’t think there’s much of a creativity difference in tie-in novels v. original content. In original fiction you have total control, but in tie-in you have to creatively work around the restraints of someone else’s world.


  2. In a old job, a couple of my colleagues had fun writing Hardy Boys mysteries on the side. The handbook they had to follow was very strict about the characters, the plots, etc., and I don’t think it paid very well. I’m pretty sure they wrote the books on spec, and the franchise would buy only if it liked the story. And of course, they got zero authorial credit.


  3. As a writer of any number of tie-in thingees (novelizations and originals) I would say that they have one big pro (besides the money). which is they give me a chance to flex somewhat different writerly muscles than I might in my usual work. The big con, of course, is that they can also take time and energy away from work that really matters to the author.


  4. I have, but only for my own amusement. I’ve played around with Darkover, Star Trek and Stargate over the years, but those stories will never see the light of day. It’s fun to play in other people’s backyards sometimes, but the problem is that you have to play by their rules. It’s more fun when you get to make up your own rules. Since I don’t write to pay the bills, I can get away with that.


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