As an editor of licensed properties, I have worked on publishing programs for films, television shows, and video games. I’m often asked about the process of creating those publishing programs and how writers can break into that market.
What is the process of working on the publishing process for a licensed property?
There is a constant back and forth between the publishing house and the studio/creator of the film/tv series/video game. When I’m assigned a new license, I immerse myself in the property. If it’s a movie, I read every draft of the script sent to me by the studio. If it’s a tv show, I watch as many episodes as possible. If it’s a game, I learn how to play the game. The time spent learning the license from the inside out, allows me to present fully formed ideas and concepts to the licensor for the books my team plans to put into the publishing program.
After I’ve studied the license, I send along concepts and format ideas for the books. At this point I also let the licensor know who I would like to write the book or if it will be written in-house by me or another editor. Once the concept and format are approved, we move to the manuscript stage and begin the approval process again. This continues through every step of the process. The licensor sees everything. Sketches, layouts, covers, etc.
Films present an interesting process, because there is a strict publication deadline. Editors are usually sent multiple drafts of the script and every time a new script arrives, they need to check it to the books and make sure to make any necessary changes. Sometimes editors don’t even have the final draft of the script before the book goes to print!
Most movie tie-ins programs are on-sale six weeks leading up to the release date of the film. This leads to interesting issues regarding spoilers.
When Catherine Hardwick’s Red Riding Hood film was released in early 2011, an online firestorm erupted over the novelization of the film. The issue? The book had NO ending. In an attempt to remove spoilers, the studio asked that the ending not appear in the book and that the book include a website at the end for readers to access once the film was released. This incensed readers who felt rip-offed by the book.
Earlier this summer, fans of the upcoming Dark Knight Rises were upset by the spoilers presented in the children’s publishing program, complaining that the 32 page books spoiled parts of the movie.
What are some of the typical formats for licensed publishing program?
8x8s: The 8×8 is exactly what it sounds like. It describes the trim size of the book. (Think The Berenstain Bears or Clifford). Between 24 and 32 pages long, 8x8s can be original stories, episode retellings, or scenes from a film.
Easy Readers: Easy Readers are 6×9 books that fit into the publisher’s leveled or guided reading program. Like 8x8s, they tend to be smaller stories that are either episode based or a short scene from a film.
Sticker/Activity Books: These books tend to have very little story, but lots of room for kids to decorate the pages with stickers. Sometimes there will be mazes and word games, as well.
Novelizations: The novelization literally takes the script from a film and turns it into a novel length story. Often times, it will include an insert of stills from the film.
Original Novels: Some licenses give the publishing house more creative freedom and the publisher will hire a writer to create an original story based in the world and continuity of the film/tv show/game.
How do I break into licensed publishing?
It is a somewhat of a Catch-22 to become a licensed writer. Many licensors have approval over the writers and only want writers with experience writing licensed books. A lot of it comes down to who you know and WHAT you know. If you are agented and hear about a property that you want to work on, they can get let the editor know that you are interested and available. If you meet an editor at a conference and know that they work on licensed properties, let them know your interest. We have a folder of resumes from interested licensed writers.
It’s not an easy market to break into, but if you present great work and are consistently on time and fun to work with, you’ll become a go-to writer. Some of our licensed writers make their entire living from writing multiple books a year, but they’ve been working in the industry for years and have earned a reputation as a consistent, solid writer.
One thing to keep in mind is that most licensed work is work-for-hire, meaning the writer is paid a one time fee to write the book. It’s not unheard of for licensed writers to earn royalties, but it’s rare and usually the writer is creating a lot of original content, not just telling the story from the script.
The world of media tie-in publishing is a big part of the industry, and getting bigger all the time. If there is one movie, TV show, or video game you would like to see get its own publishing program, what would it be?