Sunday, 25 September 2011

Guest Article: Jonathan Green "On the Stigma of Being a Tie-In Writer"

Some of my favourite novels have been tie-in works. I *adore* the Black Library output particularly. And yet there still seems to be a stigma in reading tie-in fiction and definitely in writing it. Jonathan Green - a pre-eminent tie-in author - has come on my humble blog today to talk up being a tie-in author. Take it away, Jonathan!

On the Stigma of Being a Tie-In Writer

My name is Jonathan Green… and I’m a tie-in writer.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve come clean. Confessed.

I’ve actually been a tie-in writer for over nineteen years. My very first paid writing gig was an adventure gamebook, entitled Spellbreaker, for the Fighting Fantasy range. That particular book fitted into an already existing milieu and made use of pre-existing rules, created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. It was the brand name that sold my book, not my name.

The same is true of my first novel, The Dead and the Damned, which came out in 2002. It was published as part of Black Library’s Warhammer line, which itself drew upon the game world of Game Workshop’s fantasy range of toy soldiers.

It could be argued that thirty-one of the thirty-seven books I’ve written (or am in the process of writing) are tie-in fiction – and that doesn’t include the various short stories or comic strips I’ve written for the likes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And yet as far as many are concerned I am yet to write what they consider to be a Proper Book, because my Warhammer 40,000 novels or my Star Wars books make use of characters and setting invented by somebody else and which are then sold as mass market product.

In 2007 I created the steampunk world of Pax Britannia for Abaddon Books and wrote the first novel in the series, Unnatural History. This was an original work of my own creation. At the time nothing existed in the Pax Britannia universe that I hadn’t put there. And yet because it was marketed as a shared world of pulp adventures, I soon realised that it too carried the stigma of tie-in fiction.

In 2008 my first Doctor Who title was published. This was definitely seen as a step up, as far as friends and family were concerned, but it was still tie-in fiction and hence seen by many as not being a Proper Book.

I have sold hundreds of thousands of books, many titles selling better than some so-called Proper Books. Black Library’s Horus Heresy novels regularly appear in the New York Times Bestseller lists. But the great majority of readers still seem to believe that such works could never be as good as a Proper Book. And yet something which many people forget about, or choose to ignore, is how many Proper Books are set within the real world, and is that not a shared world setting all of its own?

I really do not understand the stigma surrounding franchise fiction. It is so often seen as a stepping stone to something else – something better. It has always been burdened by the preconception that tie-in equals poor quality, even though it is often written by authors who are known, and celebrated, for their own non-franchise work.

Take Michael Moorcock, for example. Last year he had his own Doctor Who novel published which, understandably, received a great deal of attention at the time. Now when fans of his Elric books or Jerry Cornelius stories sat down to read The Coming of the Terraphiles do you think they said to themselves, “Of course this won’t be as good as his other books because it’s tie-in fiction?” I sincerely doubt it.

Or look at it this way. When I sit down to write a Warhammer short story am I putting any less effort into it that I am an original piece of fiction for a Solaris anthology? Do I apply a different set of tools to writing a Doctor Who book compared to a Pax Britannia one? Of course not!

I’m a professional writer and I try to do as professional a job as I can with anything and everything I write, whether it’s a new Gamebook Adventure for Tin Man Games or sample chapters for a pitch for a brand new series of children’s book. I wouldn’t be very professional if I didn’t.

And yet here’s the thing. When it comes to writing comics, franchise fiction is seen by many, looking in from the outside, as the be all and end all. You’re nobody if you haven’t written a Batman book, or a Superman title, or chronicled the latest adventures of the X-Men or Spiderman. You set out as a comics writer contributing, for example, original Future Shocks to 2000AD. Given enough time you might get to create your own strip for the comic. And then, some time after that – if you’re lucky enough – the big boys of DC and Marvel come from across the Pond to knock at your door asking if you’d like to be the new lead writer on the Hulk.

Go figure!

Anyway, enough of my ranting. Now that I’ve finished the rewrites on my latest Doctor Who novel Terrible Lizards I’m off to work on my latest Warhammer 40,000 project.

You can keep up to date with news of Jonathan Green’s latest tie-in fiction projects at or via Twitter @jonathangreen


  1. This is a great post. I've always wondered about the people who write novelizations and tie-ins. Thanks for putting a face to them!

  2. Good point about how differently it's seen in the world of comics!

  3. Hi K

    Thanks for your kind words. Basically we're your typical jobbing writer - the ones who do it day in, day out, month after month, year after year. ;-)