Why I like writing for the Black Library

Posted: January 31, 2013 in Fiction, The Black Library
Tags: , , , , , ,

Here’s a guest post I wrote for The Black Library Blog, about why I enjoy writing for the Black Library (in case the title didn’t give it away). Click on the link or scroll down to read it.

I’d like to add some more regarding the writing of tie-in fiction rather than the consumption and validity of it as a literary form (for this, dear readers, is the underlying topic of my BL blog).

Originally, I was wary of writing tie-in material. What worried me was that I would be straitjacketed by the universe, and would have minimal creative freedom. This turned out to be incorrect. Yes, there are certain things you can’t do in a shared and/or proprietary universe, but on the other hand there is a lot you can do, especially in creations as broad as Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. I’ve written before that I sometimes like boundaries to what I write, a throwback to my days as a journalist, and with GW’s worlds there’s exactly the right balance for me between freedom and constraint. It pushes my creativity.

A further consideration is money. An important publisher once told me never to write tie-in material, because I would be wasting my opportunities. I’d not have time to write original fiction, and I’d pigeonhole myself as a (lesser) writer of tie-in fiction, thus stymying my chances of getting a “real” book deal. It was advice well-meant, but quite erroneous, at least regarding the circumstances I find myself in now. I think had I still a full time job, and had to choose between original and non-original fiction as my very first novel, then they might have had more of a point, but only a little bit. Additionally in their defence,  times were different then,and tie-in material was even less well regarded than now. They were trying to be helpful, but there was an element of contempt for tie-in fiction there that isn’t justified.  Fortunately, I found myself in a position to do both. And actually, without BL’s  fiction (which is not, strictly speaking, tie-in fiction, as I lay out in my guest blog) I wouldn’t be able to write at all, because tie-in fiction carries with a certain guaranteed income.

Establishing yourself as a writer is very difficult. Once you’ve jumped through all the hoops and sweated and wept and cursed the gods and drunk far too much and spent long afternoons languidly on the chaise longue under the influence of who knows what, once you’ve learned the craft enough to land a book contract, you face your real enemy — anonymity. If no one knows who you are, or that your books exist, then you are screwed, no matter the quality of the work (or not. It doesn’t seem to matter very much). 50,000-odd books are published in English (or is it just in England? I can’t remember. You get the picture) every year. That’s a lot of competition. Unless your first book catches the wave of zeitgeist, or is truly brilliant, or is somehow otherwise picked up on by the public, it will make no money. Do that a few times, and you won’t get published again.

There’s another blog post I should write about how to use the internet to drum up recognition, something I still haven’t sorted yet (see John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig‘s blogs for masters of this art), so we’ll stay off that topic for now. Tie-in fiction circumvents this need to be noticed; you are not selling your story so much as presenting something to fans of a particular world. I sometimes get the impression BL could say “we’ve got X fighting X here,” and plot their expected returns on a graph. This is not something a new author can do with their own material. There’s a guaranteed income in tie-in fiction, and far more precious, an opportunity to raise your profile. Even if tie-in readers don’t pay as much attention to the name on the jacket as they do to the subject matter, and even if, as I suspect, the crossover between BL readers (or fans of any franchise) and the SF reading public at large isn’t as great as you might expect, there still is a crossover.

I am very lucky to write for The Black Library. It’s lots of fun, I love the material, and well, the above. I’d have probably been writing for them a long time ago if it weren’t for that advice. So here’s some advice to you: if you’re ever in that situation we’re you’re offered the chance to write for your favourite shared universe, ignore the prejudice of others, and grab it.

Lastly, there is nothing seeming about my obsessive love for goblins. I do obsessively love them.

The New Guy

Guy Haley is one of the new faces to Black Library, and after the success of his fantastic Horus Heresy audio Strike and Fade, we’re sure you’ll be seeing a lot more from him in the future. Today, Guy’s written a blog for us about why he likes writing for Black Library and the best part is that we didn’t even have to force him to do it!

I’ll let you in to a secret. For ages, I had a real downer on tie-in fiction. There. I said it. Yep, and now I write plenty of it for Black Library, ostensibly a tie-in range. Hypocrite? Hear me out before you judge me.

This is not me getting on a literary high horse, although even in the SF genre press, of which I am a long-standing member, there is a bias against tie-in fiction. Heaven knows, I’ve had enough of literary types looking down their noses at SF and fantasy to not want to do it to others. I’ll stick my neck out and say that quite a lot of tie-in fiction isn’t any good, but then neither is a lot of ‘original’ material, and some tie-in stuff is very good (Horus Heresy, New York Times bestseller list. Need I say more?). You’re unlikely to find any great insight in tie-in fiction, but so what? It’s entertainment, and entertaining people is among fiction’s principal reasons for being. I think critics sometimes forget this. Fiction doesn’t have to mean something profound. Good old fun is an aim as valid as dissecting the human condition, and tie-in fiction delivers said fun. On your bikes, snobs.

No, my reasons for not giving tie-in material much time are more personal than lines-in-the-sand snootiness. First up, as much as I love a franchise, I don’t want to devote all my time to it; not when there are so many books in the world, fiction and non-fiction. You could spend an entire life consuming the surrounding products of some movie series and never read another word.

But chiefly my downer on spin-offs is because they never feel quite ‘real’. They’re like low-alcohol beer, a substitute for the genuine article. No matter how nifty a book’s interpretation of a popular TV character’s adventures might be, someone might come along – no, will come along – and make a film, a new TV show or a comic that consigns all you’ve just read and enjoyed to the dustbin of non-canonical works and expanded universe frippery. What’s the point of that?

Here’s where I go onto my knees and ask the Emperor’s forgiveness: I felt the same about Black Library books, too; that they were divorced from the ‘reality’ of my beloved hobby. That if I were to read a brilliant book about goblins (I love goblins), the Design Studio would write an army book or supplement that would render it non-real. There, I said it. Send in the Inquisition. But before you apply the branding irons, hear me repent! I realised some time ago that this is simply not true of Black Library’s output. Not true at all. You must understand that, going on past examples, why would I think anything different? Bear in mind that I am old enough to have been around for the very first range of Warhammer books in the late 1980s. How was I to know how the future would develop?

When Gotrek and Felix started to make appearances in the games, I began to see the light. When Dan Abnett crossed the floor from comics to bring us his Gaunt’s Ghosts series, and phrases and terms and events from that cropped up in the gaming books, I looked again.

Now Black Library’s importance to the hobby as a whole is obvious: whole tracts of Warhammer 40,000’s history are being defined not in rulebooks, but in Black Library novels. And that’s really, really exciting to be involved with. It struck me as I was writing Skarsnik (I love goblins), that this was the definitive work on the warlord of the Eight Peaks, that I was penning stuff that would probably crop up in the games I love to play, that this was the actual, real, one-and-only biography of Skarsnik himself, and not some flash-in-the-pan exercise that would be rendered irrelevant when the next edition of Warhammer came out. That’s why Black Library fiction is different; that’s why it excites me. In fact, you could say I’m not a hypocrite, just mistaken (mistaken, see? Have mercy!) because it has turned out that the Black Library’s books and short stories and audio dramas are not tie-ins at all, but one of Games Workshop’s great engines of creativity, propelling the universes of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 on to new heights of complexity and depth that everyone, gamers and non-gamers alike, can enjoy. The material we Black Library authors write is as much a part of those universes as anything you’ll read in a rulebook and by golly, that is so massively exciting for a big fanboy like me.

So now I devour, as well as produce. My favoured mode of consumption is listening to audio dramas while I paint goblins (I love… Hang on, I said that already). What’s yours?

Thanks, Guy.

If you want to meet Guy and find out more about his seemingly obsessive love for goblins or what titles he’s working on for the future, come along to Black Library Live! on Saturday 2nd of March, where he’ll be signing advance copies of Baneblade and taking part in several different seminars and Q&As. Join us next Wednesday when we’ll be announcing some of the other exclusive products that will be available on the day. For at least one of these, it will be the First and Only time you’ll ever be able to get your hands on it. Tickets are available here, but be quick because they’re going fast.

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Comments
  1. […] fiction was looked down upon (although BL material isn’t strictly spin-off fiction. See Why I Like Writing for the Black Library for more on this). It’s not the case so much now, not that I care overly much. Being part of […]

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