Lee Goldberg on The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW)

In a TalkingwithTim.com first, with this interview, I have the pleasure of talking with Lee Goldberg, the brother of someone previously interviewed here (Tod Goldberg). Honestly, when I contacted the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW), I had no idea I would end up interviewing Lee (who co-founded the group). So this was merely a great coincidence. In addition to talking about IAMTW (a group “dedicated to enhancing the professional and public image of tie-in writers…to working with the media to review tie-in novels and publicize their authors…to educating people about who we are and what we do….and to providing a forum for tie-in writers to share information, support one another, and discuss issues relating to our field…”), Lee and I discuss his media tie-in work with Monk (he has a new book, MR. MONK AND THE DIRTY COP, due to be released in July)  and Diagnosis Murder. My thanks to Lee for an engaging and informative discussion (now I need to go find those old Rockford Files novels that I just found out about…)

Tim O’Shea: IAMTW was initially established by you and Max Allan Collins to enhance “the professional and public image of tie-in writers”. Have you found that Mystery Writers of America, Science Fiction Writers of America, and the Romance Writers of America have given greater credit to tie-in writers since the formation of the group–or what metrics do you use to evaluate the effectiveness of IAMTW’s efforts to date?

Lee Goldberg: We aren’t interested in getting acknowledgement from other writers’ organizations…our goal is to increase awareness of, and appreciation for, tie-in writing among the general public, booksellers, publishers, and the media (print, Internet, broadcast, etc). In that regard, I think we’ve succeeded. We’ve seen a LOT more press about tie-in authors since our organization started, much of it directly mentioning the IAMTW or our Scribe Awards (ie Publishers Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Mystery Scene, etc)…and we are noticing increased recognition from publishers, who are starting to mention Scribe Awards and/or nominations for their authors in sales catalogs, promo materials and book jacket copy.

O’Shea: The English lit major in me has to ask–what Media Tie-In Writing did Kingsley Amis do? (His name is mentioned at the IAMTW website).

Goldberg: He wrote the James Bond novel COLONEL SUN under the pseudonym Robert Markham.

O’Shea: How much have the Scribe Awards helped increase people’s appreciation of the craft behind licensed tie-in writing?

Goldberg: That’s hard to gauge. But we knew we made significant in-roads when Publishers Weekly asked Christa Faust about how it felt to win a Scribe when they did a big interview with her. The Scribe nominations and the awards get wide play in the media every year, which is just great. We are also getting a lot of hits on our website,  particularly the articles section.

O’Shea: Fanfic has always been incredibly popular, increasingly so as the Internet’s influence and reach has grown over the years. Did any successful IAMTW writers get their start with fanfic, or is it more often the case that IAMTW writers got into the industry by other means?

Goldberg: I don’t personally know of any tie-in writers who got book contracts based on fanfiction…though that’s doesn’t mean there aren’t any who did (I seem to recall reading somewhere about a STAR TREK author who got her start based on some fanfiction)

But there’s a huge difference between fanfiction and licensed tie-in writing. Fanfiction is done without the consent, approval, or participation of the original writer/creator/ rights-holder. Fanfiction is copyright infringement and a violation of the original author’s creative rights.

Tie-in writing is much more like writing an episode of a TV series…we do it with the full consent, participation and permission of the original writer/creator (or whoever owns the rights). A tie-in writer’s work has to be approved by the people who own the characters…which means whatever work we do will be an extension of their creative vision, not our own whim. For instance, with MONK, I run everything past Andy Breckman, the creator & executive producer of the show. There’s nothing in my books that Andy hasn’t approved of first and that he doesn’t feel is in line with his creative vision for the characters. After all, Monk is his creation, not mine…Monk belongs to him, not to me or to some fan.

We are professional writers and we respect the legal and creative rights of our colleagues.

O’Shea: How often do media tie-in writers see their work end up adapted in some way for television–as happened with one of your Monk novels?

Goldberg: I think I may be first TV tie-in author in America who has had a book (MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE) turned into an episode (MR. MONK CAN’T SEE A THING, which I co-wrote with William Rabkin). But I understand it’s happened before in the UK with a couple of DR. WHO tie-in novels.

O’Shea: Even though Diagnosis Murder ended in 2001, the last of your novels was written in 2007. How often do you see the fictional universes live on well after a show is cancelled? Given that you have a hand in TV and film work as well as novels, can you explain why we don’t see more show creators try to keep the characters’ stories going by switching to novels (once a show is cancelled)?

Goldberg: I began the DIAGNOSIS MURDER books a couple of years after the series ended and wrote eight of them before I gave it up (I was also an executive producer on the show). I know that Donald Bain’s series of MURDER SHE WROTE books began after the TV series ended and is even more successful now than ever before…he’s on his 35th novel now and the last eight or ten have come out first in hardcover.

The MONK books will continue for at least three novels after the TV series ends. Other TV tie-ins that continued after the original TV series were cancelled (or began after the shows were over) include STAR TREK, FARSCAPE, STARGATE, GUNSMOKE, BABYLON 5, BONANZA, ROCKFORD FILES, COLUMBO, and DARK ANGEL.

That said, the reason more creators don’t try to keep their TV series alive in print after cancellation is because publishers simply aren’t interested, which is no surprise if you think about it. The incentive for publishers to do tie-ins is to capitalize on the huge audience that a hit show draws and the enormous publicity that surrounds it. It also offers a level of confidence in what ordinarily would be a gamble. The book is, in essence, a pre-sold concept with a built-in audience and supported by millions of dollars worth of FREE promotion. The TV show itself, as well as the advertising and promotion that the network does, becomes free publicity for the books. Success, wide recognition, a strong concept and major promotion are what makes a publisher interested in tie-ins.

But once a show is cancelled, the incentive to do tie-in books instantly evaporates (unless the tie-ins already exist and are doing well). Shows are cancelled because nobody cares about them, or because viewership has eroded significantly, or because the viewership wasn’t large enough to start with…or because the concept has become stale and tired. All good arguments for NOT doing a tie-in.

It’s very, very rare for a publisher to tackle a TV series tie-in after a show is cancelled. And when they do try, few of them succeed. Why would a publisher want to invest in something that’s no longer successful? Why would a bookstore order books based on a failed series? STAR TREK, MURDER SHE WROTE, and DIAGNOSIS MURDER are the exceptions, not the rule. Publishers have tried at least twice since GUNSMOKE was cancelled to launch and sustain a tie-in series…and failed both times. ROCKFORD and COLUMBO also tanked.

O’Shea: When writing a Monk-related plot, how hard is it to come up with a story that has a unique twist and that does not cover ground already addressed in a previous episode?

Goldberg: It’s very hard. So I try to do things I know aren’t going to be possible creatively or financially for the show. But now that the show is nearly over, that’s going to be a lot easier for me…assuming the post-finale books continue to be successful.

O’Shea: What’s the biggest challenge of being a media tie-in writer?

Goldberg: Creatively, it’s capturing the characters, style and feel of the TV series, game or movie while also providing a deeper, richer experience. Professionally, it’s turning in a tight, clean manuscript on time, since the deadlines are brutal…you often have as little as four to six weeks to write the book.

O’Shea: MR. MONK AND THE DIRTY COP is set to be released in July. What else is creatively on the horizon for you?

Goldberg: As far as tie-ins go, at least three more original MONK books. MR. MONK IN TROUBLE comes out in December 2009 and the one I am working on now, MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT, comes out in the summer of 2010 to be followed by one more in fall 2010. I am also working on an original crime novel and several screenplays.

3 thoughts on “Lee Goldberg on The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW)

  1. Jean Lorrah and Jacqueline Lichtenberg are two writers who started with Star Trek fanfic, going on to do their own original works as well as Star Trek. There probably are others as well.

  2. We’ve seen some real successes in media tie-in comics after the end of a series. The most notable example of these are on the Joss Whedon series Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. The first two had comics tie-ins done during the run of the series which were not nearly so successful as those done afterward.

    The success seems to arise from two things:

    1) A fan base who has strongly associated themselves with the show. Cut off from regular new doses of what they love, the comic book becomes the methadone to the TV show’s heroin, if you will.
    2) The tie-in story becomes not so much a tie-in to the main story as it becomes the main story itself. Comics tie-ins done during the show are generally not allowed to move the continuity forward in most ways; the pieces must be left where you pick them up. However, something like the current run of Buffy (called Buffy: Year Eight) doesn’t have to be shoe-horned into continuity – it is the continuity. Of course, it helps that the series is overseen and often written by Buffy creator Joss Whedon himself (and, when not written by him, often written by members of the Buffy TV writing team.)

    Comics have been thriving on tie-ins to the defunct. We’re seeing recent success with The Muppet Show, The Lone Ranger, Farscape, and more. Of course, it helps that a comic book can be a success with one percent of the audience of a failed network show…

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