letters from the query wars and thoughts on WFH

# of queries read this week: 141
# of partials requested: 1
# of partials upgraded to full manuscripts: 1
genres: fantasy (1), mystery (1)

Casualties: I got a papercut underneath the nail of my right-hand index finger. Ow. Ow. Ow.

I got a query for a novel set in the world of Eberron (yes, heinous_bitca, really) with a long explanation about shared-worlds and role-playing. I’ve been playing D&D since high school and a number of other games from college onwards, so I always find it sort of interesting to read what the author thinks an agent unacquainted with the medium might need to know. It tends to come across awkwardly. But, what strikes me when I get these or Star Trek (published by Pocket Books) or Star Wars ideas, is that people don’t have a general understanding of licensed properties and how they work and the copyright issues involved therein.

Now, Wizards of the Coast does publish novels in the Eberron setting — there are guidelines here: http://ww2.wizards.com/books/Wizards/default.aspx?doc=main_wartornguidelines — of course, that was an open call back in 2004 and it looks like they now have a closed stable for the line as it says on the website that they aren’t accepting unsolicited submissions for the shared-world lines. This happens with a lot of licensed material — the publishers become comfortable with a small set of writers who already have the confidence of the Licensor (the owner of the shared world) and can make the often-tight deadlines involved with “work for hire” (which is the category nearly all licensed work falls into). Not very many agents dabble in WFH (the money tends to be small, and the publisher keeps the copyright and all the rights, so the future is about the brand not the author) — I’ve done a few, mostly because my clients are fans of various properties (e.g. suricattus did some work in the Buffyverse, jimbutcher wrote Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours, and Craig Shaw Gardner wrote a BSG book). So, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t consider a novel based on a licensed property – I have a lot of fun with them, and sometimes score some sweet swag. But it needs to be self-evident that the writer is aware of the realities of this kind of work and what’s involved in securing permissions even just to submit in the first place and I hope they’ll also have ideas for original fiction because most WFH deals are labors of love, not money, in my experience.

Of course, the oddest thing was that the protagonist was a Bugbear. I didn’t even know they were a PC class.

The weather is clearing up and that may be sunshine I’m seeing hints of, so I’m taking the afternoon “off” to sit away from the computer near a window, and read manuscripts with a big bowl of popcorn….

20 responses to “letters from the query wars and thoughts on WFH

  1. I thought virtually anything could be a PC nowadays.
    Voila!

  2. Of course, the oddest thing was that the protagonist was a Bugbear. I didn’t even know they were a PC class.
    They’re not.
    I blame Savage Species and the template rules.

  3. Actually, I’d be interested in reading a book from the bugbear’s POV…

  4. the money tends to be small, and the publisher keeps the copyright and all the rights, so the future is about the brand not the author
    Small quibble! The licensor keeps the copyright usually.
    I register all the copyrights for S&S (the only ones we keep are Nancy Drew/Hardy boys because we bought the Stratemeyer Syndicate). And I know . The world, she is small.

    • Thanks… I just looked and indeed the 3 examples from my own list that I mentioned are all copyrighted to the Licensor, though contractually I think all the subsidiary rights for the books ended up with the publishers. The point I was making, still, is that the WFH properties almost never remain in the control of the author/creator.
      Heh. I game with .

      • Yes, you’re still right about the author situation. (Just a minor quibble afterall.) It’s sorta like the three parties are sitting around the table splitting up the rights saying, “Some for Licensor, Some for Publisher, None for author…”
        From contracts I’ve seen, the subrights are usually split between the licensor and publisher much as they are in an author agreement (and the extent of which depends on the situation, naturally.)
        ETA: and I travelled to Philly to stand in line and read Harry Potter 7 together.

  5. How often does WFH work come the other way? Meaning: Licensor contacts Madame Agent in interest of author for WFH type work? Does this happen and if so does it lend itself for a more standard negotiation (if such a thing exists) of WFH rates?

    • Sometimes the publisher (occasionally on behalf of a Licensor) does approach about a specific author, but it doesn’t change much in the way of terms. The publisher is usually limited by the Licensing agreement to certain things already, and since they pay the Licensor for the rights to publish the books, there isn’t usually much left over to spread to the authors, in most cases.

  6. Bugbears aren’t a standard class, or even a standard race, but 3rd edition allowed pretty much ANY creature to be ‘advanced’ in power by adding levels of the standard classes to them.
    This meant that a player COULD make a bugbear fighter, or cleric, or whatever. The trick is that the base monster is generally more powerful than the standard races, so they had to have an ‘Effective Character Level’ tacked on, which is essentially the ‘level’ of the monster without classes. So if a Bugbear has an ECL of 2 (for instance, since I haven’t looked it up), and the player wants to make a bugbear ranger, the 1st level bugbear ranger would be equivalent to a 3rd level character.
    At least that was the theory. In practice, it’s hard to get those things right.
    And that’s probably more than you wanted to know. 🙂

  7. Ouch, that sounds like an especially painful place to get a papercut! I hope it heals quickly.
    And hurray for the partial that got promoted to a full! I think it deserved it.

  8. I completely sympathize with you on the Eberron thing — I get about 1 or 2 queries per month for adventures or supplements regarding Wizards of the Coast settings. People assume that because I run a publishing operation that participates in the Open Game License, that somehow direct-support of trademarked IP is covered by that….
    *sigh*

  9. I was in the final cut for the Eberron open call. From what I understand, they are staying with their current stable of writers, several of whom came out of that open call with 1 or 2 book deals. (Except for the guy who actually won. I’m not sure what happened to his book… nm just looked it up. It came out in 10/06)
    I was interested in writing a Wizards book back then for the experience, but now that my own book is nearly finished, not so much. I’d like to keep the copyright to my characters, thank you very much. 😉

  10. Bugbear…a PC class let alone a protagonist?
    one can dream…
    they may be nightmares, but one can dream…

  11. “I hope they’ll also have ideas for original fiction because most WFH deals are labors of love, not money, in my experience.”
    I have experience (direct or indirect) with a few tie-in lines and I’ve found typical royalty rates to run from 4-7% of domestic sales and advances to run from $5K to $25K. All of my novels have earned out by a wide margin, usually by the second quarter after release.
    The very big names presumably earn more, though I cannot say for sure.

  12. I never really could get into D&D, but my husband’s totally into it. 🙂 How about if something like D&D, or even a licensed computer game like World of Warcraft, is mentioned in a book? I know Jim Butcher’s books have a few mentions of gaming, but I don’t think D&D was mentioned by name. Do you have to be vague and just say “a tabletop RPG”?

    • Just based on what I’ve seen in books, I don’t think there’s a reason to skip over the brand name if it’s just a mention: “He’s off playing D&D.” If you wanted to have scenes of people actually playing a tabletop RP, it would probably be worth it to invent your own system.
      My two cents.

  13. How far do the licensing rights go?
    Sorry for the cut, those are painful. Try tape or a band-aid around the end of your finger until it heals to hold the nail down.
    I don’t get why they had to change D&D. We were making characters that weren’t PC’s, heck, some not even existing in the D&D-verse, without a set of rules to go by.
    And on the rules for writing in this type of thing:
    If you have your own world, your own story, etc., can you use some of the words from D&D or orther RPG’s? Words like “drow”, for example, if you have a dark elf? Dark elves CAN exist elsewhere than their world, I would think. Also, if you have a part of your world that has levels of a hell-like area, an underworld, would it be unacceptable to call the levels “planes”, or “upper and lower Planes”? Just how far does this go?
    It seems that much of the wording in the RPG’s has become more commonly used, so how would a writer get around using some of the terms, even for their own world?
    Obviously, using their gods would be out, but using classic ones from real history shouldn’t be. Likewise monsters from mythology or old stories. Just how far do their licensing rights go?

  14. I would suppose that another reason agents don’t particularly like WFH projects is the limited room for negotiation. The contract terms tend to be fairly inflexible. From an agent’s point of view, where’s the fun in that? 🙂

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