Thursday, May 14, 2015

Want to be part of a franchise?

Franchises seem to be all over the place at the moment. I wrote about the concept recently, and I've seen franchised books published via Amazon's new venture which encourages the idea.

A franchise in writing isn't much different from any other franchise – basically, it's a shared environment where all contributors get the benefit of that known arena, but run their own business. Think Macdonalds.

Although I don't much like the concept of an author franchising his/herself, such as James Patterson, there's no doubt it works. I have less objection to something like the Star Wars franchise. It's a bit like licensed fan fiction. You set your story in the Star Wars universe, you can use the iconic characters who appear in the movies, along with the alien species, planets, hardware etc etc and then you can introduce your own characters and stories. The Star Wars extended universe has been hugely successful and is undoubtedly why Star Wars is still a phenomenon forty years after the first movie (then entitled just “Star Wars” - A New Hope was added later) exploded on the movie screens.

When the credits finally rolled on Return of the Jedi I wasn't the only one mourning a loss. It was over. No more star destroyers, no more derring-do amongst the stars. I felt bereft, as though a part of my life had come to an end. I imagine the fan fic started almost after the first movie finished. Fan fic web sites popped everywhere. Then in the early nineties Timothy Zahn, already an established author in his own right, came up with his Thrawn trilogy. Han, Leia, Luke etc were back with a new enemy. Although it took me a bit of time to get over Thrawn replacing that wonderful arch-villain Darth Vader, Grand Admiral Thrawn soon became one of my favourite characters of all time. There again, I wasn't the only one. Thrawn pops up in Star Wars franchises several times. He plays an important bit part in Tatooine Ghost, for instance. Zahn himself was forced to write several more Thrawn books, one being Outbound Flight, where we meet a young Thrawn before he is forced to move his considerable talents to the Empire.

There are pros and cons to any franchise. On the one hand you have the advantage of an established universe, and an existing pantheon of characters. It's much easier to create convincing background. On the other hand, that's a limitation. You need to be careful that when you use established characters that they act as they should/would according to the canon. Apart from that, the sky's the limit. Looking back at the Star Wars expanded universe, several hundred books have been written, as well as a bunch of other tie-ins.

The point is IT WORKS. Amazon is trying to harness the power of the franchise through its KindleWorlds. Well known crime writer Toby Neal is just one of many who have participated with her Hawaiian crime series, and already there are eight new stories, written by different authors, using Toby's characters.

Today in a Facebook group I came across a group called the Dryden Experiment. This one is a Scifi universe, and it's inviting participation from writers of science fiction romance of any heat level willing to write as part of a creative commons project. So it's a franchise of sorts. They have a Facebook group, and a website. You write a story set in that universe and it becomes part of the ongoing canon (if it's good enough - there are hints of some sort of quality control) so your work can be used and built on by others.

It's not for everyone. Some authors couldn't possibly consider the constraints imposed by such a structure. Then again, it didn't hold Zahn back. Apart from a host of Star Wars novels, he's written plenty of other books. I could mention Sean Williams and Alan Dean Foster, who also wrote for Star Wars. The huge advantage, of course, is marketing. If you're part of a greater whole, if the greater whole is recognised, your chances of being recognised increase enormously.

It's another arrow to keep in your quiver. If it's to your taste.


  1. Hey Greta. I'm Joel Stottlemire, Chief Editor of the Dryden Experiment. I wanted to stop by and say thank for the comments. We aren't for everyone but we do build and grow as a group thanks to our shared reach.

    The cannon question isn't so much about quality, though we do encourage quality. We are more concerned that an author will write something that violates the core tenant of our shared history. No story, for example, would be considered cannon if it involved destruction of the Earth in the 22nd century. Our history has the Earth existing for at least several thousand years after that. Otherwise, people are pretty much free to write what they want. We love to work together and are eager to support the work of others.

    I also wanted to leave folks a way to get hold of me if they have questions. Our main email is and I'm the poor sucker that checks it.

    Please feel free to drop me a line if you have questions or have work you'd like me to look at.

    Thanks again!


  2. Hi, Joel. Thanks for coming in and clarifying. As you say, it's not for everyone - but we like to share opportunities with our membership. I expect I'll be in touch.


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