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March 17th, 2007

Spinoffs, Subrights, Secrets

It has been a busy, exciting week here in Santa Fe, but alas, I can't tell you much of what I've been doing. Not yet, anyway.

One of the cool things about the success of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is that it has given birth to all sorts of fun spinoffs -- card games, board games, t-shirts, miniatures, maybe even a television series. Other stuff, too. But I can't talk about that.

Admittedly, when the offers first started to come in, I had my moments of doubt. What did all this stuff have to do with literature? Mark Twain never sold Huckleberry Finn action figures, and F. Scott Fitzgerald never licensed the rights to make THE GREAT GATSBY into a board game. I remembered the words of my old boss, Ron Koslow, who created the tv show BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and always kept a tight rein on what subsidiary rights he would allow to be sold. He wanted Vincent to be a mythic figure, he always liked to say, and never wanted to see him on a lunchbox. I can understand that point of view. Really I can.

On the other hand, long before I was "the American Tolkien," I was a comic book fanboy... one of the ORIGINAL comic book fanboys, thank you very much, the ones who started comics fandom. And the comic book fanboy thinks that games and cards and miniatures and all that stuff is hot shit. And you know, the more I think about it, the more certain I am that F. Scott WOULD have licensed a Great Gatsby board game if anyone had offered him a nickle for the rights. Maybe it's not too late...

Anyway, the one thing I did want to be certain of when I started granting these licenses was that the resulting products would be as good as they could possibly be. I did not want my work to be associated with ripoffs or shoddy merchandise, and I refused to be one of these licensors whose participation is limited to cashing the check. I tried to pick companies that I thought would do produce a top-quality product, one that would please my readers. Inevitably that meant involving myself in the approvals process. There's a good side and bad side to that. On the one hand, having me looking over and commenting on prototypes and drafts during the development phase does help produce a better product (I hope). On the other hand, it takes a hell of a lot more time and energy than I would have dreamed.

And despite all my care and caution, I have to confess, my record with these spinoffs has been... mixed, to say the least. I hit a home run first time out with Fantasy Flight Games, who have produced a wonderful, award-winning card game and board game, and even a terrific art book. And though there have been a few bumpy spots with the comics, I could not be happier with THE HEDGE KNIGHT graphic novel, and expect I will be just as pleased with the forthcoming SWORN SWORD. The RPG, however... well, those who have played the GAME OF THRONES rpg say that Guardians of Order did a terrific job fitting the D20 system to my world, and the book they published is gorgeous, a true labor of love. Unfortunately, Guardians went broke while producing it, leaving the game an orphan. Not to mention all the freelance artists and writers who contributed to the game, who got the rawest deal of all.

Why so much musing on this topic?

There's lot of news on the license front, that's all. I have signed four more licenses that I am dying to tell you about... but I can't, because the licensees want to break the news in their own time. Some will announce our deals at major conventions, others when they launch their new websites. Some soon, some not so soon. Big stuff coming, I hope, and some really cool new collectibles for fans of both A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE and WILD CARDS. I have to hold my tongue for the moment. Watch this space, though.

Unfortunately, not all the news is going to be good. It now appears that Guardians of Order was not the only mistake I made when choosing partners. Another one of my deals has also gone sour, for very different reasons, and I have allowed an agreement to expire. I can't talk about that one either, at least not until the "divorce" is final. Like all splits, it's a bit sad and a bit painful, and I'm sorry we won't be able to bring you the great products we had promised. All I can say now that I mean to try and salvage that situation too, and find some new people who will step into the breach and deliver.

I'm tempted to say that maybe Mark Twain was smart to not to let himself get embroiled with Tom Sawyer action figures and Huckleberry Finn bobblehead dolls... but then again, old Sam lost all his money investing in an early experimental typesetting machine, so he made mistakes too.

I guess we all have to learn these lessons the hard way.

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