Aliens, Predator, and Licenses

In one of the comments, Mark asked a question about the Aliens and Predator books that both Brian and Jeff wrote. Brian is traveling right now, so I thought I’d take a crack at answering the question. I was the Dark Horse editor on both of the series. Managing the license, and figuring out how it worked, was one of the most interesting duties I had while an employee there.

Regarding Brian and Jeff, I wanted them to write these books because I’m super interested in literary cross-pollination. Licensed books provide an incredible opportunity to watch multiple literary minds approaching the narrative of the license in very different ways. The idea was as exciting to me as reading Li Po’s “The River Merchant’s Wife,” and then reading Elliott’s version.

I didn’t know this before, but big media companies have a binder of properties that are available for licensing. The properties include everything from, like, A.L.F., to Happy Days, to My Little Pony. Most things that can be for sale are for sale.

The publisher, in this case Dark Horse, licenses the rights to produce novels on the given property. The licenses sell for either a flat fee per book or per property, or as a fee and a royalty, or as a royalty. The contracts typically have an end point: either number of books or time of license. Dark Horse was a shoe-in for the Aliens and Predator novels because they had done Aliens and Predator comics for years (decades). But on Hellboy, for instance, which was another Dark Horse comic, the novel rights went to Pocket Books. We eventually got it back, but we had to wait a couple years…

So, we have the license. And with the license comes a “bible” of timelines, rules, and anything else that orders the universe. A lot of my actual editing work involved making sure the story written conformed to the rules of the universe. For instance, I spent a whole afternoon once trying to track down the native state of the Predator’s eyes. Are their visors infrared, or do they see in infrared naturally? It’s important, because one of the things that happens with licensed properties is that their purity is diluted over time. When their purity goes, their reputation goes. The more confusing the universe, the more difficult and less convincing the license is.

Which leads to some interesting things, from a story perspective. In the new Conan comics, for instance, the writer put in a montage at the start of the comic that represented time passing. If any other big story arcs happen in the Conan universe, they can pretty easily slot the doings into that montage. From a narrative perspective, it’s infinitly expandable.

Once we have the license, we approach authors we’d like to work with. Sometimes that’s as simple as “this person has done one of these novels before, and it’s sold well.” But sometimes, as with Brian and Jeff, it was “this person ROCKS, and I really, really, really want to read what they come up with.”

Oh, and, we spent many, many days trying to come up with the little tag lines on the covers of the book. They have to be snappy, they have to fit with the other tag lines, and they have to be short. I tried to make them grammatically similar to their predecessors. Which sometimes happened, and sometimes didn’t…

Comments

  1. says

    Coming up with the taglines is definitely the hardest part of putting together a book.

    I’m all for literary-cross pollenization. You sure did it right with these two guys.

  2. Mark says

    Victoria,

    Thank you for the explanation. This model is interesting. As a writer, I send short stories to magazine editors, and novel manuscripts to literary agents, so I’m used to the work flowing that way. But in licenses, the river reverses direction, with the buyer of the license seeking out the authors. Very different than what I’m used to.

    Thanks again and good luck with Underland.

    Sincerely,
    Mark

  3. says

    Victoria,

    I’ve been meaning to ask this since you took over the blog (I’m excited about Underland, btw, and looking forward to laying my hands on some of your books). How difficult is it to pitch a concept for an Alien and/or Predator series to Dark Horse (I’m talking comics, here)? Say, a six issue limited series, for example. Are those titles primarily created using the same model as the novels? Meaning, do they originate with the editorial staff? I know comics are done that way, particularly with the big two, but I also know that books are not _exclusively_ pitched that way. Or, have I just answered my own question? Haha!

  4. says

    Victoria,

    In regards to my excitement about Underland, is there any more information you could give up about the Chaos title by Escober? I’d love to hear anything you had to say about the book, or the authors, even.

  5. says

    Hi Ennis–

    Thanks for the enthusiasm! I love it…

    The comics are very hard to break into. I can’t see it working to pitch a series blind. Actually, I wouldn’t even know how to go about it. The best bet is to befriend an editor somewhere, and to make sure your work is great. Not good, but great.

    Regarding Aliens pitching, along with the universe Bible, there is also a list of stories that we shouldn’t do. For instance, after the second movie, there were hundreds of pitches about various mammal / alien mixes. Whaleians! Yikes!

    V.

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