From the Archives: How *NOT* to write a Star Trek novel.

Programming Note: This entry originally appeared on my old LiveJournal, and was ported over when I cranked up this happenin’ new pad.

I got an interesting e-Mail today. A reader of this here LJ asked me to dig up and provide for her a post I made some time ago whereby I answered the “request” of an aspiring Star Trek author to help him get his book(s) published. It took some extra jogging on said reader’s part to remind me of the post in question, after which I had to go digging in the archive to find it for her. I originally posted this back in April of 2008.

Having read it again, and while I don’t apologize for what it says, I did fail to make one important point the first time around: This ain’t how I typically reply to people who ask me about writing, be it Star Trek or anything else. I think my record on how I usually tackle such queries speaks for itself.

That said, the FuckMuppet(tm) who sent the query to which I responded with the following screed was altogether a different variety of arrogant, insulting, delusional “fan,” possessing an overdeveloped sense of entitlement wrapped around an alarming lack of interpersonal skills. It demanded a proportional response.

So, from the vaults, I once again offer up “(Hopefully) Helpful advice for aspiring Star Trek writers,” as originally posted:

Came home this evening to an amusing message in my e-Mail box. Without going into specifics, let’s just say that the sender of this particular missive is a passionate Star Trek fan, which in and of itself ain’t really a bad thing.

However, our messenger friend fancies himself a writer. Not only that, he wants to be a Star Trek writer because, damn it, he’s got the cure for all that ails the Star Trek franchise these days.

(Since first writing this entry, I’ve learned that several Trek authors also received the same e-Mail, outlining our hopeful writer-to-be’s plan to submit his work to Pocket for consideration.)

He’s pursued his goal with verve. He’s visited the Pocket Books website. He’s read the submission guidelines for Star Trek fiction, and has come away unsatisfied with what he’s found. Of course, he’s made the mistake committed by a goodly number of aspiring writers, in that he’s either failed to comprehend what he’s read, or else has ignored those things which are not in line with what he wants to hear in order to pound his chest and continue his crusade.

Because of that, he now appears to be fueled by a host of misconceptions which, if he’s actually followed through with what he says he plans to do (assuming he’s serious and this wasn’t some elaborate practical joke), will result in his Star Trek opus, along with all of its unrealized potential, being sent to the trash.

So, in the unlikely event he’s reading this (I suppose it’s possible, as he got my e-Mail address from somewhere and may well know about my website), I’m posting the following bits of (hopefully) helpful advice, for him as well as anyone else who might harbor similar ambitions and perceptions:

1. The submission guidelines for Star Trek fiction at Pocket’s website are there for a reason. Yes, they apply to you. You, too, so put your hand down. One of the most common complaints I hear is that the guidelines are restrictive; they choke the life out of what Star Trek represents, blah, blah, blah. Well, no, they really don’t. READ THE GUIDELINES AGAIN, particularly this part:

“The submission guidelines don’t reflect an editorial philosophy toward Star Trek fiction. They’re a challenge to first-time authors to impress us with their seriousness, their professionalism, and their creativity. We set it up this way to maximize the chances that authors with talent, passion for the craft, and passion for Star Trek will submit stories, because they’re the ones most likely to put in the extra effort.”

2. The first sentence alone, when read with knowledge of the types of books being produced by the more experienced writers in Pocket’s stable, is enough to tell you what you should already know if you’re serious about this stuff: The guidelines are a test; they’re a job interview. You walk in the door thinking they don’t apply to you, or that you’re better than what they’re trying to accomplish, then you’ve already failed the interview.

Editors don’t want to work with writers who can’t follow simple instructions, because it’s when the instructions become more complicated and intertwined with those given to other authors whom the editors are overseeing that things get really interesting. There are plenty of other hopeful writers out there who can follow editorial direction, so don’t blow your chances before you even get to put something on the editor’s desk, okay?

3. Don’t start out your cover letter by insulting the very people you hope will one day pay you to write your epic Star Trek novel. Don’t tell them they lack vision or that they don’t understand what they’re doing, and that you’re their savior. I know of no instance where such a sales pitch has proven successful. You have no new twist on the notion which guarantees victory on your part.

Let’s put this another way: If you want to bang that chick at the club, you don’t slide up to her and inform her that — based on what you’ve heard elsewhere — her fellatio technique needs work, and you’re just the guy to set her straight. Brad Pitt couldn’t score with that line; you’ve got about as much chance as a blind monkey trying to hump a football.

4. Don’t make up words to put in your cover letters. The dictionary is chock full of real, honest-to-goodness words which will do a far better job of helping you communicate your ideas than the apparently random assemblages of letters you’ve elected to pull from your ass.

5. It’s been a few bullet points, so I figure it’s time to reiterate this: READ THE GUIDELINES. HEED THE GUIDELINES. THIS MEANS YOU.

6. Don’t try to dazzle the editor/whoever with the long list of self-published books you’ve written, or had published through the small press that you happen to own, and attempt to pass these off as writing credentials. Editors at the big-city publishing houses are interested in the credits you have where you connived some other publisher to pay you for your work. Paying to have your own work published doesn’t impress anyone who actually does this stuff for a living. To use a somewhat different analogy, I bought a first aid kit for my truck, and I’ve even learned how to use everything in it. Doesn’t make me a fucking doctor, okay?

(EDIT: 4/8/2014: The preceeding paragraph no longer really applies, does it? The world of publishing has evolved in the years since this missive/rant was first posted, and the generalities it posits with respect to self-publishing are no longer (entirely) valid. While perhaps not a magic bullet for every aspiring wordsmith, self-publishing certainly can work if you’re willing to put in the time, energy and passion required to make it work. Carry on, boys and girls.)

7. If you’re going to present yourself as The Guy to reinvent a sagging franchise with a work of fiction that shatters the genre, don’t offer up as your idea one of those hackneyed fanboy plots we all write when we’re Trekkies just starting out. I have one or two of those myself, hidden away in a deep, dark recess of Newbie Writer Hell, from which they hopefully will never escape. In fact, if they do manage to find their way to daylight, I’m going to beat the shit out of them, kick them back into their hole, and drive a stake through their evil, undead hearts.

8. Know who and what you’re insulting. If you’re going to lambaste people for their alleged inabilities to keep the Trek Fires burning now that Gene Roddenberry has shuffled off this mortal coil, get the names and titles right. The guy you’re bitching about has never been involved with Star Trek before the movie that’s now in development. Nobody knows what rabbit — if any — he may pull out of his hat, so dismissing his work sight unseen in favor of your own “unique vision” puts you on the same level as the drooling idiots crowding message boards all over the Internet. This isn’t a club where your membership looks cool on a resume, all right?

The books you dismiss as being utterly disappointing have — admittedly — received a variety of reactions from glowing praise to utter contempt. Hey, everybody’s got different tastes. However, the objective measure is that all of the books to which you refer are in multiple printings, and a few of them even ended up on best seller lists. Therefore, anecdotal evidence suggests that our mothers can’t be the only ones buying these frikkin’ things. Despite this, you still managed to get the books’ umbrella title wrong. Guess what? The editors with whom you hope to build a long and prosperous career know the correct titles. They even edited some of them. They’re liable to be a bit peeved at this lack of basic research on your part.

(And on a personal note…since I was involved with some of the books you’re dissing, I’m not sure how you think this translates into me being eager to help you. Just sayin’.)


My work here is done. I’ll be here all week. Be sure to try the veal, and remember to tip your servers.

And there you go. The original post, and the responses from readers that it generated, can be found here.

7 thoughts on “From the Archives: How *NOT* to write a Star Trek novel.

  1. Let’s say I am an unpublished hobby author, and I’ve been writing a Trek novel in my spare time over the past ten years or so, and it turns out to be actually good. Well, maybe. I didn’t do evaluations. But my wife, my friend, and perhaps my dog liked it. Or he liked the paper I printed it on.

    The thing is that it doesn’t fit these submission guidelines at all.

    I never considered myself a hardcore Trek fan. I was able to see the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. I watched it occasionally when it happened to be on TV, I watched the films in no particular order. Despite it being campy and awkward most of the time, I liked the characters, I liked the themes, the universe.

    Then, one day, I wrote a single page of a story featuring new characters set in this universe. And ever since, it just poured out. Like it’s been there all the time and I just happened to uncover it. For a weird reason it still feels like I’m uncovering it, even if I turned the entire thing upside down and back to front three or four times. I also did my research, when the story required it, but you could say I kept a professional distance to the source material.

    I tried to take these characters and drop them into an all original universe. But it simply doesn’t work.

    It doesn’t let me go. I keep getting back to it.

    What if it was actually good enough that other people would want to read it?

    There don’t seem to be many hopeful options for this one.

    So I’ll probably leave it at that. Move on, and continue to live my life as if nothing ever happened. But that is indeed sad.


  2. Let’s say I am an unpublished hobby author, and I’ve been writing a Trek novel in my spare time over the past ten years or so, and it turns out to be actually good. Well, maybe. I didn’t do evaluations. But my wife, my friend, and perhaps my dog liked it. Or he liked the paper I printed it on.

    The thing is that it doesn’t fit these submission guidelines at all.

    Then it won’t be accepted. It won’t even be read.

    The process of writing any media tie-in (Star Trek, Star Wars, whatever) is – admittedly – weird when compared to just writing your own story. Most of the wickets are the same, in that editors acquiring original fiction want to see a synopsis of the story and usually some sample chapters. If you’re a new/unknown author, they may want to see a full manuscript. I’m talking about the big traditional publishers here. Smaller independent publishing houses have their own slants on these sorts of things, and your mileage will vary from place to place.

    But for tie-ins you can only go to the publisher that holds a license to produce such works. They’re going to want to see an outline/synopsis first. Once they give it a once-over, they’ll send it on to the licensing office of the IP owner (CBS Consumer Products, in the case of Star Trek). This is a no-exception kind of thing. Once an outline is approved – and that might mean “approved after revisions are made at the request/behest of the publisher and/or IP owner” – then you get a green light to start writing. Once you deliver a manuscript, then the review process starts all over again, both for the publisher and the IP owner.

    And it’s rare – exceedingly rare – for an unpublished author to land a gig writing a tie-in as their first published work. First, you have to have a literary agent submit your material on your behalf. The Catch-22 of this is that most literary agents don’t want to represent an author looking to pitch a tie-in work as their first sale. Agents tend to handle such projects for their clients who also publish original works. Next, the delivery schedules for such projects tend to be, in a word, insane. And in the case of Trek there’s usually also an element of coordination between the editor, the writer, and other writers who are also writing Trek novels because there’s an internal continuity tying the books together at various levels, as well. Editors tend to rely on writers with proven track records they’re confident can deliver clean manuscripts in timely fashion. Three-four months from the aforementioned “green light” to delivered manuscript is fairly common.

    Making things worse is that it’s even harder to get in the door now than it was when I wrote this original blog post. The number of Star Trek novels being published these days is down from where it was back then, and the IP owners now naturally want books that tie into the new TV series which are in production. When there were no shows or movies being made, we had a larger degree of latitude and there was room for experimenting with stories involving new characters and ships, which is why we had several successful spin-off series like Star Trek: New Frontier, Star Trek Vanguard, and Star Trek: Titan. With Discovery and Picard now in the mix, there’s an expectation tie-in novels will showcase these new series. That doesn’t mean we’re done seeing novels based on the other series, of course, but things are different now, the way they “became different” when TNG begat DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, etc.

    I know this very likely isn’t what you want to read, but you deserve as honest an answer as I’m able to provide. If you do decide to pursue writing in some form, I wish you the best of luck.


  3. Thanks for your extensive answer. Well that’s disappointing, but expected, especially the part where “it won’t even be read”. But I could at least give the guy who takes out the trash a chance to read it. Maybe he enjoys it.

    So I guess I’ll release it on the web for free, so that I didn’t waste time on nothing. And if someone then thinks “aww damn, why didn’t we think of this?!”, I’ll gloat! Ha! And when they take the story and characters, make a billion bucks from it and don’t pay me a single cent, I’ll stop gloating.


  4. The other plan would be to sneak into it by submitting work adhering to the guidelines, become a tie-in author, and try for maybe 30 years to get the original story published, only to realize that nobody wanted to read it to begin with.


Lay it on me.

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