Fear in Writing: The TV-spinoff Book: Valid or Not?

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The TV-spinoff Book: Valid or Not?

A blogger I respect and enjoy wrote a review with which I strongly disagree.  I hope she will forgive me for that which I am about to write. 

Television shows and movies are forms of art.  I see that.  I see the beauty in a good performance, a well-shot scene, a perfectly edited film.

But is a book written from a movie or show just as valid as a movie or show adapted from a book?

Think about it.  How many classics have also made wonderful movies and brought stories of soaring love and hardship to thousands who otherwise might have stopped their cultural exposure at Curious George?  And then you add in the modern movies based on classic storylines, like O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, and you stretch those thousands to millions.

But turn a perfectly entertaining television show - let's take 'Castle', for example - into a book - let's say Heat Wave by "Richard Castle" -  and you have PR, plain and simple.

Here is my question for you: is that book deserving of judgement on the same level as other literary output?  Should it get the same review treatment, both professional and amateur?  Should it be available for award and honor?

Maybe you can discern my opinion from my tone.  But maybe I am not totally convinced one way or the other.  I would love to know your opinion.


  1. Very interesting question. I actually thought that maybe the book "Heat Wave" was making fun of the television series, but I'm assuming its not now. In my opinion, it's harder to give a good review to a book that's been based on a tv series/movie. It's harder for me to take seriously? But good question.

  2. Well, it's different. They're write-for-hire books...I know a couple of people who write series for people in TV. I've heard it's a PAIN working for the TV folks. They want your plot completely under their control, they need to make sure the characters are exactly like the ones on TV. And I don't think the money is as good as it should be for all the junk you have to put up with.

    So the finished product is REALLY a collaborative effort...more than it usually is.

    Award winning? I think mostly it's just meant to appeal to fans of the series.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. It's been years since I read it, but I recall reading an X-Files book and enjoying it quite a bit. Whether it's PR or not, the book has to stand on its own. If it can't, it's failed PR and a failed book. If it's a good book, it's a good book, I'd say.

  4. Chasing- To be honest, I have not read the book, nor any other based on a series. So I can't say whether or not it takes jabs at Castle and Beckett. But I'm pretty sure the intention is to gain viewership and make money. But when I saw the book reviewed I wondered, do they actually put it out there right alongside all the other works?

    Elizabeth- It sounds like a sweet gig on paper, but I can only imagine how frustrating it would be. I certainly wouldn't want to do it. One of the things I enjoy about writing is the FREEDOM. And I agree about the fan appeal.

  5. Simon- True. If it's a good book, it's a good book. I suppose it deserves every chance. But, truthfully, it starts out behind other books in my eyes because it starts out as someone else's idea and someone else's PR stunt, put on paper under direction. Do you know what I mean?

  6. I'm torn on this one. For me it would depend on whether it is a book about the TV characters or if it is a book supposedly written by one of those characters (which of course we know it's not). In the case of Castle, if it is a murder mystery and is well written then I think it deserves the same consideration as any other book, if however, it is a book written about the TV characters, one may enjoy reading it and it may be well written, but I agree, then it is mainly PR and not a novel intself. If that makes sense.

  7. I'd have to say if a book is based on a TV show or series it would probably only appeal to those who loved the show. To be review, it would have to be in a category all it's own surely not compared to any of the classics.

    When it comes to books made into TV series I've found that some series/movies are better than the books and most books are better than the series/movies.

    See you signed up for the challenge. Way to go. By the way, be sure to check out the schedule on my sidebar and let me know what date would be best for you to guest post. I'm looking forward to. Thanks.

  8. Hi Michele ~

    My opinion is that books/literature should be merited for their content - whether or not they came from a television series, a movie, or a brilliant writer's mind as he scratched away in a cabin.

    I think to suggest a book isn't comparable to other literature because it's a spin-off from TV isn't fair.

    But I agree the quality of the work itself will likely be low in a TV spin-off book simply because it's written for PR (I'm assuming) and the writer(s) might feel they can chintz on quality since they've already got a solid readership.

    I wouldn't discredit a book because it's a spin-off from TV; I'd discredit it because it doesn't compare in quality to other literature.

    (I've never heard of Castle or read a spin-off book, so my opinion in this is one lacking education.)

    Great blog!

    ~ Corra :)

  9. I think the world will get to decide this one. Lots of folks read to get away from life, to not learn anything - to further their sleepy lives. Feed them what they want, I say as long as we can still find what we want in the bookstores - of course if the bookstores are all owned by mega-companies who only want easy dough - well we'll have to figure out how to take care of that. Yikes, I just depressed myself. Jeesh.

  10. I do know what you mean. Tie-in books are often thinly disguised fan-fiction. It could still be a fun read.

    However, I still have to respect the work that goes into writing a novel--any novel. The work of putting the words down is the same whether it's someone else's idea or your own.

  11. Also, the fact that the idea came from some other writer in TV world makes the playing field less fair for writers like us who work alone, but ultimately, it is an idea and does produce a book.

    I think it deserves a fair shot with reviewers.

    You bring up the classics in your post, but when those were written, there was no such thing as television - or movies.

    I think the reviewing template has to change with the times.

  12. I think the PR of Castle (and the book) is brilliant. Definitely out of the box. Am I going to read the book? No. Have I read any books adapted from television shows? A few when I was a kid, but none recently.

    But then again, I'm the person who rarely sees a movie after she's read the book. All the movies (after reading the book) I've seen have ruined the story for because it was never as good. I'm thinking Eragon here. Such a great series, but the movie was terrible and completely made any venture into movies 2, 3, and 4 impossible because of how it changed the plot. But I know a lot of people who've never read the book who liked the movie.

    Art is subjective, as we all know. So we might never reach an answer. Or if we did, it could differ between artists and the general reader. Both opinions are equally important.

  13. Those kinds of books are like fanfiction to me.

    I've only read a couple books that were written to tie in with a movie, and I'm afraid I found them all rather lacking.

    Now ones that continue a movie's storyline are different. The Star Wars books written after the first three movies (which followed the characters after Jedi ended) were FAR better than the second set of three movies.

  14. I agree with the opinion that this is a type of fan fiction; which is fine for people who like that.

    One of the first questions any writer makes is 'what am I writing'. Is it a play? A movie? A television show? A book? Once anyone changes that medium, something is always going to get lost in translation.


  15. First my thanks for the brilliant link you left on my blog and now for your question.
    I would have until Richard Curtis' 2003 film 'love actually' said no but there are several storylines there that would make for lovely novels if done well.
    A lovely day to you my dear,

  16. Let me just say I am blown away by the quality of discussion here. THIS is why I blog!

    CC- The Castle book specifically is supposed to be written by one of the characters, because the main character (Castle) is a mystery writer. That is the premise for the show. I think as PR is really is brilliant (as Kristen points out). But as literature, I do not believe it should be judged alongside other novels when it comes to reviewing and awards. I'm sure the author did a large amount of work, but it still came from the brain of the show's creator and the original storyline developed by someone else.

    Mason- We'll have to keep each other in check. I'll let you know when I decide which books to read. I think I am going to pick one for each month so it's more of a challenge for me. Otherwise, it's just normal reading! I want to stretch a bit.
    And I agree, most series don't translate to books well and vice versa.

    Corra- I'm sooooooooo glad you chimed in. You have the most contrary but interesting opinion here. And you are right - each book should be seen on its merit. But I also believe part of its merit is where it originated. And in the case of a novel being written from the plot of a television show, how much originality is in there? How can that stand alongside the words we pluck daily from our souls and grow so carefully in our word gardens? (Too much? Yeah, but you get the picture...)

    Jan- Too true. My father reads for pure enjoyment. He will pick up books that strike his interest, but he won't read an author twice if he/she isn't good. So fool him once, you know how it goes...
    As for book conglomerates - I think we have to accept it. We can buy Indie all we want. But there is certainly an ease and a desire in the B&N's of the world.

  17. I don't think any of it is too deep, but it can be fun. I've read several of the Stargate SG1 books and they were good.

  18. Simon- Agreed. Novel writing is hard work.

    Corra- Also agreed. And good point about the classics. Times have changed. And things weren't perfect when those were published. That's another topic for another post...

    Kristen- Definitely smart PR. Look how we're talking about the show! And several people have said they weren't familiar with it before this conversation...Hmmm...I also do not like to see movies after reading the book, IF it is a book I cherish. If it's not, I'll see it, hoping it will be better!

    Diane- Fanfiction is the perfect word! And I didn't even know there were Star Wars books. Thanks for the knowledge. Perfect example.

    Elspeth- There is a market or it wouldn't be written, true. But if something is lost in translation, is the money gained really worth it?

    Simone- You're welcome, and I think they key phrase in your response is "if done well."

  19. I can't keep up with all the comments! This is great!

    Alex- I am fine with it being fun. But reviewable? Should it hit the bestsellers list alongside Connelly and McDermid? I do not think it should.

  20. Hmm...I've never read this book, so I can't offer my opinion on it. Nor have I read any books based on tv series, but I can't imagine enjoying one if I didn't already enjoy the show. It seems to me that these books are geared towards an already established fan base...a marketing ploy, and thus characters and storylines are likely very similar to the show. And if the show wasn't enticing enough for me to watch, I doubt I'd enjoy the book.

    That being said, a good book is a good book, no matter what prompted its writing or how it was written. But if I didn't like a book, well, I wouldn't waste my time on it necessarily, but I wouldn't say it doesn't have a place on a bestseller list. A bestseller is a bestseller by virtue of selling a lot of books. If an audience consumes and enjoys a book, regardless of what I think of it or what the book is based on, that sort of speaks for itself. It seems to say more about the audience than the book, really (and it speaks volumes of the marketing department that could sell such a book). To be honest, a bestseller stamp doesn't guarantee a quality book, nowadays; rather it seems to point more towards the ability of a publishing company to reach a mass audience. As for reviews, well...I'd say any book is reviewable. But I'd certainly do a double take on a glowing review of such a book. But I'm skeptical like that.

  21. I have family members that work in TV, (The Husband too) Even a short commercial takes tons of work and gobs of talent to produce, an hour long TV show like Castle, now that's a major accomplishment. The idea that these talented people can't cross over from industry to industry is absurd. That said, I do wonder if this book will be any good. What an interesting post, Michele!

  22. I didn't realize there was a real novel entitled Heat Wave based on the one in the series. Hmmm.

    I'm a Star Trek fan and have enjoyed many of the ST books. One of the advantages for sci-fi books is that you are not limited to what can be portrayed on tv - hence the very human-like aliens in the ST series :) So I think in some cases books based on tv can work for the fans. Otherwise I doubt it. Awards? Unlikely I think - even though I've enjoyed many of the books.

    Great discussion!!

  23. Carol- True about bestseller list. I suppose it is not a mark of quality, but of quanity sold. Point taken.

    Elizabeth- I work in television as well, on the news side. I completely believe in crossing over. My assumption (right or wrong) is that a book writer is taking over writing the novel from a storyline created by the TV show producers. To me, this is cheating a bit. Thank you for giving you opinion, I always enjoy your posts and commentary.

    Jemi- Really good point about SciFi. It seems the genre has completely separate rules than all others! And the fans aren't boung by the normal rules either :P

    Definitely a great discussion, all!

  24. I don't watch the show, so I'm not likely to pick up the book. It's clear it's a gimmick, but I can't knock ingenuity. If it works (sells books and brings a bigger audience to the TV show), it's hard to find fault.

  25. TV and movie spin-off books are, off course, done solely to take in some more money from the fans and promote the show or film a bit more, but if they are done in exquisite way I don't see why they wouldn't be considered as art.

    Such kind of writing has often been a nice way for some writers to get in the business and start their literary career.
    Jane Johnson, whose translator I happened to be for Serbia :) has begun her career by writing LORD OF THE RINGS graphic novels following Peter Jackson's movie saga. After that she wrote her international bestseller CROSSED BONES and became so rich and successful that she left her job and everything in the UK and went to live in exotic Morocco where she lives with her very own Arabian prince writing new novels for her fans :))

  26. Patricia- True, true.

    Dezmond- Leave it to you to know someone in the business- let alone someone with their own prince!