In the twelve years since the release of Dark Journey, my one and only Star Wars novel, I have received many emails from aspiring Star Wars writers who want to know how to break into the Extended Universe. With a new movie on the horizon, I expect that every writer who has ever visited the galaxy far, far away will be seeing an increase of these email queries. For what it’s worth, here’s my story.
Back in 1998, the people in charge of Star Wars fiction decided to Shake Things Up with “The New Jedi Order,” a big story arc that would be spread over 20+ novels. The broad strokes of the story arc were planned by a team that included some of the participating authors, the Del Rey editors, and the LucasFilm continuity team. Some of the novels would be Big Books that dealt with pivotal events in the war, others would be smaller, more personal tales. One of the smaller stories would focus on Jaina Solo at a painfully low point in her life, when she was reeling from the death of a loved one and dangerously drawn toward the dark side.
The Del Rey editor, Shelly Shapiro, wanted a female writer for this novel and asked author R.A. Salvatore, who wrote the first novel in this series (Vector Prime), for recommendations. He was familiar with my work in the Forgotten Realms, a D&D setting. Since most of my novels in that setting featured strong female protagonists, Bob thought my writing style would be a good fit for Jaina’s story. I was invited to submit a proposal to Del Rey. This included a chapter-by-chapter outline of the plot I created to fit the parameters of the story arc, as well as a writing sample. The proposal was accepted (though it was substantially revised during the writing process) and I was offered a contract. At each step of the way, from outline to final draft, the Del Rey editor and the LucasFilm continuity team reviewed my work to ensure that it fit the New Jedi Order story arc and did not conflict with any of the “history” established in hundreds of novels, short fiction, comic books, and game products.
The contacts I made while writing in the Forgotten Realms also led to the opportunity to write three short stories for the Star Wars Gamer magazine. This was owned by the Realms’ publisher, Wizards of the Coasts, and edited by Dave Gross. I’d written some short fiction for Dave when he was the editor of Dragon Magazine. As with the novels, these stories had to be reviewed and approved by Del Rey and LucasFilm for continuity issues.
As you’ve probably gathered from this, there’s a lot of planning involved in Star Wars storytelling. Several years have passed since I was involved with the EU, but I hear that Disney, who purchased Star Wars from LucasFilm a year or so back, is deeply involved in the planning process. My heart always sinks when I get an email from someone who has already written a Star Wars novel and dreams of seeing it in print, because if someone doesn’t have the benefit of inside information, the odds of them writing a novel that fits the planned story direction is very slim indeed.
So what’s an aspiring writer to do?
Del Rey, a large New York publishing house, holds the license to publish Star Wars fiction. The only way any writer can publish a Star Wars novel is through this publisher. Generally speaking, Del Rey hires established writers with a proven track record. It is an incredibly competitive market and very tough to break into, but that’s the path you’ll need to take.
I realize that this may be disappointing news, but please don’t be discouraged. If you’ve already written a Star Wars novel, you’ve invested many hours into learning the craft of writing. You’ve proven that you have the passion and discipline needed to write a novel-length manuscript. So even if you don’t publish that particular story, you’re many steps closer to publication than you would be if you hadn’t written it.