How to write for an established IP

Answering the tricky question of the best way to write for your favourite franchise!

How to write for an established IP

Hello there!

Welcome to another newsletter from me, New York Times bestselling author, comic writer and screenwriter Cavan Scott.

In this week's newsletter, we have:

Let's dive in!


The last month was dominated by one project: a 30,000 words middle-grade novel which I wrote, edited and submitted in June.

It's fair to say that when I'm writing prose, I struggle to do anything else. It totally consumes me until I hit deadline (often becoming a grumpy so-and-so along the way, as I alluded to last week.)

I did, however, also manage to:

  • make the latest raft of edits to the script for Star Wars: The High Republic - Tempest Breaker,
  • pitch a take for a TV show with George Mann,
  • have follow-up meetings for a different TV pitch that we delivered in May,
  • have various meetings about an IP deal Strange Matter Media is making,
  • edited the all-important first issue of my next creator-owned comic book (to be announced at San Diego Comic Con),
  • continued to work on the planning of the grand Star Wars: The High Republic finale,
  • and took part in the Penguin Random House WriteNow 2024 event.

So, actually, quite a bit then! I sometimes forget how many plates are being spun until I tackle these round-ups! Half of this job is time management and the other is trying to get enough sleep!

But now the kid's novel is in and I wait for notes. In the meantime, I'm switching back to a comic-heavy month in July (plus, of course, SDCC!).

As long-time subscribers know, I'm keeping a tally of my work this year, so let's (finally) add some prose to 2024!

- TV series proposals: 3
- Comic series proposals: 2.5 (including a former proposal given a new lease of life!)
- Comic pages written: 325
- Total prose wordcount: 32,341


During the recent Penguin Random House WriteNow event, Liam asked:

Cavan, is it worth pitching a book as being potentially for an IP? My next WIP is heavily based on a D&D Ranger Subclass.

Similarly, I also received questions from Hunter, who contacted me via my website to ask:

Hi, I was wondering if you could tell me the procedures on pitching to DC Comics? After seeing their follow-ups to film adaptations like Richard Donner's Superman and Tim Burton's Batman, I'm thinking maybe something similar could be done for Zack Snyder's Justice League.

And Greg, who said:

I have a sure-fire idea for a new Star Wars: The Old Republic novel which would be a brilliant way to reintroduce the era to canon. Who should I send it to? Del Rey books? Disney? Lucasfilm?

It’s a question I get asked a lot: ‘How do I get to write for Star Wars / Doctor Who / Star Trek / Marvel / DC / Ghostbusters / Transformers?” The list goes on and on, and I get it. It’s natural when you’re a fan of something to want to write or create for it. I was the same. When I was a kid, all I could think about was writing new adventures for the Doctor or Luke Skywalker. I spent hours making up Autobots or Decepticons to fight alongside Prime and Megatron, or creating new superheroes who could join the ranks of the Fantastic Four or Justice League. I just wanted to contribute to the universes I love. And now I do, which is both incredible and humbling.

Which is why it’s also an incredibly difficult question to answer. Why? Because the answer isn’t always what people want to hear.

The best way to get to write for Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Marvel, DC, Ghostbusters, Transformers and other franchises like them is… to write something else.

Most franchises these days are invite-only, especially when it comes to fiction. You don't pitch to them; they approach you. Commissioners are largely looking for writers with established careers outside of the IP (intellectual property) they're working on.

There are a number of reasons for this. First and foremost, having an established career shows that you have a proven record of getting work done. You've already written books, comics, or scripts. At a very basic level, this means that you can finish projects. You know how publishing works. And while it's not a given, having a publishing career usually means that you know how to work as part of a team. You also should know how to take notes (a vital part of any IP gig. Trust me, there are a LOT of notes!)

Having other material out there also means that the commissioners can see how you write. Do you have a style that fits the franchise? Or could you bring something new to the IP, something it's missing? The latter is how my friend George Mann got to write for Star Wars. He had written a book called Wychwood, a supernatural mystery that centres on a fictional British folklore that George had created. Micheal Siglain, the creative director at Lucasfilm, was looking for someone who could do something similar for Star Wars: to create new folk stories for the galaxy far, far away. He picked up Wychwood, enjoyed what George had done and Star Wars: Myths and Fables was the result.

My route into Star Wars was similar. Back in 2015, the literary agency I was signed with at the time was approached by Egmont Books, who were looking for authors who a) had experience writing for major IPs and b) could write for children. My agent threw my name into the ring, Egmont looked at my work and then asked me to write a sample for what became Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space. By that point, I had done a lot of work for franchises such as Doctor Who, Skylanders and Power Rangers, which stood me in good stead while pitching for one of the biggest IPs in the world. If I hadn't done that work, I would never have been considered for Star Wars.

And I know this is hard when you're first starting out. In fact, it can be downright demoralising. In 2024, there are no quick routes for this kind of work and it is an incredibly competitive market. Sometimes, people try to break in by sharing fan fiction they've written or approaching licence holders with ideas for specific characters. It seems a logical thing to do, but it unwittingly throws up another barrier. Most IP-owners won't even open emails that contain unsolicited ideas for their franchise because it puts them at risk. Say you send an idea for an amazing Spider-Man story to Marvel. Someone at Marvel reads it, and a few years later, a similar storyline appears in one of the Spider-Man books. Did they steal your idea? Most likely no, the similarity is a coincidence. There is also a chance that whoever read your idea was subconsciously influenced by it further down the line. It happens all the time. I'm forever coming up with what I think is a brilliantly original idea before I realise, oh, hang on... that's from a movie I watched a decade ago and promptly forgot about! But the idea has wormed its way into my brain and popped out all these years later. No malice was intended, but I've inadvertently plagiarised another piece of work.

Meanwhile, back at Marvel, the House of Ideas finds itself in the middle of a legal furore because its latest storyline is similar to the concept sent in by a fan / aspiring writer years ago. It's unlikely, but it might happen, so companies usually set a blanket rule that no unsolicited ideas/sample will be read.

I have to say the same when people come up to me at conventions and try to give me their fan fiction to show what they can do. And I hate it! Absolutely hate it. I got the bug for writing by producing fan fiction and now I have to say no when people want to share theirs? Grrr!

So that's it? I'm saying you should just give up the dream of writing for your favourite universe? NO! Absolutely not! I would never say that! This is not an attempt to gatekeep or discourage, but to be as transparent as I can about the process. Absolutely, 100% make writing for your favourite franchise your goal if that's what you want, but be prepared to play the long game!


You want to write for Star Wars? Great! But to get there, focus on what you can write now! Enjoy what you can write now! Enjoy the journey just as much as you think you'll love the destination. Explore, experiment, create! The same goes if you want to write for Marvel or DC: start making comics. You don't have to wait for anyone's permission. Make up your own characters. Create your own universes. Start new stories and, most importantly, prove you can finish them!

I'll be covering other ways of breaking into the industry in future newsletters, so make sure you've subscribed. And if you have any questions about the above, or any other part of IP work, then leave them in the comments or use my AMA form.


I can't believe we're at the penultimate issue of the current run of Star Wars: The High Republic. Issue nine is out today and you can check out a preview from the Broaxium boys here!


That wraps up this week’s newsletter. Come back at the weekend for another Perfect Sunday, but in the meantime, as always, look after yourself and each other.

PS: Did you see the cover for Zombiotes #2, my upcoming mini-series in Marvel's Venom War event? I love it!