So, there's a novel that I really love, based on my favorite musical album. I know that the guys of the band were happy to give a green light to the adaptation. I was dreaming of somehow adapting this album before I even knew about the book. At what point of creation can I happily contact the musicians and the writer? If I were to contact them too early on and ended up not succeeding, I would be really disappointed with myself. On the other hand, if they rejected my project when it's already done, that would really suck too.
Or should I just scrap this idea?
In most cases it will probably be better if you approach them with something already done rather than nothing. They will take you more seriously and will increase your chances of getting the project.
Just my way of seeing things though.
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Plus, I think it would be more respectful for the authors.
And if for some reasons they say no, you can do it anyway; You would just have to keep it for yourself.
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If you come in with 'this great idea', you have not shown any example of how you would present your idea nor have you shown your skill level.
Fan work or not, some people may consider it harmful to their reputation if it is poorly executed and thus either will ignore you (had this happen to me) or will say no simply because you are a risk.
On the other hand, if you finish the project in full, there's always the risk that they - for various reasons - may not want a fanwork of such sorts, whether legal reasons or otherwise. Additionally, they may like your work, but are dissatisfied with one little thing that you are really proud of. They may ask you to adjust it, which may be either too much work or insulting to you and could lead to arguments which in turn may lead to their refusal of your request just to avoid the hassle.
The sweet spot, as I believe, is once you have a presentable project underway with at least most of your planned core functions and features working. It helps immensely if you can detail your intentions and current planned features and reasons for including them.
Giving them a sample of how your idea will work is also a good idea, your writing in particular will be the main focus, so you should give them at least a reasonable variation of what they can expect. I can assure you, nobody likes a fanwork that sounds like it was written by a toddler.
Good luck and remember to keep it fun. If you start to find it a chore instead of a fun hobby, then it means you're pushing your expectations too high and should change focus a bit to keep it enjoyable.
pro·gram·mer (noun) An organism capable of converting caffeine into code.
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