Friday, May 29, 2009

Movies and Books

There’s no doubt that nearly every writer would love to, someday, see her book made into a movie. If not to see your words brought to the big screen, maybe to see some of the money that might hopefully come with the deal. But how do movies and books and the movie and book industries really relate, and what does that have to do with you shopping your book to agents or publishers?

Let me start out by saying this: It’s rare that books get made into movies. Sure it happens all the time, but let’s take a close look at how many books are published each year and how many movies made from books are produced each year. Take a look at the bestseller lists. Many of those books or even books written by those authors have never been optioned. Sure, few things excite publishers, agents and authors more than a big option on a book, but that doesn’t mean it will be made into a movie and certainly none of us ever go into a book deal thinking about the movie rights. It just doesn’t make sense. Our job isn’t to produce movies, it’s to publish books.

Therefore, when pitching a book, focus on the book, not any movie dreams you might have. For me it’s always a bit of a turnoff when an author first tells me her book would make a great movie and then tells me about the book. Would it make a great movie or is it a great book? Because I’m not looking for movies, I’m looking for books.

What about an author who has movie interest of one kind or another before getting a book deal? Will this then hurt her chances of getting a book deal? I don’t think so. Authors primarily hold the movie rights to their books anyway, so the publisher isn’t losing any money by giving those away, and if the movie is made the publisher has the opportunity to sell more books based on the success of the movie. That, however, is unlikely to play into the publisher’s decision on how much will be paid for the book. Unless of course you have George Lucas or Ron Howard already in production. That might make a difference.

Movies and books are two very, very distinct things, and even if you think your book might make a great movie, let’s take this one step at a time. Let’s sell the book first and then we’ll start talking to agents about the movie. Agents and publishers are looking for great books, so if you want to write a book, focus on the book first.



Anonymous said...

Writers are by nature dreamers. I mean, who in their right mind would spend hundreds and even thousands of hours doing something as tough as writing a book when they have no guarantee that they will ever achieve their goal (getting published)? Only a dreamer would do such a thing.

So being natural dreamers, I think for a lot of us the movie thing is at the back of our minds. But I wholeheartedly agree with your post; until you get the book deal, it should stay there--at the back of your mind.


So I should stop planning the soundtrack and the movie trailer and focus on the writing part?? But what if my mom, dad, sister, and pet lizard all told me it would make an AMAzing movie? Still no? Darn it ... ;)

Mark Terry said...

All of my current Derek Stillwater novels, as soon as the deal is announced, gets a lot of nibbles from movie producers. They're always very up, very excited, oooh, things are gonna happen... until they lose interest, which is, oh, about a day after their excitement, give or take a few days. So far, no options. If I can stay in the game long enough, will one get optioned? Probably. Will it get made into a movie? Ha. Best not to think about it. My excitement over producer interest now is short-lived for my own sanity.

I think the truth--certainly in my experience--is along the lines of Jodi Picoult's comment that:

Hollywood says, I love you, I love you, I love you... then does nothing.

Publishing says, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you... then grudgingly lets you in.

Rick Daley said...

Thanks, this is a very useful post. I love movies, and I do dream of my novel making it to the big screen someday, but getting published comes first.

Actually, the re-write comes first. Then queries again, then representation and publication (knocking furiously on wood).

If they do make my novel into a movie, I hope they do a good job, like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE, or STAND BY ME.

I think one of the worst adaptations I've ever seen was of Tom Clancy's THE SUM OF ALL FEARS. The changes they made by making Jack Ryan younger destroyed any plausibility in the plot. Hollywood can do wicked things to good books. And on that note:

WORD VERIFICATION: parigh. Like a pariah, just so disgusting you can't finish pronouncing it without gagging.

Carol Doane #pearlofcarol said...

Could someone gather the stats (guess) on how many books are pitched vs. published, how many published books are made into movies, and how many authors actually make a living writing? Every once in awhile a little math can ground those dwellers-of-fiction in reality. I'm ready for a dose. I have the day off.

Word verification rewardi -- I'm loving that kind of math! Sounds a little Italian and I love my Bolognese, too.

Dawn Maria said...

If I don't allow myself any delusions about the big screen, can I fantasize about my book being made into a Lifetime TV movie?

Angie Fox said...

You know what, though? I think some people just think that way. I can't tell you the number of readers and booksellers who have asked me who would play my characters in a movie. And I always feel silly that I don't have an answer for them. My characters look like themselves, not anybody else. Plus, like you said, I write books, not screenplays. It's a completely different process.

Amy Kinzer said...

My suggestion is write a screenplay and move to LA if you want to see your writing as a movie! :)

Kate Douglas said...

My contemporary romance, Cowboy in My Pocket, was optioned for a movie about eight years ago. The producer was SO excited, wanted to know what actors I envisioned for the various parts, yadda, yadda, yadda...the option ran out but the producer STILL occasionally contacts me, still shows interest, still has a script "in progress." I'll believe it when I see it, but in the meantime, I've gotten a lot of mileage having an "option" out there, even though I doubt it will ever come to fruition. As Jason says, writers are by natures dreamers. It's FUN to dream big!

Mike D said...

When creating my characters' life and times, they start off as skeletons since I’m more concerned with how their plots connect with their personality. Once these are established, I flesh them out, give them proper names if I haven’t already, but I actually never write down their physical features unless it’s something that stands out. Although I’ve recently noticed that while I disregard these features in writing, in my head space their appearance mirrors an actor or actress. You know, just in case Hollywood wants my book.

I guess that means I’m setting myself up for disappointment.

“I would rather have her play the lead. She’s perfect for it.”
“But she's dead.”

On a separate note: a movie that’s better than its book - Let The Right One In.

Laurel said...

I'm the odd man out, I guess. Several of my beta readers said something about making a movie from my book and I just don't see how anyone could do it. I'm not sure the story would translate to a script.

And I can't remember the last time I saw a movie adaptation of a book I loved that didn't disappoint me.

I just want to write a really good book. Any more ambition than that is too much energy!

Leona said...

what if you have a large group of people reading your book checking for content, editing, etc. and they all say it would make a great movie?

I have no intention of using that in pitch, but wondered if it would help or hurt query.

I was plesaed at their comments because it meant they could visualize my world. Maybe use it in that context? I don't know. I suck at query letters as previously posted. I can write an amazing story but when asked to describe it... I start drooling out the mouth, my tongues to big for my jaw, and gibberish would better describe what I'm able to get out in that first 3o seconds when they are really listening. You know eyes bright -they know an author- body turned to you leaning slightly forward... then bam. The drool does them in, I think.

So, to get off the rabbit trail, would that hurt a query letter if used in that context. "I'm able to describe the world I've created so well my readers can visualize it as an internal movie?"

Unknown said...

I'm a boring pessimist. I want to see my book made into a TV series.

Marilynn Byerly said...

I’ve read of a number of novels that have had movie deals before publisher deals. For example, in his book about agents, agent Michael Larsen talked about the book that became the movie, ALL OF ME, with Steve Martin and Lillie Tomlin. The movie deal and the movie happened before the book was sold.

Some book agencies work with movie agencies and are much more aggressive about movie deals from the beginning. If your dream is a movie deal, find those agencies and query them.

I certainly agree with Jessica Faust that the query should be about the book, not the movie deal, but once the agency expresses interest in the book, a possible movie deal and the agency’s connections for that should be one of the questions asked before the contract is signed.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

I suppose along with two versions of your synopsis, you should also consider generating a screenplay. And a graphic novel. Yeah, cover all the bases. :)

AM said...

I found this useful and educational. I have included some mention of movie potential in query letters, but only because so many agents push their record of selling film rights for their clients. As someone just starting out, it seemed/seems that this is something agents are looking for.

anna caro said...

I'm surprised so many people think like that. I feel the novels I've written are very specific to the medium they were written for (ie the page). Whilst the money and publicity that would come with a movie deal (not that I'm anywhere near that stage anyway) are not easily dismissed, the thought of the movie itself would fill me with dread.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting. My thoughts about this were that I "see" many of the scenes for my stories as if I'm watching a movie. In fact, it took a lot of work to write in close third person POV - I started out in omniscient.

Maybe that's why I think of it as a movie? Well, not all the time, but sometimes. ;-)

And my word verification was an actual word! (guide) I like that word.

Anonymous said...

I've found trying something out as though it were a movie helps me tighten the plot. Once that skeleton plot is in place, then I can step back and think about filling it out.

Verification: "nouqpxr." A cross between something nuclear and Pixar. A movie about something taking to the skies? An older geezer with balloons?

Anonymous said...

Do you by chance happen to have any numbers? We know the total number of books published every year is insane (happily moving toward sanity now that midlist authors are finally being dumped - serves 'em right!) but the number of new fiction titles would, methinks, be much more modest. It would be of great interest to compare the count of new fiction titles with (1) the number of books optioned, and (2) the number that actually make it to the (badly oxidized in most cases) silver screen.

I would list the numbers instead of merely expressing curiosity, but have not the smoggiest idea (as we say in L.A.) where to find them.

Anonymous said...

I say, Why not dream big? If a cabbie can make a movie for $70. (OK, it was about zombies but they're hot now!), why can't a great book be made into film?
It's called a budget...For us visual writers. it helps to see the book as a movie while we write.

Lorra said...

Six or seven years ago, when I finished my first novel and started sending out queries,I received a phone call from a producer/screenwriter who, with his director wife, owned an independent film company that had produced several very successful films.

My query letter had made its way into his hands via a convoluted pathway that led to a cocktail discussion in the Hamptons. (Never been there and don't expect I ever will go there.)

Would I consider optioning the film rights? You kiddin' me? Heck Yeah!

The screenwriter flew in, we spent a day and a half discussing the background of my novel (a true story about generations of abuse and coverup and subsequent suicides at a very exclusive private boys' school), he returned home to discuss the project with his director wife and within a week I had a multi-page option agreement in my hands.

Of course I signed the contract and gleefully accepted the check and even agreed to a clause that forbid me to shop the novel for two years.

I stayed in close contact with the screenwriter for about the first two months - even helped him edit the screenplay. Then, while I waited to become famous, I diddled around with an idea for a second novel, hoping the phone would ring. It didn't.

Six months after the first option expired and while I was in the throes of rewriting my first novel as a result of feedback from several agents (I changed from first person to third person with a viewpoint alternating between the protagonist and her son), the phone rang again.

The screenwriter had hooked up with a very influential agent in LA who was very high on getting the screenplay produced for TV. We signed a second agreement, this time eliminating the "can't try to sell it" clause in exchange for a smaller amount of money.

The option agreement expired a couple of years ago without being picked up. But, of course, the screenplay is still out there.

Bottom line: Getting your novel optioned is like being engaged to be engaged. Going the extra step of having a screenplay written is akin to getting that rock on your ring finger. But until you hear the clergyperson say, "I now pronounce you . . ." you're in the same boat with every other writer who dares to dream big.

It was fun while it lasted.

Robena Grant said...

Kate Douglas:

A little off topic but saw your Sexy Beast V1 cover dead center of the photograph in the Sunday newspaper article:
Romance Sells When Economy Down, by Megan K. Scott. (New York) It was featured in the Desert Sun (California) don't know what paper you get where you are but thought you might like to know. It was also a very good article, not one reference to bodice rippers. :)

jean frankel tries to murder me of ideas for action llc said...

What It’s Like to Chill with the Most Ruthless Men in the World
Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic:
Confessions of a Female War Crimes Investigator

Retrospectively, it was all so simple, natural and matter of fact being on a boat restaurant in Belgrade, sitting with, laughing, drinking a two hundred bottle of wine and chatting about war and peace while Ratko Mladic held my hand. Mladic, a man considered the world’s most ruthless war criminal since Adolf Hitler, still at large and currently having a five million dollar bounty on his head for genocide by the international community. Yet there I was with my two best friends at the time, a former Serbian diplomat, his wife, and Ratko Mladic just chilling. There was no security, nothing you’d ordinarily expect in such circumstances. Referring to himself merely as, Sharko; this is the story of it all came about.