Posted On June 13, 2012 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – Hollywood Baby!!

Hooray for Hollywood! Sara is back and this month she is talking about a topic that all of us secretly dream about – seeing your book made into a movie.  I will admit that I envisioned Joe Mangianello (Alcide from True Blood) as the hero in my book which releases on Firday and I would love to see him bring Jackson to life on the big or small screen. But, making that happen is a complicated process and  film rights are a serious topic.  As Sara points out – there  are many things that stand in the gap between you and your chance to walk the red carpet.

Hollywood baby!

Me, “One of my clients has an awesome new book coming out!”
Unnamed Person #1, “Oh get this…this is brilliant – you should totally make it into a movie!!!!”

You laugh, but this is the absolute number one thing people say to me when I explain what I do as an agent. I know about the process of making books into movies, but do you? Is it important to your author career? How does it work?

Hollywood baby…

#1 – Production companies hire scouts to troll through publishers marketplace, Book Country, Amazon bestseller lists, bookstores, etc. looking for books that might make a great movie. This is a totally legitimate business practice. Frankly, I wish publishing had the huge financial resources that Hollywood does – it would help us go through material more quickly too (more on that in some other post).

#2 – These scouts will contact an author or an agent saying, “I represent XYZ production company and we’re interested in optioning this book for film.” At this point some authors start hopping up and down and pricing mansions in Maui. My suggestion is to stop and take a deep breath. This is what the scout means…”I am interested in reading your book and if I like it I will take it to the team who will decide whether or not to consider optioning it for film.”

#3 – “Optioning a book for film” means that one production company pays money upfront to hold the film rights for a book while they decide if they can start the process of making it into a film. Complicated? Yes. And it’s very important to understand that optioning a book for film is only the first of many, many, many steps before people are actually going to the movie theaters to see your story on the big screen. On one hand, option money is nice – it can be $1,000 or it can be $100,000 depending on the book, the platform of the book, timing, the production company, the price of tea in China. On the other hand, an option contract is tricky to negotiate and might threaten other rights (print, ebook and enhanced ebook for example). An option contract is a serious contract and, despite the money, shouldn’t be entered into lightly.

#4 – Never sign anything. Anything. Anything. NEVER! Don’t sign anything without an agent and an entertainment lawyer. If you are an un-agented author and a scout finds you – congratulations. This is exciting! However, never sign anything without professional advice! Say thank you, save the information to your desktop, don’t verbally accept, don’t sign it and contact an entertainment lawyer right away. Negotiating the language, the option term, the reversion of option, the material covered in the option and what happens to your other books is tricky. Several times a month we get un-agented authors contacting us saying, “my book has been optioned to film and I need help selling the print rights” We always pass on this situation because in 99.9999% of the time, the author has signed something detrimental to their print career. Did they know this in advance? No they didn’t. But now you know it, so don’t make the same mistake.

#5 – As an agent I pursue film deals for all my clients. My process is different than the process outlined above in #1. Personally, I make a list of film co-agents and then pitch to them (much like an author pitches to me). If we sign a co-agent, the co-agent makes a submission list of production companies and submits our book to producers. In my opinion, the benefit to this process is that the film co-agents know producers like I know editors –they are choosing people who are actively acquiring and interested. Even with me and with a co-agent, we still use an entertainment lawyer to negotiate the option contract once it’s on the table. Want to see a list of my film deals and film co-agents? I post that info here (at the bottom, under “most recent rights sales” and “sub-agents”):

#6 – If a book does get optioned to film (meaning the author, agent, film co-agent, entertainment lawyer and production company successfully agree upon an option contract and sign it), then the book goes into a holding pattern. The production company will evaluate it, consider how to produce it, create a “package” and present that package to directors. The option contract is step one in a long process. It’s definitely the first hurdle, but at this point I tell my authors that an actual movie is still a long shot.

#7 – One thing I explain to authors before we sign a film contract is that they don’t have to accept it. Sure, the money is nice, but once we sign that contract, the production company holds creative license for the film product. They now have the right to change characters, change the plot, change the ending, the title, the story, the conflict, the world – anything and everything. If you are not comfortable with relinquishing control of your art, then don’t sign a film contract. Is there any way out of this? Not unless you are Stephanie Meyer, so beware in advance.
#8 – Is all this worth it? Well, if your book does get made into a movie, then you will sell more books. So  yes – it’s worth it.

Needless to say, when people say “you should make it into a movie” I nod and smile.  This process is too complex to explain casually over pie and coffee. Now you’re better educated on what a film option means to your author career. For what it’s worth, I do hope all your books are made into movies!



Wow – so much information and my head is swimming. Sara is here to answer your questions – ready, set, go!

On Friday, the fabulous Theresa Stevens is back!



Bio: Sara Megibow, Associate Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC

Sara has worked at the Nelson Literary Agency since 2006. As the Associate Literary Agent, Sara is actively acquiring new clients! The Nelson Literary Agency specializes in representing all genres of romance (except inspirational or category), young adult fiction of all subgenres, science fiction/ fantasy and commercial fiction (including women’s fiction and chick lit). Sara is an avid romance reader and a rabid fan girl of super sexy and intelligent stories.

Nelson Literary Agency is a member of AAR, RWA, SFWA and SCBWI. Please visit our website http:// submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site ( is a great place to find more about her personal tastes, clients and recent sales. You can also cyber stalk Sara on twitter @SaraMegibowHow an agent chooses what books to read.


Similar Posts:

Share Button



39 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – Hollywood Baby!!”

  1. Sara – fascinating topic! How often are books optioned as movies?

    When you read a book do you know whether it will be a good choice for film rights?


    Posted by Robin Covington | June 13, 2012, 5:34 am
    • Hi Robin –

      optioning for film is verrry rare. Still, I say go for it because a film can be so valuable! When I read CATCHING JORDAN (by Miranda Kenneally) for example, I thought it would make a good movie but didn’t know if contemp YA would sell to Hollywood. Lo and behold, I was right and we did option that one. Very exciting!

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 9:13 am
  2. Fascinating stuff indeed, although I don’t see too many straight romance novels made into movies–unless your last name is Austen or Bronte. And yet romance is the biggest-selling print genre. Or is that because a production company picks up a romance and then proceeds to change absolutely everything until it’s unrecognizable?

    What percentage of romance novels vs. other genres get optioned for film?

    Posted by Ashlyn Macnamara | June 13, 2012, 6:08 am
  3. Good morning, Sara. I’ve often heard movie deals can be like walking through a snake pit! LOL.

    I’m curious how long the movie companies option the film for before the author can get the rights back. Is that negotiable?


    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 13, 2012, 6:12 am
    • Excellent question –

      its negotiable, although only if you have an excellent entertainment lawyer and are 100% prepared to walk away from a deal. 12-24 months is pretty standard for the reversion of option although I’ve seen 36 months and even 5 years.

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 9:15 am
  4. Morning Sara!

    I’m sure all of us who write dream of having our books optioned….and pick the celebrities we’d like to have star in our movie! But I’ve read horror stories of authors who are optioned, but then HATE what they’ve done with the movie. Is there anything to stop that? Any type of creative rights retained? Or is that all part of the movie contract?

    Thanks for posting with us today!

    (who of course is SURE Hugh Jackman would have a starring role in her books!)

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 13, 2012, 6:25 am
    • Ooooo, Hugh Jackman is hot! yum

      Nope – no say in it whatsoever. So, if an author is uncomfortable with signing over creative license, that author should absolutely never sign a film contract. Possibly Stephanie Meyer has creative control, but for the most part it’s take-the-money-close-our-eyes-and-hope. That’s why some agents don’t recommend signing a film option. I usually say go for it, but only if we go in expecting to have no say.

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 9:16 am
  5. Good morning, Sara!

    Does a film option work like a book advance? Will an author see only the option or are there royalties involved? Hope that makes sense. 🙂

    Thanks for another great lecture!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 13, 2012, 6:32 am
    • Great question!

      The option money is paid like an advance and is simply a chunk of money given by the film people to the author for the right to sit on the rights.

      IF the book is actually made into a movie, then there is an additional advance and royalties.

      It’s rare to option a book and insanely, incredibly, ridiculously rare to actually see it made into a movie. Which is why I laugh when people say “oooo, I KNOW! You should…”


      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 9:33 am
  6. Hi Sara! If an unpublished author’s work is optioned for film, does this make it easier for you, as the agent, to sell her work to a publisher?

    Posted by Roxanne | June 13, 2012, 6:34 am
    • No, it usually makes it much much much harder. Not always of course, but the trick is that the unpublished author usually has signed an option contract which limits our print rights. So, it’s not-sell-able.

      Not always, but usually this is bad for print rights.

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 9:34 am
  7. Hi Sara,

    Movies work both ways. I’ve seen the movie and read the book Gone with the Wind. Big differences, namely Scarlett has two more kids. Although I would rewrite, correction they would rewrite, everything to see my book become a movie.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 13, 2012, 6:57 am
    • Yup – big differences. I like movies because even a bad movie is a 2 hour advertisement for the book. Usually it means increased book sales which is awesome. However, it can be super painful from an artistic perspective and that pain is up to the author.


      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 10:07 am
  8. First of all, Robin, I’m with you on Joe Manganiello as a hero. Yowza! *fans self*

    Sara – Movie contracts do seem like the stuff of dreams, but I know several authors whose books were optioned and nothing ever happened. I get the impression that happens a lot.

    On the other hand, a mystery author I like recently landed a fabulous deal – his name is Craig Johnson. The new series Longmire is based on his books. Pretty exciting!

    Authors can’t just up and hire an agent, but I believe anyone can hire an entertainment lawyer. A friend did that recently before signing a book deal. I think she was smart to do that – it’s an option more unagented authors should consider. (By that I mean authors who have been unable to find representation.)

    Thanks for this excellent information and advice!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 13, 2012, 7:54 am
    • Absolutely! I adore our entertainment lawyer – he helps soooooo much! Authors absolutely can hire one of these wonderful people on their own – good idea.

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 10:29 am
  9. Good explanation of the process, Sara. Adrienne–Hollywood IS a snake pit. Agents are snake handlers, so that’s a good fit for writers. My own Hollywood options on screenplays were for $1,200, $1,000, $1 and $0, but in each case, the option was the first step toward any hope of a sale. I did end up with some good stories and research that provided fodder for Fast Lane.

    Posted by Dave Thome | June 13, 2012, 9:53 am
    • Dave – You had screenplays optioned? How cool!!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 13, 2012, 9:55 am
    • How exciting! Congratulations!!!

      As an agent, I definitely err on the side of liberal with Hollywood. I say go for it. However, it’s easy for me to say that as I simply shop, cheer and cash the check. It’s the author who has to watch her or his book being changed/ edited/ critiqued/ etc. I don’t take that lightly, which is why I say go in eyes wide open and it’s always the author’s choice.

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 10:31 am
  10. Hi Sara, Quite an enlightening post! I was wondering if there are any differences in option deals between a stand alone novel and a series.

    Posted by Patchi | June 13, 2012, 9:57 am
    • Not usually although if an author signs an option for more than one book, those rights might be tied up for longer (which could be bad) The money is likely the same – anywhere from a stick of gum to $1,000,000


      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 10:32 am
  11. Sara –

    Great info on a complicated topic. You made it so easy to understand. You mentioned books may be options for $1000 – $100,000 (as an example). Would you say there’s any ballpark average? I know most folks think when your work is optioned, you’re rolling in the moolah, but I don’t really get that impression.


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | June 13, 2012, 2:25 pm
    • Nope – I don’t get that impression either.

      no real ballpark – it’s truly a shot in the dark and could come in anywhere in terms of money. alas

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 4:51 pm
  12. What an enlightening post! Are the fees for the entertainment attorney and the agent paid from the money the author receives for the option?

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 13, 2012, 3:08 pm
    • Yes!

      Great question. Entertainment lawyers cost money and of course, the agent gets their cut also. At Nelson Agency, we charge 20% for film deals (as opposed to the standard 15% we charge for print deals). That’s because we’re also paying the film co-agent. So, really, we’re getting 10%, the film agent is getting 10% and there is an additional fee for the entertainment lawyer on top of that.

      Posted by Anonymous | June 13, 2012, 4:52 pm
  13. I’ve recently had a self-published YA novel optioned for TV, so I thought I’d wade in with my experiences — this is not intended as a boast, so please don’t take it that way. I just thought I might have some insight to share.

    First off, I don’t have an agent, and I live in New Zealand, so this was way beyond my comfort zone. (Clueless!) Luckily I got some great advice and a referral to an excellent entertainment lawyer. It took around 3 months of toing and froing to negotiate the short-form agreement: I had no knowledge of what was “usual” for option payouts and percentages, but I absolutely did not want to give up my eBook or print rights. So far as I was concerned, anything else was gravy. In the end, my lawyer retained both eBook and print rights, plus movie rights. She also increased the payouts as the project progressed, negotiated fees and percentages per episode, screen credits etc. And she works on a percentage of my earnings, which is wonderful because with all the hours she put in, there would have been a huge bill, I’m sure! In fact, I’m embarrassed by how little she billed me, but she assures me it’s an investment in my future earnings *g* (I guess I’m used to NZ lawyers who charge hourly.)

    I’m also very fortunate that the production company has kept me informed every step of the way, and I’ve had the opportunity to work on proposed episode synopses with them. They’ve emailed me to ask questions about the characters, and we have a really good working relationship. They have now hired an amazing guy who’s written for some very well-known scifi series to consult on the project before they pitch it to broadcasters.

    Everything’s looking hopeful, and the owners of the company are very enthusiastic about the project. It’s cool to think they’ve read my story and loved it enough to want to go to all this trouble! So now, as with anything in the publishing world, it’s a waiting game. If they obtain funding for the project, we move on to the next stage, and proceed with a long-form agreement–which should hopefully be pretty standard, because my lawyer has already tied down all the nitty gritty granted rights so both parties already know exactly where we stand.

    If it all falls over, then it’s been a wild ride and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world 🙂

    Posted by Maree Anderson | June 13, 2012, 4:59 pm
  14. Sara, I have to confess, seeing a story of mine on the big screen is a dream I’ve harbored since I was 14 and knew I wanted to write stories. Thank you so much for enlightening me! I don’t know if it’ll ever happen but I’ll be that much wiser if it does!

    I know it’s not easy. My first agent had a story optioned but it never got the green light. He did get a nice advance out of it, though.

    Posted by Carla | June 13, 2012, 7:41 pm
  15. Dear Sara:
    I have a book about to be published by CreateSpace an Amazon company.
    The first edition is in Spanish. The Title EL DAMISTA.(In English would literary translated as THE DRAUGHTS PLAYER)
    Is a story about a Draughts player from Chicago that goes to Paris to improves his way of playing. French masters tought him tactics and strategies together with other player for many countries who got there to reborn the game all over the world, like aposties of the game. Two schools of this game in Paris compete intensively to get the supremacy of game in the city.

    So far, there has never been any movies about this game. Just one closer was the one of Bobby Fisher about the Chess game.

    As soon as the book will be printed I would like to send you a copy, if you feel this topic is interesting for a film.
    I was thinking in a movie style writing from the beginning.
    I am open to share with you the economical potential benefits.
    Money is to share!
    I will appreciate your comments

    The International Draughts game is played in more than 50 countries and is lead by the FMJD (Federation Mondiale de Jeu de Dames) in Holland. More than 60 millions players, play this game. Countries like, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Holland, France, Costa Rica, Panama, are members of the FMJD.

    If you give me your email I can send you basic information of the game so you may have a better idea of the subject and finally you will love it.

    International Draughts is played over a board of 100 squares. It is also call 10×10 version. In Holland, France and Russia is taught at elementary school as a complementary subject for kids who learn to THINK BEFORE ACT.

    Thank you in advance for taking your time to read this.
    Elgidio Hernandez Urriola
    Author of EL DAMISTA.
    Panama, Republic of Panama

    Posted by Elgidio Hernandez Urriola | February 2, 2013, 5:47 am


  1. […] On the sale of film rights–Sara Megibow guest posts at Romance University […]

Reply to Anonymous

Upcoming Posts





Follow Us