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.
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?
#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://http://www.nelsonagency.com/ for submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site (www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow)  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.