Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Going Hollywood

STATUS: Busy but I’m feeling productive. Contract stuff is still dragging along. So close to finishing too. Maybe it will all resolve tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE IMPRESSION THAT I GET by Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Am I making too broad a statement by saying that every author dreams of having their book made into a movie?

After all, Hollywood butchers it more often than not. Still, I can’t think of a better 2-hour commercial for a book than a movie. There is no doubt that it sells books—even if the movie isn’t good.

But I think writers are often a little clueless on how a book-to-film deal works. (And I know this by all the queries from screenwriters that I receive.)

Let me clarify to begin. I rep books. I don’t rep screenplays. I sell the print and subsidiary rights for my clients’ projects. Film/dramatic rights are simply one of the subsidiary rights that I shop so my clients can earn more money.

I get queries all the time from authors who have published their works with small publishers and are now looking for someone to shop just the film rights. I don’t do that. I only shop film rights of client projects for which I’ve sold the primary print rights. Why? Because Hollywood is always such a long shot that the money isn’t worth it otherwise. I’m only willing to expend the time and energy for my own clients. Make sense?

To do this, I have Hollywood co-agents because they are the experts (just as lit agents are the experts in publishing). As partners, we split the 20% commission for the sale.

But I don’t work with just one co-agent. I tend to work with a variety of folks at the various book-to-film agencies in L.A. Why? Because the co-agents choose which projects they like and think they can sell. Just because I partner with them doesn’t mean they are willing to take on every project for which my agency sold the print rights. Co-agents want sell-able projects and although lots of stuff is published, not all of it works for the screen. It’s always on a project-by project basis.

That’s why literary agents partner with more than one co-agent. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of finding the right fit (almost like finding the right editor). I’ve had one Hollywood co-agent pass on a project that wasn’t his/her cup of tea only to have it picked up by a different co-agent who loved it and sold it.

Ultimately, I need a co-agent who is enthusiastic enough about the project to keep pitching it even if it doesn’t sell right away.

Sound familiar?

17 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for the post, Kristin! Do you send books to your Hollywood co-agents, or do you wait to be approached after they see your Publisher’s Lunch posting or hear buzz about a book? If it’s the former, do you shop all your books or just specific ones?


  2. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous – I was wondering that, too. When does the process begin on on the agent’s end? With a Publisher’s Lunch announcement or when the book is released?

  3. Eileen said:

    My agent sold the film rights before the book has come out. The way it happened is she approached the film co agent versus the film agent approaching her. Either way it was a champagne occasion from my perspective.

  4. katiesandwich said:

    I’m one of the few, it seems, that’s a little hesitant on selling film rights. (It’s not likely to be a problem; I doubt I’ll be asked for them, but I do think about these things.) Yes, I know that I could earn some major cash for this, but as Kristin points out, sometimes the movie is atrocious, and it doesn’t do the book any justice. I don’t want to see that happen to something I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears into for so long. The only way I would be excited about my book being made into a movie would be if I had a say in how it was made–which is pretty much impossible. So I hope no one ever asks for film rights. Because I don’t want to risk my work being hacked to pieces, but I’m not sure I can withstand the monetary temptation.

  5. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I wouldn’t worry about it, katiesandwich. If the film option looked good, I’d go for it. If the film butchers the book, well, the public is used to hearing, “The book was better.” I’d just tell all my friends and family that I had no control over what they do to the story as it transfers to film, which is usually true, unless you’re John Irving (post Simon Birch).


  6. lurker said:

    My novel would make a horrible movie. I have no illusion that anyone would even attempt such a thing. Of course, if some insane person really wanted to try, I’d take the money and run.

  7. Anonymous said:

    I think it would be kind of shooting yourself in the foot not to take the film deal because you’re worried about what it might turn out like because these co-agents and Kristen are generally selling the OPTION to make it into a film. While you have to sell the option first, lots and lots and lots and lots of projects are optioned and never see film. And some are made and never released. So take the money and have another year of writing without a day job.

  8. Rob Brooks said:

    I would have no qualms about selling film rights for my novel. I would be like Margaret Mitchell–she didn’t care what they did to Gone with the Wind. I doubt that will ever happen for me, but I can dream, can’t I?

  9. John B. said:

    Sell the movie rights, if you can, and then forget about it. You’ll make a boat-load of money for the rights, your book will stay in print a little bit longer (with a new cover with beautiful celebrities on it,) and your book’s name will become a household name for several months. As long as you remember that a movie has almost nothing to do with your story, things’ll be cool. (Instead, it’s a film editor’s interpretation of an actor’s interpretation of a director’s interpretation of a screenwriter’s interpretation of your story.) Plus, if your lucky, you’ll get to meet Clint Eastwood.

  10. Anonymous said:

    If I am ever lucky enough to sell the print rights to my book in the first place, I’d rather have it optioned as a muscial! 🙂

  11. Ryan Field said:

    I’ve always been curious about whether or not an author can manage to get some sort of creative control while negotiating film rights.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Ryan Field said…
    I’ve always been curious about whether or not an author can manage to get some sort of creative control while negotiating film rights.

    It depends on who you are and how many books you’ve sold. For example, JK Rowling got so much control (possibly the most anyone ever has) because her books were already selling incredibly well by the time the WORLD noticed them. They sold by word of mouth long before they became a household name. However, if she’d had an agent sell them before the first book came out, like Eileen commented on here that she did, she wouldn’t have had any control at all. And even if you are a well selling author, it doesn’t guarantee it. Look at the Princess Diaries. They combined the first two into the first movie and it was just okay, the books are much better. I don’t think Meg Cabot had much to say other than thanks for the check on the first one, but she probably had a bit more say on the second one if she wanted it. You can always study screenwriting and get really good at that too. At the very least, they’ll probably look at your screenplay and maybe they’ll buy that too. But it’s a whole other beast, so I would only recommend that if you are interested in screenplays as opposed to worrying what they’ll do to your book. Just my two cents.

  13. Anonymous said:

    Don’t waste your time writing the screenplay of your novel on spec unless you already have a track record. Even then, it’s often better to wait.

    You’ll have a better chance getting them to pay you to write a draft when they don’t know what you’ll do. It’s all about steps and it’s better to make them pay to see.

  14. Anonymous said:

    What is the going rate for a book to film? Selling the film rights? I just had a call about my novel and I have no idea how much money we are talking. thanks!!

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