Pub Rants

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

Category: Hollywood – Film/TV

Gone Hollywood

I used to dream about about this town (Supertramp anyone?), but now I just wish I could have a month free from tackling a film or TV contract. And yes, I realize I’m whining about a good problem to have.

This summer I did seven book-to-film deals. (I’d like to clarify here that NLA does not represent screenplays or screenwriters. We only sell the film/TV rights to projects for which we have also sold the print/digital rights to a publishing house. I definitely do not want a stream of screenplay queries after this article goes live.)

Film/TV contracts tend to be 40 to 50 pages long and often require many rounds of negotiation before the contract is final and ready to sign. Studios hate to give in on requests because the biggest issue in Hollywood is that every contract sets precedent for the next—and neither side wants to get stuck with a deal term that will later come back to haunt.

So film/TV deals are quite sexy (for the author), but the time investment for the literary agent is significant. Most literary agents work with a film co-agent to shop and place film/TV rights, but I’ve negotiated and closed deals sans co-agent in conjunction with my entertainment attorney.

All this to say that even if a film co-agent is on board, it is actually the literary agent’s job to negotiate the heck out of the author’s reserved-rights clause in a Hollywood contract. Who better understands the publishing agreement than the original agent who brokered the publishing deal? I speak from experience: there are lots of changes that can be made in a Hollywood contract, and if your agent is not getting significant changes, author beware. You might want to engage an experienced entertainment attorney to act on your behalf during the contract negotiation.

The Anatomy of a Reserved-Rights Clause in a Film/TV Contract

Now let’s chat about the anatomy of a reserved-rights clause in a Hollywood contract. (There’s no way to tackle every aspect of a Hollywood deal in one article, so I see a series in my future!) The first thing that should be included in this clause (which, by the way, spells out which rights the author gets to keep, i.e., which rights are not being granted to the studio upon signing of the contract) is, rather hilariously, a hot-button topic during negotiations. I’m talking about novelization rights.

Think about it. The novel already exists because this is a book-to-film or book-to-TV deal! Yet the studios always try to get the right of novelization to the movie. As we all know, whether we like it or not, a film can vary greatly from the original novel on which it was based.

So just how can a studio novelize a film when the novel already exists, and they, in fact, based their production on that novel?

The answer is simple. They can’t. Novelization must be a right reserved to the author. Some studios literally won’t allow that, so we have to do an odd workaround—we have to “freeze” novelization rights so neither the author nor the studio can pursue. (Side note: this does not impact the original novel the author wrote, as that is already in existence.)

Yep. If you are thinking that is pretty ludicrous, I’m in total agreement with you. But that’s Hollywood.

Next month, I’ll chat about reserving all publishing rights in this important clause and the one publishing right we’ll actually allow as it’s good for the author and the studio.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Eva Luedin


A Digital Love Story of Survivability

The following would have been impossible even seven years ago:

This week I sold the film/tv rights for a memoir that a major publisher took out-of-print in 2013. But because of the indie-publishing revolution, the author had made her memoir available in the digital realm. Because of that, it was discoverable by a major Oscar-winning director and producer who not only took an interest, but also optioned the rights for television.

Sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? Back in 2005, I met Kim Reid at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. Kim had made a pitch appointment, but she pitched me a novel that didn’t sound right for my list. However, in the course of our conversation, I learned about her extraordinary childhood as the daughter of one of the lead detectives who helped solve the Atlanta child murders, committed by Wayne Williams in the seventies and eighties.

I immediately told her, “You need to write that. I could definitely sell it!” So she did, and I signed her as a client. It took sixteen months of dogged determination, and Kim surviving a slew of rejections, but I finally sold No Place Safe in June 2006.

Kensington Publishing did a lovely job with it. Good packaging. Wonderful editing. And then the book was published, and bookstores shelved it, oddly, in African American Studies rather than in biography, where it truly belonged. I can honestly say that the shelving diminished the book’s discoverability, as well as its ability to sell.

Heartbreaking. By 2013, the work was out-of-print, and the rights reverted to Kim.

Luckily, the digital revolution happened. So Kim, in partnership with NLA Digital LLC, indie published the memoir to give it a second chance at life. Director/producer John Ridley found it. Bought a copy. Read and loved it so much that he convinced ABC Studios to buy it for him.

Suddenly, a memoir that would have dropped completely from sight was saved by publishing’s digital transformation. This title now has a ton of exciting new possibilities unfolding.

This is why I love agenting in the digital age. Authors have so many more options available now. And this particular terrific story happened to a very worthy book!

Photo Credit: Alyssa L. Miller


Why Authors Should Pay Attention to Gravity

Last week, Deadline posted the news that Warner Bros. was claiming victory after the dismissal of a $10 million lawsuit regarding the blockbuster movie Gravity starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

Quick Summary: Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen brought the suit making a claim that the movie was based on her book that New Line Productions had optioned in 1999. Warner Bros. acquired New Line studios and what is in question is whether Warner Bros, after the acquisition, is required to honor the New Line option agreement.  She explains in good detail on her blog.

So Warner Bros. might be crowing victory but what this boils down to is that the case was initially dismissed based on a legal technicality. Corrections need to be made to the case and then refiled. Nothing really has been decided.

So why should you care? You might be a writer at the beginning of your career. Maybe you don’t have a project under a film or tv option as of yet. Maybe writing as a career is simply a dream at the moment.

But someday you may very well be an established career author and what is decided in this court case will have far-reaching repercussions for all authors where Hollywood is concerned. You can bet that book-to-film co-agents are watching this very closely as are literary agents. This will change how projects are optioned in the future.

And just maybe the project being optioned is your book.


Hollywood and Regular Business Hours – A Rare Occurrence

I just closed a major film deal and I’m taking a moment to savor the fact that I closed the deal while at the office and during regular business hours.

This almost never happens.

I have closed film deals
* while in the back seat of a New York Taxi
* at a 9 p.m. at a restaurant, with me standing next to the bathrooms
* while standing on a street corner in NYC
* while standing in the front entry of a shopping center with one finger stuck in my ear so I could hear
* while in my pajamas, in bed for the night, on my mobile phone

Oh Hollywood. Today’s event might never happen again. I’d better enjoy it!


Slightly Less Opaque Grey For Me

STATUS: Popped in on a Saturday to finish up a few things. This afternoon Chutney and I are heading into the mountains for a nice long hike.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE MORE I SEE YOU by Michael Buble

Kudos to blog reader and commenter Elizabeth who manned up and explained the appeal of 50 Shades of Grey. Just in case you didn’t catch her comment in that section, I’m including Elizabeth’s post in its entirety.

I’ll man up. I read the hell out of it. All three installments in two and a half days. 800,000 words. BOOM. Just like that. I think I gave it four stars on Goodreads or something.



And here’s why: 

I couldn’t put it down.



True, it’s technically a mess. It’s randomly punctuated. The dialogue is all over the place. The characters are bipolar. The sex is vanilla. Typos abound (at one point Christian stared at Ana like “a bacon in the night” which made a weird sort of sense, actually). Ana has this really weird habit of doing figure skating jumps off gymnastics apparatuses. And it started out as fanfic, which I get the impression I’m supposed to be all up in arms about. But holy cow. Do you know the last time I read that many words in such a short period of time? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.



Here’s what I think people don’t understand: Good hardly ever factors into popular or entertaining. People aren’t going to youtube, for example, to watch someone do something meaningful or profound. They’re going to watch some guy stick a lit firecracker up his bum. I would rather see Sharktopus than The English Patient. That’s just how I roll.



So there’s something to be said for things that are a little bit campy. I’m a little bit campy. So are my friends. When I got to the point in the book where I realized it was going to be one THOSE stories (I didn’t see a lot of Twilight in 50 Shades, but it totally read like “crack-fic” fan-fiction), the first thing I did was go on Facebook and tell two of my friends, “Hey, you have to read this.” Because it was absolutely the kind of book they would love. And they did love it. 



Nine copies sold between the three of us. We all felt like we got our money’s worth. Not because it was good, remember, but because it spoke that little spot in our hearts that loves those kinds of stories. The fact that it was kind of poorly written just made it that much better.



And I can’t explain why that is. I don’t know why this book, with its myriad of flaws, the least of which being its word count, held me captive in a way that other, arguably “better” books didn’t.

I loved that she was willing to simply be honest and put her reaction to the book out there. For me, I’m thinking this book is kind of like trends that happen in other mediums. There’s no easy or clear explanation. It just happens and something becomes wildly popular. For example, the phenom of Ugg Boots (which are not particularly attractive) or croc shoes for that matter. The youtube phenom for Randall’s narration of National Geographic footage: The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger.

There’s a spark. It taps into some zeitgeist. There’s no explaining it and quite frankly, I don’t think we have to. It is what it is.

For me, I’m not sure I would recognize it under all the flaws. I couldn’t get past the writing and a lot of groan worthy dialogue. But in the end, who cares what I think. The public has spoken and in the end, that’s the opinion that matters.


I’d Say 100% Solid Grey For Me

STATUS: Just finished our first Pub Rants Video Webinar. I had a blast. We definitely need to tweak some things for next one though. If you were there, thank you for being our first guinea pigs!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SHOW ME THE MEANING OF BEING LONELY by Backstreet Boys

While on the train to Venice (and boy do I like saying a statement like that–makes me sound so cosmopolitan) Simone Elkeles’s friend Nanci had a copy of 50 Shades of Grey.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about this title. But just in case you have been, here is a link to get you up to speed. It’s been in all the publishing news as of late. It’s an erotica novel that started life as Twilight fan fiction and then went viral a couple of weeks ago. So there was a big publishing deal and then the movie rights sold just this week.

If something is getting that much attention, it’s probably worth an hour of my time to give it a look so I asked Nanci if I could borrow her copy. I read several chapters and I have to admit, I’m not getting it. To be honest, if it had come in via our slush pile, I would have passed on it without requesting a full. I didn’t connect with the characters or find myself enmeshed in the writing. Now granted, this genre is not my bailiwick so that’s going to be a factor.

Still, it’s obviously tapping into some cultural zeitgeist and on that point, I’m curious. It obviously works for a lot of other people so I’d like to know why.

So blog readers, if you read and liked it, share with me because I’m genuinely curious to know.


The Cat Is Officially Out Of The Bag

Status: RWA. Day Final. Tomorrow I go home to Denver. Squee


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? JOHNNY B. GOODE by Chuck Berry


We’ve known for months but couldn’t say anything. I guess if Hollywood Reporter is going blast it out there (with nary a heads up I might add), I’m going to shine a spotlight on it.


Congrats Ally on having Drew Barrymore attached to direct HEIST SOCIETY and even more fabulous?


Having the sequel, UNCOMMON CRIMINALS, debut at #3 on the New York Times Children’s Bestseller list this week!!!




Almost Famous?

STATUS: TGIF! I have to say that today’s news is a totally new experience for me.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? FAITHFULLY by Journey

OMG! I’m speechless.

And to quote Marie, “Is that my head in Times Square?????”

Uh…yep.


Ah Hollywood

STATUS: Because it’s like zero degrees in Denver, we are listening to Escape to Margaritaville on XM radio. Does anyone have some sunscreen?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now: VOLCANO by Jimmy Buffett

I guess yesterday’s post rubbed some of the glittery shine off the idea of a big Hollywood film deal. The reality of how much of a share an author can expect is often a bit eye-opening. Sorry to be the one to deliver the bad news.

In order for a Studio to have the right to base a film on a book, they have to option the rights to the book. Sometimes these options can be good money—like high five figures or six figures. Most tend to be more modest though.

In fact, sometimes the best scenario is to have the producers or Studio continually renew the option but never produce the actual movie. It’s like free money every 18 months….

As I’ve never had stars in my eyes regarding Hollywood, I always advise authors to carefully consider whether they really want to sell the dramatic rights for their books.

1. Can they live with a bad script and/or a bad movie?
2. Do they understand that they may have very little say in the screenplay or the plot elements of the movie?
3. Do they understand that sometimes a movie made does not translate into a ton of book sales?
4. Do they realize that Hollywood can often be condescending to the authors whose books they’ve bought to translate to the screen?
5. Do they understand that the film co-agent could put together the absolutely best package of producer, screenwriter, studio, and acting talent and there is still the possibility that a bad movie will be made?

If an author is okay with all of the above, then we can shop the film rights. If not, better to wait until the author is in a more powerful position and has leverage to be able to dictate better terms.

And, I also tell them that a movie could be the best 2 hour commercial your books will have and that can translate into lots of book sales.

Which is also why I’m hyper vigilante about “publishing rights clauses” in any film contract and why I will have the author walk away from any contract that might encumber or infringe on their publication rights. In fact, I’ve threatened to walk away any number of times because Hollywood tried to grab some of those rights.

After all, publication is an author’s main venue for earning money. That must be protected at all costs.


Quick & Easy Answers

Status: Doing Client reading.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS THIS LOVE by Bob Marley

1) What happens if you can’t sell a book to a publisher?
If we have exhausted all possibilities, I’ll put aside and concentrate on the author’s next work. If the next sells, that always allows us to revisit the prior novel. Sometimes the decision is made to let the past be the past and simply move forward.

2) How do you know if a writer’s idea is a good one?
Not a clue really. All I know is what I like and what really resonates with me. I’ve had the good fortune of having what I like generally match up with what editors like and are willing to buy. Just like every other agent in the world, I’m not 100% right all the time. Sometimes I love a book and can’t sell it.

3) If Hollywood has bought the film rights, does the author get a share in the profit?
The sad news is that in general, the author does not get a share in the profit. Although all film deals will have the standard “5% of 100% of net,” most Hollywood films will never show a profit because of how studios manipulate the accounting. It’s worse than the mafia. So agents often build in a lot of ways for the author to make money on the film deal that aren’t tied to “profit” so loosely defined. The option price, the purchase price, bestseller bonuses, box office bonuses etc. These are payments that are not contingent on the film making money.

However, some authors do get a share in the profit. That is not a percentage based on net but a percentage based on a cashbreak point on gross.

A very different thing. Also, it is possible to put merchandizing in a separate pool with a separate percentage. Good money to potentially be made there as well.

4) Can you publish your book yourself or do you have to have a publisher?
Of course you can publish a book yourself! That’s not the right question though. Anyone can self publish; the question is distribution and how to get folks to read what you self publish.

5) How do you decide if the cover art is good?
I have to say that cover art is not my strength as an agent. I have no background in art and not much of a creative vision. However, I do know what I like and what I don’t like. If I don’t like it and neither does the author, I fight like crazy to get it changed.

6) Do publishers show animation for cover concepts?
No. But wouldn’t that be cool?

7) What happens if more than one publisher wants the book?
Then you have an auction my friend! As an author, it’s always the best place to be. However, I do think that writers have a misconception that all auctions equal big money. That is not necessarily true. You can have modest auctions that are in low five figures.


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