Pub Rants

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

Category: Hollywood

Books Coming To The Big Screen

STATUS: Feeling re-energized after the long weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU CAN LEAVEYOUR HAT ON by Joe Cocker

On Thursday night, as the holiday weekend was beginning, I met up with two girlfriends for dinner. Once ensconced at our table, one friend said she was dying to see the movie My Sister’s Keeper and were we game?

As much as I love movies, it’s rare for me to get my act together enough to actually see a film while it’s in theaters. I tend to rely on Netflix or the DVR if something is on cable. So when given an opportunity to see a book-to-film movie, I’m going to say yes (despite knowing this one was going to be a Kleenex fest).

Sheesh. What a way to kick off the holiday weekend.

(Disclaimer: I cry at movies. Doesn’t matter the movie. If it has a hint of sadness, I’ll cry. My husband has never let me live it down that I cried at the end of Terminator III. Hey, in my defense, Claire Danes as Kate just lost her pet and her entire family—I thought that was pretty sad.)

So My Sister’s Keeper was designed to be a real tear-jerker and I’m happy to say that I used plenty of Kleenex. As I had read the book several years ago, I was most interested to see how the film would handle the ending—as there was a lot of discussion around the ending of that book. (No spoiler here so I won’t comment further.)

But here’s what I found most interesting and hence the point of this entry, all the previews shown before the movie were all book-to-film projects. I wish I could remember all the trailers I saw but only Julie/and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously comes to mind (which looked pretty hilarious).

So very interesting. I don’t remember such a high percentage in previous years but that may be because I don’t get to the theaters often enough.

Maui Reunion

STATUS: It’s raining like crazy in NYC right now.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CRUEL TO BE KIND by Letters To Cleo

It might be completely odd to be writing about Hollywood while I’m out here in New York but tonight we did a little Maui Writers Conference reunion at D’Or. Hollywood producer Michael Palmieri was in town and so gathered a bunch of us who connected while out in Hawaii.

It was a small group that also included Jeff Kleinman, Folio; Marcia Markland, Thomas Dunne Books; Robert Guinsler, Sterling Lord Literistic; and Neil Nyren, Putnam.

What did we talk about?

1. Depressing news from Hollywood that Studios were closing their Indie branches and laying people off. Yuck. Studios are only focused on family films (four quadrant target and yada, yada). Sigh. Also, studios are choosing to make known series (think Desperate Housewives) in local markets with local actors rather than footing the cost to export. This makes a huge difference in earned residuals here in the states.

2. Penguin group is celebrating a record number of bestsellers (38!) and thrilled about the success of HBO’s TRUE BLOOD and Charlaine Harris’s books all landing on the bestseller lists. It helps all the departments when there is big stuff like that going on.

3. Accounts are cutting back their orders across the board. Something like 10% down over last year. Borders significantly (even though they’ve promised to reorder in the near future but who knows if that will happen). Orders are down even for the big name sellers. (Yes, such depressing news makes it that much harder to sell a debut.)

4. Newspaper reviews are disappearing faster than you can say boo and that’s really going to hurt those wonderful literary projects that need the review-attention to really gain momentum. Yes, there are online blogs and review sites but ultimately, they haven’t proven to carry the same weight.

5. Sales of perennial nonfiction projects (history, narrative nonfiction with known journalists) are still selling well. (And as an aside, a lot of editors this week have mentioned that they are still looking for that good memoir—in the adult and children’s world—which was surprising.)

6. Flip flops are not good footwear in New York City (don’t ask, we got sidetracked!)

Not Always At Once But Sometimes At Last

STATUS: I’ve got contracts on my mind.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ME AND MRS. JONES by Billy Paul

As y’all know, I’ve been working on contracts and quite a few foreign rights sales as of late. I’m particular fond of some of the recent deals because they were several years in the making.

See, we submitted the project back when we did the US sale but alas, didn’t have any takers. The US sale had been a strong one so we were quite flummoxed. We received quite a few rejections that the project felt “too American” for the foreign audience.

In a sense, I get that.

But now the deals are happening, so what has changed? Several things actually. The global market climate for that genre. The strength of the US sales can be a tipping point factor. General excitement created by readers with the US copy (or of an English-language copy that was imported into a particular country). There can be a number of reasons.

The door is never closed. It’s a good reminder that even if a foreign sale doesn’t happen at once, it can certainly happen at last (and the money, and the love, can be better the second time around). This happens in Hollywood as well.

Just last year I sold a project to Hollywood that I had been shopping for three years. I hadn’t given up hope but things did look a bit unpromising. Then a surprise summer hit made this type of project suddenly hot again and voila, interest, and then a sale.

Grumpy About WGA Strike

STATUS: Mail arrived! Hooray. Huge stack too. And there were royalty statements and checks. I told you so.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FIND THE RIVER by R.E.M.

Most normal people might be grumpy because of the dearth of interesting programming on the telly right now. I’m annoyed because it’s keeping one of my projects in film limbo because the script needs reworking. Since the screenwriters are on strike, no revisions allowed.

I got a call today from my film co-agent just to update me that there is no update. Good to know and I’m glad she called, just to stay in touch. (It tells me she’s still employed; there are lots of rumors about mass firings that may be imminent in Hollywood).

But I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking, “who do I need to bribe to get the parties back to the negotiating table?”

Starbucks anyone? I’m buying.

Hollywood or Bust?

STATUS: Busy. On the phone all day. Almost literally.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL by The Rolling Stones

Or Bust for sure right now. Can you say reruns? It’s not just your TV screens going dark. The current strike in Hollywood will be impacting the book industry. Right now, it’s not clear as to how much—yet.

Book-to-film options are still happening but there may be a slowdown. Too soon to tell. If an option has already been bought and the screenplay delivered, then that project is probably sitting pretty.

If the screenplay needs revisions, then the strike hurts because screenwriters are on strike. I just hope both sides go back to the negotiating table soon. Right now that’s not looking likely.

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?

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