by Elizabeth Conte
Nothing introduces the summer season than a blockbuster movie. But what does that have to do with writing? More than you think.
Don’t all writers dream of their novels on the big screen? This may not be a pipe dream. In 2015, 55.5 percent of movies were based on books. This year alone there are a slew of books adapted for film. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James, and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver are just a few that hit the screen earlier this year. Jane Freidman’s says in her article, How a Book Becomes a Movie, that there is a massive industry shift in the movie industry adapting books into movies. Andrew Liptak agrees in his article, Why Hollywood Is Turning To Books For Its Biggest Productions, and states we are in a ‘high-profile book adaptation boom.’
So is it so crazy to dream big? Well, before you start picking out your outfit to the Academy Awards, let’s look at what it means to have your book optioned.
What is a Movie Option?
An option is a contractual agreement between a potential film producer/production company and an author. The option is for a set amount of time, usually 1 year to 18 months– enough time for the producer to seek out investors and interest in making the movie. When the option expires, that producer/production company may renew the option, or choose to move on.
Is a Movie Option Lucrative?
The short answer is no. In a guest column for Writer’s Digest, Fred Rosen says, “Options start at $500 and go up. In today’s market, $5,000 is excellent.” But he warns it is difficult to average because there are varying factors. It is only when the movie option is “exercised”– that is, if the film rights are actually purchased before the option expires –that you’ll see bigger money. Holly Frederick of Curtis Brown Ltd reminds authors that even though becoming a millionaire isn’t likely to happen, “…the deal does indirectly help the sales of the book, help the book’s and the author’s profile.”
How Does an Author Get an Option?
This is one of those times where you need an agent. Does it happen without one? You will hear those stories about some famous producer who read a book and ‘just had to make it into a movie.’ But if you live in the real world, then generally you will need an agent. There are literary agents and film agents. Many writers have both. Many agencies offer both. And some agents do both.
Look at your contract! Know what your agent can and will do for you concerning options other than publication. Encourage your agent to send your work to a film agent.
And for all you Indies out there, if you do not have a publishing agent, it is acceptable and possible to query film agents directly.
What are the Chances?
Cynthia Swanson’s 2015 debut novel, The Bookseller, was recently optioned by Crystal City Entertainment. Julia Roberts is set to both star in and produce the film. Cynthia’s response when asked about an author’s chances of exercising a movie option: “Cross your fingers for sure, and then put it out of your mind. Most novelists, unless we already work with people in the film industry, have no control over how a potential movie deal plays out. My passion and talent is in writing fiction, so that’s where I put my time and attention.”
Should You Hold Onto Your Big Screen Dreams?
Catherine Ryan Hyde would be the first to tell you the Hollywood dream is not what you expect. In her article, The (Unlikely) Economics of Your Book Becoming a Movie, she says it felt like lightening struck when her novel, Pay It Forward, was adapted to the big screen. It was a chance in a million, but it had its flaws and disappointments. She’s not complaining. She advises fellow authors to, “take the money.” She explains that the Hollywood experience won’t make you rich or famous, but for an author an adaptation is “the brass ring.”
See you at the movies!
When I am not writing books, tormented with poetry, or inspiring others with my blog at Writerdeeva.com, you can find some of my work published in Lost Coast Review and PennWriters, and I am a regular editor/contributor to Industry News for Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA).