Monday, July 08, 2013

Guest Post by Lisa Grace

Joe sez: If you've missed the previous guest blogs, they've been fascinating and informative.

You can read Iain Rob Wright's 10 self-publishing tips here:

You can read about Tracy Sharp talking about just doing it here:

You can read about AJ Abbiati's Transliterator here:

You can read G.E. Nolly's fifty year journey as a writer here:

You can read Kevin Hardman talking about Amazon ranking here:

You can read Mark Terry talking about his publishing journey here:

You can read Jeff Schajer talking about his thrillers here:

Now here's Lisa Grace...

Books Optioned for Movie Deal: What You Should Know that No One Tells You

I put up my first eBook for sale on May 23, 2011 on Amazon alone. I was new to the self publishing game after having had several "send me the full manuscript" requests.

What I learned from this?

What this taught me is I had mastered the art of writing the query letter.

Unfortunately, my book(s) contain(s) several no-nos for the religious YA market (like kissing, and mild lust, strictly first base stuff), but not near enough sex for teen YA paranormals.

What I learned from this?

There's no market place it fits into easily. Take stuff out, or put stuff in.

I'm writing for twelve-year-olds on up; I'm not comfortable putting "more in" as I saw when I volunteered a Crisis Pregnancy Center, what "more" blossoms into for that age group. Birth control is equal to amnesia for a large percentage of teens. Since when have you read a paranormal where they take a pill every morning or the guy slips a condom on? Just doesn't happen in fantasies, and these kids are trying to live their fantasy. 

That's the practical side of why I won't "put it in" not to mention there's a whole moral side of me opposed to kids and S-x.

You can pick up a free eBook copy of Angel in the Shadows, Book 1 from Amazon or in all formats from Smashwords.

Anyway, my eBook did a funny thing back in July and August 2011, it hit #1 in teen horror (just in the Amazon eBook Kindle store and just in my sub genre) and stayed there for almost seven weeks, then stayed in the top ten. About this time, Daniel Radcliffe (AKA Harry Potter) was starring in a horror film of a 1981 book called The Woman in Black. I looked at my best seller list and saw my book had been bumped to #2 by this oldie but goodie.

That week I received two messages from two separate movie producers about whether I'd be interested in optioning my book for a movie. They obviously had been trolling the Amazon best seller lists, since my book would have been unknown outside that arena.

The first one I passed on. I had the feeling they wanted to tie it up and try to resell it. They were a small group and had only done short films up to this point, no full length features.

The second one, I felt really wanted to make a movie. He'd read it and thought it was the perfect vehicle for his next film, his next film. He had one already fully funded and in production, plus a track record in Hollywood with big name directors, producers, and studios. He is well respected in his industry.

What I learned from this?

You need to have a successful book in its genre, and the producers must have read and be passionate about your book.

Sometimes a smaller player optioning your book is better than a large studio. A large studio may option ten vampire books, and only make one of them. It ties up their potential competitors and gives them the advantage that if the first is a hit, they have others they can churn out in the same genre.

Signing with a smaller group, you are their next project. You're in the cue.

The Deal

I do have the first two books in my series optioned with first right of refusal on the third by Motion Picture Pro Studios. The option has been exercised and the project is currently in development.

I did sign a confidentiality agreement so I can't talk the specifics of my deal, but I can talk about what you should consider. There is a dearth of information about signing an option.

Hire an entertainment lawyer who has signed several book to movie deals. I privately PM'd a bunch of authors I'd known who had done deals, and a couple of names kept coming up as good to work with. I went with the one I felt most comfortable with, Elaine P. English, PLLC.

Some of the language in the contract meant exactly the opposite of what I assumed, so don't ASSume. Because lawyers charge by the hour read through your contract several times, then write a short explanation or summation of what you think every paragraph means.

What I learned?

Do not be afraid to appear stupid. Contracts are written in Wonderland and you are Alice. Do not small talk with your lawyer, you will be charged for it in six minute increments.

Make sure you keep the rights to your characters, for past, current, and future works.

Consider all forms of media (even those that don't exist yet) and who explicitly owns what rights.

If there is something you want, ask. The worst they can do is say, "It's a deal breaker."

Contracts do not get signed overnight. (Well, maybe some do.) Mine took months of back and forth. 

Lawyers take vacations (both sides), producers take vacations, holidays come up, and life still happens, so be prepared for a wait.

There is nothing "normal" in an option. Suzanne Collins was paid $200K for the first novel (with escalations on the back end if it was a hit). Most authors agree get as much as you can upfront because the movie may never get made. But, if it does get made, if you can negotiate to get back end, that can pay off, too. Many authors make more optioning their books year after year even if it never gets made into a movie.
It was very hard to find people willing to talk about the process, either because the options were in themselves a money maker that never evolved into a movie, or because of the confidentiality agreements signed.

What I've learned once I'd signed

My option has been "exercised" and the project is now in development. All kinds of exciting things are happening behind the scenes that I can't talk about. So:

Let go. Yes, it's your baby, but you've put it up for adoption, so kiss it goodbye. Doesn't mean you don't love it anymore, but unless they gave you any rights other than your name on the big screen, your opinion doesn't matter, unless they ask, and even then who's asking? The director, actors, costumers, set designers, sound designers are all going to add their artistic input.

If you are writing a series, get the screen writers information as to where it's going, so they can write the best script possible (foreshadowing and all that.). If you're lucky, they'll consult you.

Write new stuff. Most projects take quite awhile. Years. My only regret is I haven't written more, but that can be remedied.

Most producers and studios now consult research firms before optioning books like: or those mentioned in this NY Times article.

Just because an author has gotten a book(s) optioned, doesn't mean they can help you get yours optioned; they can't. The producer was passionate about that specific project. They have people throwing books at them all the time, and a referral unless it's from a trusted friend (and even then) will mean nothing. Besides, if I could, I'd have all my books optioned.

Lisa Grace is the author of the young adult Angel Series: Angel in the Shadows, Book 1; Angel in the Storm, Book 2; Angel in the Ice, Book 3 and The 15th Star (A Lisa Grace History Mystery) among other works. She’s also a co-host of the web TV show Indie Author Chat. The author can be reached at or followed on twitter at @lisagracebooks

Joe sez: In my limited experience, if there's a group out to screw writers more than the Big 5, it's Hollywood.

I've signed a bunch of options, with nothing to come of them but middling money. I've had producers announce they were making a film out of one of my books without me agreeing to the terms. I've had shopping agreements (which is like a pre-option, where someone shops the book around but doesn't want to pay a lot, if any, money.)

My advice comes down to this:

1. Consider the length of the term (the shorter the better) and make sure you can get out of it if nothing is moving forward. 

2. Make sure an option for a single title doesn't include a whole series, and pay close attention to what characters in the work are included.

3. Lisa's advice of "Let it go" is spot-on. I'd take it a step further and say, "Take the money and forget it."

4. Never take back end points on net, because no movie ever makes a profit on paper. Take it on gross. Hollywood accounting is notorious for a reason.

Again, my experience here is limited, but I'm very happy being in control of my career. Someone else making  a movie or TV show based on your writing is having someone else in control. 

I have several close friends with movie and TV deals, and they're involved with the projects to varying degrees. I can't see myself ever doing that. I don't want to write the screenplay. I don't want to consult. I'll take the money, and a ticket to the premiere, and that's all I want.

It's a real ego trip when someone is interested enough in your book to potentially film it. Like Lisa said, when you get an offer, get an entertainment lawyer to look at the contract and explain it to you. Don't be so tempted by the thought of your name on the screen to take onerous terms, and get as much money as you can. If the offer is serious, you should be seriously paid. 

I've finally gotten my life to the point where I don't need hope to get by. So I'm not going to allow myself to get caught up in the glitter and drama of Hollywood, only to have my hopes dashed over and over. I'll option any of my IPs for the right price, but then I want to be 100% hands-off.

I'm reminded of an anecdote where Elmore Leonard, during an interview, was asked what he thought about Hollywood ruining one of his books.

"The book is not ruined," Dutch said. "It's right there, on the shelf."

Anyone got any other tips to add?


Jason said...

Great advice all around Lisa and Joe.

Thank God Blake Crouch's PINES is being made into a TV mini-series (WAYWARD PINES) instead of a feature film. More of the story and details from the book can be included over many hours vs. just 2 hours.

But I've already decided to take the mini-series for what it is, and not expect it to mirror the book perfectly. That would be a path to frustration!

Lisa Grace said...

Spot on, Joe. Get as much as you can upfront, because there is no guarantee a project will make it all the way through. Have your eyes wide open that this is like gambling and the odds are never in your favor.

On the back end part of a deal, the lawyer can make sure the language specifies you get compensated if any of the others involved do, like the producers. Etc...

Jude Hardin said...

Very informative post, Lisa. Thanks for sharing your wisdom on the subject.

Want to talk about limited experience? My literary agent landed a film co-agent for my novel CROSSCUT for about five minutes. The guy (a big shot in the industry who has sold a boatload of titles to Hollywood) bailed with no explanation, and my agent says they're not working with him anymore for that reason.

And I've heard those types of stories over and over. Writers get their hopes up, only to be disappointed in the end. I think Joe has the right idea about Hollywood. If they want your book, take the money and then stay hands-off.

Jason Matthews said...

Love the advice, Lisa and Joe. Have always been rooting for this movie to get made. It will.

Joe Flynn said...

Sometimes forgetting about a novel, screenplay or other IP that is making the rounds of studios and production companies, in L.A. or elsewhere, is not that easy to do.

Let's say a film or TV series is made and screened that sounds like a dead ringer for your own work. That's very tough to shrug off.

But be aware that proving someone stole your work is very hard to do. There are concepts like "prior art," meaning other people have already done something similar to your work, and you never sued them. Maybe because the previous film or TV show was made before you were born. There's also a time limit you must meet, if you want to sue. And the side with more money for more lawyers is almost always going to win.

Especially if you give Hollywood the home "court" advantage of suing in Los Angeles.

Jill James said...

Lisa, congratulations! Love the advice to just keep writing. Hollywood takes a long time to do anything.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

Do not small talk with your lawyer, you will be charged for it in six minute increments.

Thanks for this! I have an appointment with the estate planning attorney today and this is a timely reminder.

Merrill Heath said...

20th Century Fox bought the movie rights to my father's first novel, Violent Saturday. This was way back in 1956. They asked if he wanted to work on the screenplay and he passed. He was currently workin on his 2nd novel with a contract on a third, so he didn't have time. But he also didn't want to be bothered with it.

The movie was a pretty big deal with some actors you would all recognize - namely Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. It still plays a couple of times a year on Turner Classic Movies. You can also find it on the Internet. Of course, the movie isn't nearly as good as the book. ;-)

The contract was incredibly simple and to-the-point compared to the contracts of today. Of course, that was 57 years ago. Things were simpler then.

Brian Drake said...

Not to hijack the thread, but I have to chime in to say "Violent Saturday" is one of the best books I have ever read with an ending the absolutely knocked me out.

If anybody has not read this book, you need to go and get it ASAP. The Black Lizard edition should be easy to find. There has never been a more amazing crime or social novel ever written.

Merrill Heath said...

Thanks, Brian. It's also available in ebook on Amazon and B&N.

Jude Hardin said...

That's really cool about your dad, Merrill. I hope he was well compensated for his work.

I looked up the film and saw that Victor Mature was one of the stars. Believe it or not, I'm planning to visit his grave in a couple of weeks.

Lisa Grace said...

Very cool Merrill about your Dad's novel. :) Lol, my contract was wayyyy longer than a few pages more like a longer short story. ;)

Thanks to everyone who is commenting. :)

Merrill Heath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bettye griffin said...

With Elaine you are definitely in good hands! She represented me from my first women's fiction deal through my move to indie publishing, and she is still my agent of record. She got my rights back for me to all my old romances. She's the best!

Continued success to you!

Alan Spade said...

Jude said : If they want your book, take the money and then stay hands-off.

I don't know. Of course, each adaptation is a treason. But I think Harry Potter movies would not have been this good if Rowling didn't put her nose on them.

Another example. Did Lee Child had his say to the cast of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher ? Because many fans were angered by the difference of size between the characters.

When you are an author and have many fans of a book of yours, I think you should put yourself in a position where you have the power to say : "my fans would not be pleased by that". Because you are the ultimate advocate of your book (and of your fans).

Of course, my advice here is based upon the theory of a book really successful, in case you have weight. In the majority of cases, Joe's advice makes sense.

Shaun Horton said...

Great information. As a writer, I have wondered about this, but haven't had a clue where to look. I'm not expecting any of my books to jump up and catch any filmmaker's eye, but it's never a bad idea to try and be informed, just in case. This may not lead me down the path if I get a call, but it's more information than I had before.

Alan Petersen said...

Great post, Lisa! It never crossed my mind to think about the movie/book optioning process and to make position myself for that possibility. Excellent.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Good advice, but one exception:

Consider staying away from the smaller production companies. Unless they have a deal with a major studio, the chances of them getting anything made are very, very slim, and your work can be tied up for as much as two years.

To illustrate:

1. My book Kiss Her Goodbye was optioned by a production company housed at Sony Studios. They had recently gotten a show called Justified on the air and they were very hot. They pitched the book to CBS, got a pilot deal and went into production. The network passed at the last minute, but I was paid a significant amount of money because of the initial green light.

2. My short story Bottom Deal was optioned by a small, up and coming production company that had no deal with the studios and very little in the way of a track record. They held the rights for two years total, after paying me a small amount of money.

During that two years, the same folks who optioned Kiss Her Goodbye asked if Bottom Deal was available for option, because they were interested in developing it for television. Had it not been tied up with the smaller production company, we would have been able to make a deal and there may well have been another pilot made, considering the producer's track record.

So, again, the moral of the story is to make sure you option your work to a producer that actually has a chance to get the project made. Don't succumb to the excitement of getting that first option request. Weigh the details carefully.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Alan said, "When you are an author and have many fans of a book of yours, I think you should put yourself in a position where you have the power to say : "my fans would not be pleased by that". Because you are the ultimate advocate of your book (and of your fans)."

First, unless your book is so hot they're frothing at the mouth to get an option, you will never be able to make a deal like this.

Second, I truly doubt that the casting of Tom Cruise as Reacher has hurt Lee Child's sales in the least. Yes, people complained, but I'm betting they still bought the books.

Jude Hardin said...

Did Lee Child had his say to the cast of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher ? Because many fans were angered by the difference of size between the characters.

Lee might not have had any say in casting Cruise, but he was certainly very vocal in defending the choice. And all along he stressed that (for him, at least) it was best to maintain a distance regarding all that kind of stuff and allow the movie people to do what they do best: make movies.

Of course there are authors who do get involved in the process, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with that either. I just don't think I would want to.

Eric Christopherson said...

Hemingway said that what he did when he'd finished a novel was to drive west until he got to the Nevada state line and then heave the book into California.

“You throw them your book, they throw you the money. Then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came."

Kate said...

Interesting quote about a book not being spoiled by a bad film version and the Lee Child/Tom Cruise issue.

I was at a book event where Lee Child was interviewed about this (before the movie came out) and he said the same thing - we'd all still have our own Jack Reacher in our heads even if we saw the movie.

I disagree - it's impossible to wipe your own memory clean of a movie representation of a character and to guarantee that it won't colour your view of that character in the books. I've read all of Lee Child's books and avoided the film for that reason.

Who can now imagine a Harry Potter that isn't Daniel Radcliffe? Or a Frodo Baggins who isn't Elijah Wood?

Bruno Stella said...

Some of these guest posts are so informative that Joe should be paying them 100 bucks, and this is one of them. Excellent stuff, gentlemen.

Alan Spade said...

Exactly, Kate. If the plan was for Lee Child to aggregate Tom Cruise's fans on his books, IMHO, he was wrong. Your first duty as an author is to respect your first fans (as George Lucas and Star Wars demonstrates).

I had a very different thought, this morning. If I was a producer, I would buy an option on Joe Konrath. Not necessarily on Joe's books, but on Joe's life.

The Rustymobile, the beer diet, the conversations between Joe and Barry... There is great material here for a Big Lebowski's like movie. A film with great humor and satyr of the publishing industry.

No offense taken here, I hope Joe. I may not be the first one to suggest that.

Kate said...

@Alan Spade - I hope you meant 'satire'! :o

Jason said...

True on Harry Potter - I did start picturing the actors as the characters.

But I've always had trouble picturing Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon when I read the Dan Brown books. Though I've seen the movie adaptations for The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, I still picture Langdon as James Lipton from Inside the Actor's Studio (lol) when I read the books.

And it's pretty impossible for me to picture Cruise as Reacher in the novels.

B. Rehder said...

My Blanco County series is in development with Warner Bros and USA Network. A few things I've learned:

These things can take forever, as in years.

The option money wasn't as good as I would have expected.

The writer/showrunner in charge of the project is one of the nicest and most genuine people I've ever met, so the Hollywood stereotype didn't hold up in that case.

It can be fun to follow the progress of the project, but ultimately, it's easier (and probably less stressful) just to ignore it.

Unless the project is actually filmed and aired, don't expect the project to sell any books for you, even if it is reported in industry pubs. YMMV.

Side note: Elaine English didn't help me with the option, but she helped me with another matter, and I would also recommend her.

Lisa Grace said...

Thanks again for the great comments. :)
For those who are under the delusion that you will have any say once you've signed the contract:
There's a joke in Hollywood, "The actress was so dumb she slept with the writer."
Even people like Stephen King have virtually no say. If his advice is taken,it's because he's Godzilla in Tokyo city.
Elaine P. English did some marvelous things for me, that I would not, could not have done on my own.
An author just emailed me yesterday, who signed an option without a lawyer, and I cringe, because of all the things that should have been addressed that weren't. Her chance of something now happening could be stuck in option hell, because things that should have been spelled out clearly, weren't.

Merrill Heath said...

When Robert Parker sold the movie rights to his Jesse Stone series he said something to the effect of: "It feels strange to let go and realize I have no control over what they do with the character."

Incidentally, I learned of the Jesse Stone series through the movies starring Tom Selleck. I saw several movies before reading the books. Although the description of Jesse in the books is nothing like Tom Selleck, that's who I see when I read them.

Alan Spade said...

@Kate : Oops ! Yes, I meant satire.

Alan Spade said...

@Lisa Grace : so I guess the choice you have is to not sign the contract, if you feel the producer is not serious.

If it's a book you particularly cherish, you can always say : "I make a living with it, I don't want Hollywood to spoil it."

If you've sold just 1 million of them, it's nothing for Hollywood. But what about 10 millions ? 100 millions ? With time, it's possible to get leverage.

And in the negociations, wouldn't be possible to add a clause like : "if the writer judges the movie is not faithful to his book, he keeps the right to express it at all time and to have his name removed from the end credits?"

As the creator, we should always have the choice to break away from a project and to be vocal about it, at least to send a message to our fans.

I get what you say : writers have very little power regarding adaptations. But there's a fine line between having very little power and to surrender everything.

Jill James said...

Now that I watch Rizzoli and Isles all the time I hear the actresses voices when I read the books. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just, it is what it is.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I guess I'm different. When I read Chandler, I don't see Bogart or Powell or Montgomery or Gould. When I read Richard Stark, I don't see Lee Marvin or Robert Duvall or Mel Gibson.

And when I read Lee Child, I don't see Tom Cruise, despite enjoying the movie quite a bit.

Movies and books are different animals and I enjoy them differently.

Desmond X Torres said...

Another example. Did Lee Child had his say to the cast of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher ? Because many fans were angered by the difference of size between the characters.

Yeah... well...
I saw the Jack Reacher movie b/c I am a fan of Cruise's body of work- one of the most under rated actors in Hollywood IMHO.

I got a kick out of the movie and was curious enough about the main character that I got the first novel from the library.

I am now on the fifth in the series. Child picked up an avid new reader here; I wasn't aware of his work before this.

The 'treason' comment made me laugh. Treasonous? To who? It reminded me of Joe Wambaugh's grousing in a similar vein back in the 70's and 80's. He groused all the way to the bank. His sales went through the roof, three if not more movies made of his books, and a TV series.

Congratulations Lisa- see ya on Kindleboards!

Lisa Grace said...

Hi Desmond,
Thanks! I'll see you at KBoards. :) It's my coffee break place.