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?