In my last post, I outlined three reasons why Hollywood is interested in self published books more than ever before. As promised at the end of that post, I also wanted to share reasons why I see Hollywood not pursuing deals on self published books.
The three reasons that follow have come from what I see in my role with Author Solutions. Over the past five years, we have built relationships and first-look partnerships in Hollywood and created events like the Book-to-Screen Pitchfest, which have given hundreds of authors a chance to put their books in front of people who are making decisions about what makes it to the screen.
From that vantage point, I have witnessed authors pitch their books and even be offered deals, but not be able to take full advantage of the opportunities before them. Why is that
1.The story is missing one or more key elements of what makes a great story
In my most popular post, The 5 Essential Elements for Every Good Story, which was inspired by many of my conversations in Hollywood, I list what every great story needs. I would encourage you to read the complete post, but for reference, those elements are
- An inciting action
Too often first time authors leave out one of these elements or do not develop it fully. Another mistake I see is the elements are all included, but it is difficult to see how they relate to one another. For example the story might be resolved, but the resolution comes out of left field. There was no foreshadowing of it or it does not tie up other details of the story. The result is an unsatisfying and confused outcome that leaves both readers and viewers, wondering, “Huh?”
For this reason, I have seen many books get interest, but not result in a deal. So if you have a story you think would play well on the screen, pay attention to the craft of telling a good story. It could be the difference between your book being optioned or not.
2. It is derivative of another work
Hollywood is sometimes criticized for recycling the same stories, but my experience is they really are looking for fresh ideas. However, if they are going to acquire a new property, they will shy away from ideas that are simply a different flavor of an idea that is already out there. Now that doesn’t mean if you have an interesting take on a crime or police drama that hasn’t been done, they would pass on it. For example, at one of our Book-to-Screen Pitchfest, one of the authors pitched a book about what it was like to be the first African American police officers in Atlanta during and shortly after the Civil Rights movement. It was a police drama, but told from a perspective that has not been used yet. Very interesting biopic with all the elements that make for an intriguing story.
On the other hand, there was an author who pitched an idea that was simply like the Disney movie Cars, but all the characters were trucks or construction equipment. In this case, it made for a really cute series of kids books that the author was even selling through truck stops, but as a movie it was too close to Cars so everyone passed.
3. The deal you want is not in line with what the industry typically offers a first time author of a self- published book
This makes me frustrated more than anything else which is why we really try to educate authors on how the business side of Hollywood works. In each case where there is a shopping agreement or option offered, we advise authors to seek legal counsel, but make sure that person has some experience with entertainment contracts. Without that, lawyers ask for too many things or too much money at the wrong point and the deal goes away.
Typically, there are three opportunities for authors to earn money for their books. The first is when the book is optioned. What that means is you are giving an exclusive opportunity to one producer or director to develop the property for the screen. Typically, options are for a year to 18 months and pay anywhere from $500 to $1,500. Once it is optioned, the next opportunity for an author is when the movie gets “set up”. That means the script is finalized and usually the director and actors are attached. Financing and a shooting schedule is usually also in place. At this point payment to the author could be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. Then the final payment usually comes when the movie is shot and released. That payment can be a fixed amount or a percentage of receipts. It too can be anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000.
The key is to understand what amount of money is reasonable at certain points in the process. Too many authors don’t get the option because they ask too much for the first phase. They get bad advice from counsel who doesn’t understand how deals in Hollywood work.
I trust this and the previous post has been helpful as you think about the increased opportunities for self-published authors in Hollywood. If you have other questions, please use the comment section to post your question and I will do my best to answer it.