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Aiming for a Movie Deal for Your Book?

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Book-to-Movie
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Admit it:  As an author you are dreaming of a movie deal. You might think getting a book deal with a publisher – don’t think getting a movie deals is easier!  Here are some beginner insights into how movie deals work. Check out the links for more. Movie rights are part of sub rights or subsidiary rights – even so these rights are hard to sell. And if you get a foot in the door: Almost all production companies and film producers offer first an option for a film.
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What exactly is an option?
Fred Rosen explains what options are: “It is a rental. A production company or studio reserves the right to make your work into a film, MOW or TV show for a specific length of time. In the past, the standard option was for a year, with two renewable one-year options. Taking advantage of the recent recession, producers have now been able to negotiate the first option to 18 months. Regardless, each time a company picks up the option, you get paid just for sitting on your movie rights. In the meantime, they’ll try to secure the money to make the adaptation and get someone to write the script (though it probably won’t be you—Hollywood prefers to use its own writers to adapt work).”

He further explains: What can get optioned?
“Just about anything. Published novels and nonfiction books. Magazine articles. Short stories. Unpublished work can break through, too, when someone who has a connection with a production company discovers something and passes it on (Frank Capra based It’s a Wonderful Life on an unpublished short story by Philip Van Doren Stern). But you should generally focus on getting published first—because the print imprimatur still demands the highest price when optioned.”
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Even more important is it to read this article by Kristine Kathrin Rusch “Steeling Intelectual Property” before you do anything.  She explains in detail how authors can be tricked in movie contracts.  Don’t become a victim and follow her step-by-step procedures! 
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How much is an option worth?
“Options start at $500 and go up. In today’s market, $5,000 and more is excellent. It’s impossible to offer an average because it depends on so many factors, the most important being how much the production company wants the work.”
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Do I need a film agent to make the option sale?
Rosen says: “Generally, yes. If you have a literary agent, look at your contract and see if the agent gets points for a film sale; if so, encourage her to send your work to a film agent she’s familiar with (the two will split the commission). If you don’t have an agent, it’s fine to query film agents directly. They’re always looking for salable stuff to pitch to Hollywood. Be straightforward in your pitch: Briefly summarize the work to be optioned, where it’s published and your bio.”
Read all of Fred Rosen’s tips here and get an idea how much you might earn.
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Tips by John Kremer
“Most movie deals involve as many as a dozen decision makers. One of the best ways to get a movie deal for a novel (I presume your book is a novel) is to target the A-list actor or actress who would be the best person to play the role of your main character. Many A-list actors have their own production companies or in-place deals for a certain number of movies – and can sometimes (not always) pick which movies they’d like to be in.
For most movie deals to get completed, though, there has to be key actors, a director, a screenwriter, and a producer committed to the movie. That’s why 90% of potential movie deals never get completed – because the package can’t be put together to sell the investors on funding the movie.
Of those four key pieces, the easiest to target is the actor or actress, because most non-industry people know what movies have been made by actors and actresses. Plus it’s generally easy for a novelist to picture who should pay the key role or roles in a movie made from their novel.
How do you get in touch with the actors you’ve identified as potential role players? You can try through their management company (agent or manager), via their personal website (if they have one), or sometimes even via a tweet to their @profile on Twitter.
But probably the best way is to use your connections to see if someone you know knows the actor you want to reach or the best friend of that actor or a close relative, etc.. Once you’ve located a connection, ask them to get you a personal introduction to the actor. Not just a kind word, or a token email, but – if possible – an in-person introduction.”
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Tips by Courtney Carpenter
“If you don’t have an agent, and have no contacts in the business, you can still market your script on your own. Before you try, however, take one preparatory step: Register your script with the Writer’s Guild of America. Registration provides a dated record of the writer’s claim to authorship and can be used as evidence in legal disputes about authorship.”

If you want to break into television:
“It’s generally not a good idea to write scripts for a series of your invention. Full-time, experienced, professional writers earn monumental salaries doing just that; why compete with them? Instead, tape several shows of an existing series. Watch them repeatedly. Learn who the characters are, how they would behave in a situation. One writer even advised typing up the script as you watch an episode to help you understand the flow of the dialogue.”

“Also watch the credits of a TV show you enjoy, noting the names of the producers. You can write to them, asking them to read your script. While the number of scripts bought from freelancers in television is small, it does happen. After targeting a show, write polite query letters to producers or story editors – usually people who rewrite scripts and deal with freelancers), explaining your fondness for and familiarity with the show and your desire to send a spec script. Then, even if your script is rejected, it may be a good enough calling card to get you invited to pitch other ideas to the producers.
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Mark Terry cautions:
“Movie contracts are a byzantine mess and unless you have an agent who specializes in movie contracts, your agent might suggest hooking up with a film agent or entertainment attorney, who will either get a flat fee or perhaps another percentage ….”

“What you do have to do is to watch out for production companies that want to have an option dirt cheap or hold on to the property for an unreasonable length of time.”

However, he has also an interesting story to tell about the movie rights / options for: “Catch Me If You Can.” That book was optioned about 20 times before Spielberg made the movie with Tom Hanks. The author commented it was great, he kept getting about $20,000 per year for a book that wasn’t really selling any more.”
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Marc Lund wrote in an article:
“Your first option is to find a literary agent to represent your book in the entertainment industry. Finding such an agent follows the same path used to find an agent for your book—research.  To get a feel for the industry you’ll want to start reading industry trades, such as The Hollywood Reporter.  You should already know about IMDb.com (Internet Movie Database), and the monthly subscription to IMDbPro.com has fairly up-to-date contact information.  Identify the agent’s submission policy.  It’s all about that first impression.

If you are fortunate enough to secure an agent, and they get your work optioned, then the process moves into higher gear. Generally, you will receive an upfront payment for a specific time period of optioned rights. You may or may not have input into the adaptation of your book into a screenplay. If your book is not produced by the expiration of the optioned rights, they revert back to you and the process starts over.”

Your second option is to produce your own movie. This means a substantial learning curve and working with a team of creatives. To start, you adapt your book into a screenplay, which is easier said than done. As a novelist you adjust your thinking because a screenplay only paints what needs to be visualized.

Start reading IndieWire.com and FilmmakerMagazine.com for a feel of the industry. Attend film festivals to see independent films come to life. See if your state has a film office. Through all these new resources you may come across a screenwriter to work with.

The Writers Guild of America is also a wonderful resource. Want to write the screenplay yourself? I highly recommend the software Final Draft.
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Marc Lund is an actor, screenwriter, director and producer.
About Mark Lund

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Q&A by Warren Adler:
Just a few samples of a long list of questions and answers / tips by Warren Adler

QUESTION:
If I wanted to sell my book rights to Movie producers, How would I go about doing that?
Warren Adler answered:
You would have to get yourself a Hollywood agent who believes that your book has a shot at a movie deal. Unless you are plugged into that world, have an agent or a book that has attracted some interest, your chances are pretty slim. Unfortunately there is no direct path to the movie world unless you happen to know actors, producers, directors and those deeply involved who can get a movie made.

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QUESTION:
I have inherited the film rights to a world famous, best selling (on Amazon) science fiction novel. While I realize the worth of the property is only what a studio is willing to pay, I’m wondering what is a good starting point in the negotiations? I’m not interested in back-end royalties, ancillary merchandising, or alternate distribution modes, but rather a 1 price, get it over with deal. Is $5 million totally absurd? $3 million? Are there other avenues to explore outside the Hollywood morass?
Warren Adler answered:
I would suggest you find a Hollywood agent who is willing to negotiate a deal. Before you start counting numbers you had better see if the interest matches your expectation. There are numerous lists on the internet of agents, producers, actors and others in the movie business.

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QUESTION:
I wrote a book ten years ago based on a real event–a horrific mass murder that occurred in GA in the 1800s. It sold extremely well but is now out of print. (It is considered a rare book on Amazon). Recently a screenwriter tracked me down and says he wants to convert my book to a script for movie. After the book went out of print I did not renew my agent’s contract. I have no idea who this screenwriter is and how to negotiate. I have no intentions of signing over the rights to just anyone. Any advice?
Warren Adler answered:
Get a lawyer who deals with intellectual properties. Never give rights away. It may be the screenwriter is willing to pay,( even a modest amount might do it) with a big bonus at the back end if he sells the script for a production. Put a time limit on it. Say a one year option, renewable for another year. If he wants the rights for nothing, walk away. It doesn’t matter if the book is out of print or not, its still your property. As for the agent, he could make a claim depending on the old contract. A lawyer will know. Try to set a price with the lawyer in advance. It could be worth it, since the book’s subject matter, which caught the screenwriter’s eye may have a lot more value than you think.

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QUESTION:
I have written a series of books and the first one has been published. The publisher wrote me that my stories are ‘movie stuff’. How do I go about marketing these books as a miniseries or movies?
Warren Adler answered:
Find yourself an agent in Hollywood. Unless you have personal contacts in the film or television industry, the process is difficult. You might try writing a one page summary of your work and send it off to Hollywood agents, producers, actors, directors etc. There are also numerous scouts out there looking for material. I don’t mean to be discouraging, but unless you are approached the chances of your work getting noticed can be a labor intensive chore. Of course, you could get lucky and find in your networking or readership base someone who might get you to a producer.

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QUESTION:
Recently my novel “The Family Bones” came out in print. Today, I received two separate letters, one from a major film company, and another from a major agency in Los Angeles inquiring about movie rights for my book. I am astounded. I referred them both to my agent, but what would you suggest is the going rate. These are both legitimate contacts.
Warren Adler answered:
There is no going rate. If its a producer with a studio deal the chances are it will be more than an independent would pay. They’ll probably ask for a one year option with renewal terms. Get as much as you can and be sure your agent knows how to negotiate with them. They will option thousands of books and very few will get made. It is indeed a leg up, but you are dealing with seasoned hustlers and you must protect yourself.

Dozens and dozens more questions and Warren Adler’s answers. Check them out! Interesting reads. BTW: Warren Adler is the author of the famous movie: “The War of Roses”.
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Now, what’s an author to do?
First of all: BE PERSISTENT! Don’t stop to send out queries. Know that it is not easy to get a movie deal. Read and research everything you can find about movie rights and contracts. Perfect your query letter to movie editors, directors, A-class actors and producers. Explore each avenue and if you get an offer, first google this company carefully, together with the word complaint. Do use the help of a movie agent and a contract lawyer, at least for your first movie contract, even if it takes a percentage of your option.

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7 Errors To Avoid When Dealing With the Media

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You have written this fantastic thriller, perfectly edited, your book has a stunning cover and already received praise from reviewers.

Still your books’ sales are not what you envisioned when you started your author-publishing… I am talking here not only about author-published books, but also those who are published traditionally. In print your book has only a very small window of three months to make or break it in bookstores. After that, remaining copies will be returned to the publisher (the bookstore will not order it again, if it did not “make it”) and sold by your publisher for a very low price to mass markets (in the best case) or trashed.

To get the word out about the upcoming book launch, to receive positive articles in newspapers., magazine, book blogs, or to get interviews, writers should professionally deal with anyone who could tout their book – not only national press or TV. Often book bloggers can do more than a newspaper for your book to be discovered. After all, they have the right audience. Don’t be surprised when you never get an answer to your press releases if you don’t provide a compelling reason for the journalist or interviewer how their listeners/readers profit from your information.

Don’t make these common errors:

  1. Not having a press page on your website
    Unfortunately most writers are not aware that journalists, bloggers or radio hosts need a bit more information than what they see on your Amazon page. And they won’t just copy and paste your “about the author” or the description of your book on the sales page. Check out Stephen Kings website, one of the best of all authors. His whole website is almost a press release, but see how he organized his page for the media: http://www.stephenking.com/press.php
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  2. Not offering a variety of cover photos
    For internet articles media people need images in jpeg or gif and for print a TIFF version is necessary. As more pixels as better. Offer several versions / sizes on your website for download or copy/paste. Get this versions from your cover designer when creating your books cover, which is often included. When ordering it later, they (rightfully) charge you for a second order. See again Stephen Kings website how he deals with press photos and how easy he makes it for journalists.
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  3. Not giving full information
    Journalists are usually lousy paid. They work hard, always under deadline pressures. Make it easy for them and provide exact links about anything that was ever written about your book, any interviews, and links to videos, from your book trailer to taped interviews. Don’t hide these links, write them open. This way it is easy to copy and paste it for the blogger or journalist and to work with your information. It happens so many times that I ask authors if they had any interviews. They write back “yes”, but not when, where, with whom and if there is any documentation, such as a blog, a newspaper interview or a video available. There is more:
    Show prominently on the front of your web page a link or a button to your book order page. Not everyone wants to browse through the whole website and search for purchase information.
    A good idea is to think about possible questions and what could be interesting for the interviewer and listeners/readers and offer this list. Sometimes the interviewer didn’t even have time to read your book and will be thankful for any help you can provide.
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  4. Not having a (virtual) portfolio at all
    Visual artists have usually wonderful portfolios including snippets from media articles about their work or praise from art collectors and customers. Why not writers? Why not collecting (copy/paste) everything that was ever written about your book or excerpts of book reviews and add it to your website. Maybe offering a chapter or part of it for readers before they order your book. Providing website visitors with exact links to all of your sales pages. It is called world wide web, which means if you book is available to customers in Japan, India, Brazil or the UK, they are thankful to immediately find out where on Amazon, Kobo or any other online retailer they can buy your book and important: getting the exact link to your sales page.
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  5. Not following up
    Don’t send out your news release and forget about it. Follow up quickly. You searched and found the right person to send your press release, so call within a day or two to make sure the announcement was received. However, don’t call an editor or reporter when they are on a deadline. A general rule of thumb is not to contact a newsroom in the late afternoon. Ask their secretary which time is best. When calling, verify that they have time to talk. Be available when a reporter calls and tell them why your release is important to their readers and viewers.
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  6. Not being prepared for one-on-one interviews
    OK you worked hard to send out these press releases and your finally get the call for a radio show interview – this afternoon. You almost faint, as you are not prepared at all… You know, if you decline, you will not be invited – ever.
    So better be prepared, start before you even sent out your press releases. Good interviewing skills and techniques can be learned. There are quite a few books out there, just to mention one, by Sharyn Doolan, “Media Training and Presentation Skills. How to deal with the Media for Business and Profit.” And it costs … $0.99
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  7. Not becoming familiar with the media outlet
    No matter if you deal with a newspaper/magazine, radio or TV: do your homework and get familiar with their former articles and possible interview questions, their writing style, the names of their interviewers, journalists etc. If you are to be interviewed in person, get to know how you can reach their studio and allow plenty of time. Calculate to be there at least an hour or two before the interview starts.
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Rule # 1
Build relationships months in advance of pitching! Patrick Garmoe wrote a great article on Copyblogger, geared to small businesses, but his great advise how to pitch the media can be used by writers as well. Some of his most important tips here:

  • Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or in real life more than six months in advance of pitching a reporter.
  • Monitor the Twitter hash tags of your community. Often reporters chat with the public on Twitter, and you can respond to comments they make.
  • Compliment a reporter via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail on a story he or she did.
  • Introduce yourself to reporters at big public events. Pass along your card, but don’t try and sell them the idea on the spot. Just connect with them.
  • Leave a comment at the end of the online version of a story a reporter did, which you genuinely liked.
  • Congratulate them on personal news they post.
  • Write a positive blog post, highlighting their story, and e-mail them the link.
  • Respond regularly to posts they’ve written either on their blog, or on a local community blog you have noticed they post on.
  • Visit city council meetings in your town. Typically there’s a reporter sitting around, bored, that you can build a relationship with. But wait and meet them several times before pitching anything.
  • Sign up on helpareporter.com. Several e-mail lists are sent out daily, full of reporters needing experts for stories. Jump on those that fall within your expertise.
  • Scout publications with smaller and more targeted readerships, such as a local weekly publications. These media outlets are often run by just two or three people, and they often jump at a guest column or article by you because it will save them the time of tracking down a story on their own.
  • Listen to AM radio stations, especially on weekday mornings or on Saturdays. Befriend one of the regular show hosts. Often they sometimes highlight a writer/artist/business that is doing something the public might find interesting.
  • Don’t spend money on an online press release site early on. Those online press release systems are more useful for building inbound links, or if you are already a recognized expert with a track record, and there’s a major news event breaking that you could discuss.

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Many writers dream of the exposure their book could receive in print or online articles, or on a popular radio or TV show. It is one step more in your book PR efforts – not the start of a million book sales avalanche – rather an opportunity to maybe get a free video recording of your interview or another article for your book’s portfolio. It also increases your recognition as an author and is a great sales argument when dealing with libraries or bookstores. Don’t forget: PR is a long-term strategy!
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To be considered for an article or interview you have to show that you are a professional author. No media employee or book blogger wants to deal with clueless beginners and help them with every detail in the process. More about how to write successful press releases in an upcoming blog post.

Further reading:
http://www.gdrc.org/ngo/media/index.html
http://www.staashpress.com/article21.html
http://hughespr.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/going-it-alone/
http://www.copyblogger.com/irresistible-pr/

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