Hollywood Wants Your Book

Hollywood wants published books and short stories for the same reason book editors want agented material—curation. Film and television execs know that editors take a careful look at a manuscript before publishing it. In some cases, the author is a known quantity, or the book is so cinematic that a studio options it before it hits bookstores. (This means they pay for the exclusive right to produce the work for a set period of time, with the promise of a much bigger payday if the material makes it to production.) Other books build such a following that optioning becomes a no-brainer. Back when I optioned and developed film projects, half of the major studio releases I worked on were based on previously published work.

In addition to option money and possible production money, there’s another way for authors to get paid and, more importantly, keep some creative control over the material: write the adaptation of their book themselves. If producers want the material badly enough, they will consider giving the author a crack at the first draft. Not only does this give the author a voice in what to cut and what to keep, but it may also lead to other screenwriting gigs.

Ever since a writers’ strike in 2007, books and short stories are the preferred source of original material in Hollywood. Your book doesn’t have to be a bestseller; a great plot or a fascinating character can be enough to garner a deal. But keep your dreams in check: It likely won’t be quit-your-day-job money and probably won’t get made. Or it might take 46 years—the amount of time between the publication of Philip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report and the release of the film. Still, that option money might cover a couple of mortgage payments, and who doesn’t like to get paid twice for the same material? If you’re lucky, the project gets produced and the big payday arrives. And if you’ve been part of the adaption process, the payout is even larger, both monetarily and creatively.

So how do you know if this is likely to happen?

“Nobody knows anything.” William Goldman’s famous words about Hollywood ring true on many levels. Film executives never know which mega-budget action movie will flop and which small, character-driven film will rake in 10 times its production cost. Still, they try to know. And who better to show them the best way to adapt your book than you?

Maura Weiler will be teaching the Lit Fest craft seminar From Page to Screen: Adapting Fiction for Film and moderating the business panel Book to Film―What Authors Need to Know. She is a former director of development at Blue Tulip Productions, where she helped develop such films as Speed, Twister, and Minority Report, as well as an optioned screenwriter and the author of Contrition, which she is adapting for film.