Writers' Newsletter

Issue #197
August 2019

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Hooray for Hollywood

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Sunday July 28, 2019

The movies didn't spoil my books. They're still on the shelves.—James M. Cain, author of The Postman Rings Twice

One writer told me that she had been advised to hold onto the film rights to the book she’s currently making an effort to place. I looked at her blankly. Discussing the sale of film rights to an unsold book is a pretty minuscule—not to say completely irrelevant—consideration. Sell the book first. Moreover, very few books are optioned for film, much less actually turned into one. That said, of course you want to keep whatever rights you are able to, or as large a percentage of them as you can, but never let that be a dealbreaker.

Some writers do say they insist on retaining their film rights, but the more money the arrangement grants you up front, the more ancillary rights the publisher feels entitled to share. This is a negotiating point and one reason why a contract can take so long to finalize. Keep in mind that if the publisher has good contacts in the film industry and has sold well in that area with real results, you may even prefer to have your publisher in on the film sale, rather than trusting to your solo agent to try to make such deals.

People become excited about selling film rights to a book of theirs over which a bit of a buzz has developed, and option sales are certainly a very good thing. Should the sale be for made-for-TV versions, however, even if this means a lot of fun for the authors, they won’t necessarily garner a lot of cash. A theatrical film, of course, can be much more lucrative.

Sometimes production companies are on the lookout for coming novels, and they scout. Maybe word of mouth on a project is particularly strong despite the agent having just begin to send the book proposal out to publishers. The agent then will ask the in-house or contract (freelance) film agent (or will quickly locate one) to start on marketing the movie rights. Movie rights can sell on the proposal alone—as can a book.

When you sign a contract with the publisher, one of the clauses will mention the percentages in subsidiary rights, including film rights, each party is entitled to. The author can retain film rights completely or can split those with the publisher at any percentage—though generally the author will get at least 50 percent of any film money paid. This is all part of the overall book deal negotiation.

Interest from a specific producer/director/or star will hurry the project along, naturally, but then an agreement has to be pinned down. If the deal initiates on a book proposal alone, the book itself has to be written, although surely by then, with word of the option, the book will have a publisher. Finalizing the film contract may take quite a while.

Eventually, the film appears and the book, in reprint, goes back into the stores with the actors on the cover. Yippee, more money for the author is on its way. Of course the author isn’t generally invited to write the screenplay and probably has no approval rights over anything to do with the film, including casting. All the author—or you—can do is deposit the checks.

Because the studio doesn’t want a movie with the same characters coming out from another production company, you will generally have to sign over exclusive rights to the characters. If the contract is a reasonable and careful one, however, another movie can’t be made with the same characters without your approval and payment to you. Character rights can also mean merchandise, a TV series, video games, and whatever else, should the movie be a wild success.

Although film producers don’t really often know about books just being pitched, they do look at advanced reading copies (ARCs) sent by the larger publishers, or they might read various book industry news outlets and ask for ARCs of a book that rings a bell for them. So to get your book into a producer’s hands, you don’t have to sign with a Hollywood agent first.

The recommendation against an author parleying directly with a film producer is pretty emphatic. If you don’t have a book agent who will contact a film agent when a deal is genuinely on the table, then you will need to find a film agent yourself. Not all the producers out there are people you will want to deal with and not all contracts are ones you’ll want to sign.

A film agent, also, will contact other producers and seek out other bids on the project.

Negotiations for movie rights can be quite involved and can take as long as a year, with a resulting contract almost as lengthy as the script will be—well, dozens of pages, anyway. And as for payment, in one case, an optioned author didn’t receive the money for the rights until the option itself had already expired. And no, the option wasn’t renewed, and the film was never made. That’s simply show business—or even life.

The average offered for an option might be about a thousand dollars per month of reservation, or it could be a mere token payment of a dollar or five from a small producer. The pay for additional option periods after the initial six, twelve, or eighteen months may be much higher. The amount handed over depends not only on how big the production company is but how sure the producers are that they can raise the production capital.

If the production company can interest a network in the project—and networks are not just ABC, CBS, NBC, etc., but all the cable networks and such, too—the network will put up money to pay for a pilot. Then if they like the pilot, they will order a certain number of episodes. If it's a hit they order more episodes.

Unless you know a producer dying to invest cash into your project, sitting and waiting is what you do. Or unless you've pitched to producers in the past and have that connection, at which point you might phone and let them know your characters have been optioned, and a script is in development for the pilot (if that's what's being done at the moment).
Foreign and Other Rights

The itemization of rights will be found in your contract, and how much you retain depends on a bit of give and take in regard to the whole package that the deal represents.

I heard the story of a woman who sold merchandising rights to her characters to a toy company for a pittance. Thereafter, she tried to sell movie rights to a film company for her young adult book, but no one would bite. The film companies wouldn’t do the deal without obtaining merchandising rights for tee shirts, lunch boxes and so on, which were already sold.

Speaking of tee shirts, be aware that you can’t reproduce your book cover on a tee shirt for sale to fans who visit your website. The publisher owns the cover, after all. Of course, someone else will probably own the cover art itself, such as the artist who painted the picture or the photographer.

What often happens is that the publisher takes rights here and there but may not pursue sale of them with much energy. You can request (through your agent) a listing of the submissions on the foreign rights, say, if those are the rights you want to sell. If the publisher isn’t trying to sell foreign rights on the book, you can request an early reversion of rights and will probably succeed since they know you know they haven’t done anything to sell those rights.

Now what? Your agent may have reps in other countries who visit and know the publishers there. If your agent isn’t into this or doesn’t have foreign reps, you yourself may be able to reach out. With my first book, I met a Japanese woman at a party and gave her copies of my book since she was said to have good publishing contacts in her home country. A couple of months later, I was contacted by a U.S. “scout” concerning the book, which I then sold to a top publisher in Japan. That came about by way of my contact. Later on, I sent the book to Frankfurt with a rep for a small fee and sold rights for this same book to a couple of other countries—not for much money, mind you. 

U.S. book scouts do work for overseas publishers. They scan the reviews and so on and then present possible books to their clients for acquisition.

About the Author

G. Miki Hayden is the author of the award-winning guide for mystery writers, Writing the Mystery: A Start-to-Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional, available now from JP&A Dyson.

"Whatever your habitual errors are, punctuation, writing style, or even not understanding what the agents/editors are looking for, if you'd like to correct your flaws, take a class with me at Writer's Digest: Or for some less-expensive guidance, you might want to download The Naked Writer for your Kindle at Amazon. Yes, I work with clients privately. Find me on Facebook."

G. Miki Hayden always has a new class starting at Writer's Digest. The feedback she gives is personal, thorough, and actionable.


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Some of this month's news for writers from around the web.

How the UK production boom is changing the way London’s literary agents are doing business

How the UK production boom is changing the way London’s literary agents are doing business – Friday August 23, 2019

UK literary agents are navigating an unprecedented boom in UK production, with demand for their writing and directing clients at fever pitch.

“My clients are so busy at the moment,” said one literary agent at a major London agency. “Everyone is scrambling around to hire [the best talent], it’s very difficult for producers to get to them.”

The majority of the growth is in the high-end TV sector, the production of which tends to tie up clients for much longer than film. (The inward investment feature boom is doing a good job on its own of employing UK actors and crew). Netflix alone said it has has shot some 40 productions in the UK this year, while the major broadcasters are responding to the competition from the US streamers by making increasingly larger-scope series.

[Read the full article]

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Graphic Novels Take Off With Young Readers

Graphic Novels Take Off With Young Readers – Sunday August 18, 2019

Graphic novels aimed at younger readers are skipping the superheroes and taking on serious subjects like mental health and body image, setting off a boom that is bolstering the children’s publishing industry.

These graphic novels are resonating with children and young adults and making readers out of some youngsters who had ditched books for their cellphones. Publishers including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, a unit of Wall Street Journal parent News Corp., are launching graphic-novel lines aimed at those ages 13 to 18, as well as the juvenile market of readers 7 to 12 years old.

[Read the full article]

Capital Crime launches New Voices Award

Capital Crime launches New Voices Award – Friday August 16, 2019

Capital Crime festival will host the inaugural New Voices Awards to champion the next generation of talent in the crime and thriller community next month. 

In association with D H H Literary Agency, the awards will give entrants the chance to have three opening chapters of their debut novel read by agents, publishers and readers, who will then vote for their favourites.

Capital Crime co-founder and D H H founder David Headley, said: "At D H H we’re always on the lookout for talented new authors. The New Voices Award is an exciting competition that gives readers the power to help identify new talent. It promises to be a brilliant platform for aspiring writers."

[Read the full article]

Click here for the rest of this month's news >


A selection of the new listings added to this month.

New Publisher Listing

New Publisher Listing – Thursday August 22, 2019

Publishes: Fiction; 
Areas include: Mystery; Romance; Suspense; Thrillers; Women's Interests; 
Markets: Adult

Send query by email with synopsis as attachment. See website for full list of editors' emails and interests and approach one editor only.

[See the full listing]

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New Magazine Listing

New Magazine Listing – Tuesday August 13, 2019

Publishes: Fiction; 
Areas include: Adventure; Crime; Fantasy; Horror; Mystery; Sci-Fi; Short Stories; Suspense; Thrillers; 
Markets: Adult; 
Preferred styles: Experimental; Literary

Semi-annual online journal with an annual print issue. Publishes genre fiction with strong literary elements. Welcomes the bizarre and experimental. Not interested in zombies, vampires, werewolves, fairies, shapeshifters or fan-fic. Submit up to three stories at a time via online submission system.

[See the full listing]

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New Publisher Listing

New Publisher Listing – Friday August 9, 2019

Publishes: Fiction; Nonfiction; 
Areas include: Translations; 
Markets: Adult; Children's

Publisher of new and emerging writers from around the world, translated into English. Accepts submissions in any genre. Send query by email with synopsis, three sample chapters, and a brief outline of your background and what qualifies you to write your book.

[See the full listing]

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Click here for more of this month's new listings >


Some of this month's articles for writers from around the web.

Knowing Your Worth: Finding Value in Self-Publishing

Knowing Your Worth: Finding Value in Self-Publishing – Saturday August 24, 2019

An author and publisher explains why writers shouldn’t let industry validation determine the value of their work

“I need to find out if my book truly has value,” the author sitting before me said, by way of explaining why she’d be shopping her second book to traditional publishers. Her comment struck me like a blow, coming as it was from a former client and student, an author on the She Writes Press roster who I thought should know better. Or perhaps I felt I’d failed her, because I aspire to free the authors on my list from the mentality that industry validation equals legitimacy.

Of course I understand any author’s desire to get published traditionally. After all, the seduction of going that route is strong. To be chosen, to have one’s work paid for, to have someone else shoulder the risk—these remain goals and dreams and ambitions that most authors continue to carry, even after they’ve independently published one or countless books.

But value and its cousin worth are sneaky little beasts. I have my ears well-tuned for the ways in which these words show up in conversation with women writers in particular. Value and worth are tricky because they’re words that connote money and finances, yet they encompass so much more than that. After all, it’s rarely the material things in life that top the list of things we most value or that make us feel most worthy.

[Read the full article]

A grab bag of common writing mistakes to ponder

A grab bag of common writing mistakes to ponder – Saturday August 24, 2019

Lest you come home from the Minnesota State Fair empty-handed, here’s a grab bag of parting gifts — a collection of common writing mistakes and ways to correct them.

[Read the full article]

Why Beatrix Potter Ended Up Self-Publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Why Beatrix Potter Ended Up Self-Publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Friday August 16, 2019

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Beatrix Potter’s first book—and is still her best known. But had the beloved author not had the confidence to publish the book on her own terms, we might not have ever known her name (or Peter Rabbit's) today.

The origin of Peter Rabbit dates back in 1893, when Potter wrote the beginnings of what would become her iconic children’s book in a letter she sent to Noel Moore, the ailing five-year-old son of Annie Carter Moore, Potter's friend and former governess. “I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter,” the story began.

[Read the full article]

Click here for the rest of this month's articles >


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