Words for Writers

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Get My Book Onto A Screen?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Get My Book Onto A Screen?

This is a question I see a lot from new writers – “Yeah, sure, I want to write a book, but everyone knows that the real money is in screen adaptations. How do I get that?”

The answer (take it from someone who has had a few close calls) is “not easily.” It can happen, but it is a very long process, with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, and nothing that you can control until you are already a multi-billionaire who can afford to pay other people to adapt your work as a vanity project. (And even then, you still have to convince a team that your property is going to make them money for them to make it and distribute it.)

So, first things first –if you’re writing a book solely on the hope that someone will turn it into a movie/TV show, I would encourage you to consider that maybe you should be expending your energy on screenwriting instead of novel writing. If that’s where your heart lies, then follow that!

If your heart is still set on the idea of writing a novel, then I’m happy to outline the steps that a book takes from page to screen.

  • Write a novel.
    1. No, seriously.
    2. Write it. Finish it. Edit it. Polish it.
    3. People don’t license adaptation rights for unfinished works/ideas unless you are very, very famous and a proven cash cow. You wanna sell a thing? It generally has to be a FINISHED thing.
  • From the minute you write that novel, you own the copyright on the Intellectual Property (IP) of the world, characters, individual and particular details of the novel. In Canada, you don’t need to register it, but I believe you may in the USA.
  • Publish the book.
    1. You can self-publish it, or go the traditional route.
    2. The book has to be published, or filmmakers will never know it exists. Again, you need to prove that you can finish a thing, and they need the whole story to know what they’re agreeing to. Usually the whole SERIES, if there’s more than one.
  • When you publish a book with a publisher, they will not be buying your book, but paying you in royalties (and maybe advanced royalties if you’re lucky) for the right to license your IP and create a product called “a book” out of it.
    1. There will be subclauses for “a print book” and “an ebook”.
    2. There may also be subclauses for an “audiobook” if the publisher has an attached audio production house and/or is willing to shell out to get it made.
    3. Most indie publishers do not have the money to make an audiobook, and won’t take the rights for that.
      1. In this case you can either pitch it to a house or produce or pay to/make it yourself.
  • HOWEVER, publishers are not production studios and 99.99% of the time will NOT ask for further rights.
    1. Though they may include a clause saying they get to participate in negotiations for those dramatic adaptation rights for your IP.
    2. If they do ask for more rights, consult your i) agent, ii) lawyer, or iii) a friend in the biz to make sure it’s all on the up-and-up.
    3. Again, most indie/small press publishers won’t even bother including a clause regarding dramatic adaptation because they have no connections and no intention to pitch it around for you.
  • Once the book is out in the world either:
    1. An interested party will contact you/your agent (acquisitions folks read review mags and sites all the time), or
    2. The Entertainment Lawyer/Agent at your literary agency will pitch the IP to production houses, or
    3. You the author will start pitching it to production houses/creators, or
    4. You the author will decide to write the screenplay and produce the whole production out of pocket. (In which case, skip down to the celebration part of the list).
  • If A, B, or C: in the event that you get a bite, the interested party (it could be an agent, an actor, a director, a producer, a screenwriter, etc.) will enter into negotiations with you/your agent for the rights to license your IP for a screen adaptation.
  • Like the publisher, the company/individual petitioning for the right to adapt your IP for the screen will arrange to pay you for the right to do so. Generally this comes in three segments – an Option, a Greenlighting Fee, and a Back End Deal.
    1. An Option is a set amount of money that the interested party agrees to pay you annually for exclusive access to your IP and your promise that you won’t sell it out from under them while they work to amass funding/interest/cast and crew to create the adaptation. Basically, they’re paying you to have exclusive right to use your IP, when they get around to it
      1. An option is not a guarantee that the production will be made – people lose interest, funding falls through, studios change hands, screenwriters quit, etc.
      2. But it’s a way for interested parties to ensure that you don’t go wandering away with the IP while they work to contract a screenwriter, audition actors, ask for funding money, and build sets/costumes, and basically revv up to make the thing.
      3. Not every creator gets an Optioning Fee, and sometimes there’s a statute of limitations – i.e. after 10 years, if it still isn’t made and you’ve collected 10 option fees, then you get to take your toys and go elsewhere with them. This is actually good for you, because it makes the interested parties be serious and not just buy your IP to sit on it.
    2. A Greenlighting Fee is a percentage of the budget as it stands when the production is ‘greenlit’ that is gifted to you as a thank you when the production begins.
      1. Not every creator gets a Greenlighting fee, and the percentage changes.
    3. A Backend Deal is a percentage of the box office/merch profits you receive as a royalty after the production has been paid off, and the cast/crew paid out.
      1. Not every creator gets a Backend Deal, and the percentage changes.
  • Once that contract is negotiated between you and the interested party, you can make additions like asking to be the screenwriter (can be a good thing, can be a not good thing), asking to be on set, asking to be in the writing room for a series, asking for input on casting, or to be the story consultant.
    1. Be aware that the interested party can say no. If you don’t like that, then you have to decide if you want to license it to them anyway and remain hands-off, or if you’d like to cancel the deal.
    2. They may ask you to compromise – if you have no prior experience in screenwriting, which is a very different beast, they may pair you with a pro. Or if you don’t know how productions are made, what an on-set script supervisor is or a writing room is, etc. then they may pair you with a teacher-buddy. It’s not an insult. It’s just to make sure you have a support system when new stuff gets tossed at you.
    3. They may say yes. Make sure you really, really, really know what you’re agreeing to.
  • Assuming everything goes well, and you/your agent ink a deal you’re happy with, then an announcement will be made that the screen adaptation is in the works!
    1. Yay!
    2. Productions falter or get trapped in pre-production hell. This is STILL not a guarantee that it will actually happen.
    3. But you have a greater chance now!
  • The production company/ interested party will then get onto the business of sourcing funding, hiring actors, hiring a screenwritier, etc.
    1. You may or may not be consulted in this.
      1. They may really want you there, and really want your involvement.
      2. They may really have a vision of their own and don’t want your input. You need to be ready to just take your money and butt out, if it comes to that.
  • In the meantime? Write something else.
    1. Seriously.
    2. Distract yourself. Making films/TV shows takes YEARS.
    3. Other people might reach out to you interested in what else you may have to license when your first deal is announced. Make sure you have something when opportunity comes to knock!
  • Okay – so, contract signed, production in full swing, adaptation gets made! Yay! Celebration time! Enjoy the premiere!
    1. Oh god, wear comfortable heels. Red carpets are long, and you tip all over the place in stilettos cause the carpets can be squashy.
    2. There’s a photo of me falling on my face. It exists and I cannot make it unexist.
  • You still own the IP.
    1. Unless you signed it away.
    2. Read everything you sign very thoroughly.
  • Start over!

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

 

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WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Think Up New Ways To Promote Books?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Think Up New Ways To Promote Books?

A fellow author James Bow asks: Where do you get your ideas for promoting your work?

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One of the mantras of marketing your novels, especially in genre work, is Know Your Audience.

That is, to know who they are. Know their demographics. Know their age. Know their gender, sexuality, average spend on books, and what they like to read in terms of comparable titles and preferred tropes.

But I would argue that it’s not enough to simply know the audience – you need to know where they live, too.

Now, I don’t mean in a stalkery sense. Don’t, you know, go to their houses and stare in their bathroom windows as they try to read in the tub.

I mean – know where they live on the internet.

Build a profile of your “Everyfolk” by looking at a slice of your reviewership. Where do they post reviews of your work? What do they like best about it? What other interests can you glean from their profiles? Do they have social media accounts? What do they talk about most on those accounts? And most importantly… where do other people like them learn about new books and fandoms to buy and read and love?

As an example…

If I were a writer of cottage-cozy mysteries, I might look at the lives of ten of my reviewers (making sure, of course, not to pick my own family or friends). In looking at those reviewers let’s pretend I build an Everyfolk profile that says on average my reviewers, and thus my readership, learns about my novels from my personal newsletter and a still-active Yahoo-Group about mysteries with protagonists like mine, spends a lot of time on Facebook primarily, and has side interests in baking strange pinterest recipes.

Maybe I write modern contemporary queer YA romance, and my Everyfolk spends a lot of time on Wattpad and Tapas, loves funny memes on Tumblr, and really only uses Twitter to yell at Trump and the NRA.

Maybe I write superhero novels, and my Everyfolk knows the MCU backwards and forwards, posts long blistering meta critiques of Netflix shows on their instagram accounts, and worships a handful of freelance illustrators who have a side hustle doing commissions work at comic conventions, or illustrating scenes from their fave fics as gifts.

And if you can’t find this information from your online research, then you know, you can just ask them.

Once you have your profile, then you can figure out how to reach these different Everyfolk where they live. And once you know that, you can think of all the ways to catch their attention.

The Everyfolk Cozy Mystery readers will be attracted to ads on Facebook, or promo codes and sales through your newsletter, or offered to their Yahoo Group. But you know what might actually really catch their attention – some kind of baking thing that ties in with your books. If they love baking, then engage them on that level. Make a series of videos where you speed-bake through one recipe per novel in the series (and hey, give the cake a neat twist, like making a lava cake where the chocolate inside is the color of blood).

For the Contemporary Queer YA Everyfolk, make ads on Twitter. Post part or all of the novel on Wattpad or Tapas (especially if it’s the first of a series.) but these are folks who like free, so do giveaways and contests for ARCs, too. And also make some fun internet quizzes, or meme-machines, or hop on the most recent meme-wagon and do some stuff adjacent to your book. (@DrunkAusten is a great account to follow for examples of these sorts of memes).

For the Superhero Novel Everyfolk, advertise your books on Instagram, and learn how to use some of the many fun plug-ins to animate your book. Study the #Bookstagramer and #Shelfie images and recreate them with your own novels. But also consider commissioning some of your own art from those fantastic artists to get your characters in front of the reader’s eyes – even better, combine it with some sort of promocode or giveaway.

The point is this – engage your readership in ways that they like to engage with one another.  And do it genuinely, too. Become a part of the community before you start to market yourself.

And don’t just ask them to create – don’t hold a fanfic, or cosplay, or art competition where they do all the work and you get all the free marketing as a result. That’s exploitation and frankly insulting. Throw your passions down in with theirs, show willing, and have fun. Offer something, instead of asking for something.

The goal here is create something that on the surface is nifty, fun, and has viral potential. But the secondary purpose, i.e. the B Plot, is actually marketing your books. (And before you release the thing, make sure your website is fully updated, because people will start Googling you if it’s successful. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down).

And if it doesn’t go viral and bring a lot of attention to your books, well then at least it was fun to do with a great new community of awesome folks, right?

Right!

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Think Up New Ways To Promote Books?
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?

Hello, my lovely readers! Welcome to a special guest WORDS FOR WRITERS post from Beverly Johnson! Want to know all about travel writing? Read on! –J

Photo by Pexels

How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?
by Beverly Johnson

The thing about travel writing that George Stone articulated perfectly is this: Everyone is a travel writer, but not everyone knows it. People tweet, take photographs, and scribble notes whenever they travel, and each activity is a unique take on your experience in a new place. The Editor in Chief of National Geographic Travel argues that the only difference between a normal traveler and a travel writer is a deadline.

While that last part is true for magazine writers, it’s not the case if you’re looking to write a book on your own spare time. Still, the demands are the same: You must sweep the reader off their feet to be present in your journey with you; you must take them on a spatial, outward journey, but also inward and across time; and you must, most importantly, do it well. But how exactly do you turn your travel bucket list into a book worthy of a reader’s time, money, and effort?

Getting started

For starters, make sure your bucket list is as detailed as possible. Lottoland explains that this can take the form of one long list of things you want to do or a shorter one exclusively related to travel goals. The latter is better suited for the purposes of your writing. Avoid general entries like hiking, spending a day in a village, etc. Modify your list so it revolves around a specific place (Things to do in Bangkok), or activities under a common theme encompassing several destinations (Studying the Nuances of Southeast Asian Cuisine).

Making your list is the first step you can take to shape the book you are about to write. Your trip shouldn’t just be the story itself but rather, a series of events from which you can draw your narrative. There are plenty of books and websites out there following the Bucket List format (The Top Places to See in the World and so on), so it’s best to write from your own point of view. Instead of simply recommending places to visit, challenge yourself to weave a story in connection to your travel bucket list and your own experiences and thoughts. As Carl Rogers succinctly puts it, what is most personal is most universal, and this remains true in psychology and in writing. In truth, some of the best travel books not only offer marvelous views into the world out there; they also take a journey through a writer’s life and psyche, which can altogether be more fascinating.

The nitty gritty

With this in mind, remember that there is no need to tell your entire trip chronologically. Skip the touristy areas, ask a lot of questions, make friends, take notes of what people say and how, and snap a lot of photographs. Sometimes, a taking strolls along the streets can tell you more about a place and its culture than any number of museums you visit. Try shopping at a local wet market or eat alongside residents in simple restaurants. Save the best pieces, anecdotes, and descriptions you absorb during the trip to tell the story. Make it truly your story by interweaving facts, descriptions, and observations in your narrative.

The great thing about travel writing is that there’s absolutely no shortage of inspiration anywhere you go. However, if at any point you’re feeling stuck, check out the guide to getting over a block previously shared here on the J.M. Frey blog.

The hard part

Of course, your project doesn’t end with all that nitty gritty work! As any writer with publishing experience will tell you, the hardest part is the homestretch. For instance, editing isn’t just about getting perfect grammar, it’s about making sure your story works; it’s relatable; and that it draws out the best from your travel experience. Travel writers of The Guardian emphasize the importance of triple-checking your facts and being economical about your work. Be ruthless about editing out words and anecdotes that no longer add to your book’s purpose and do your best to avoid clichés. Have a trusted friend or beta reader to go through your work, if you wish.

After all of this, it’s finally time to reach out to publishers about your book. Granted, going through an agent isn’t for everyone, but as explained in another Words for Writers blog post, there are still many advantages related to having one.

Have any more questions? Be sure to check out more WORDS FOR WRITERS articles or CONTACT J.M. HERE.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: How Do I Turn My Travel Bucket List into a Book Worthy of Reading?
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Guest Post on Katie Hamstead’s Blog

Guest Post on Katie Hamstead’s Blog

I wrote a post over on Katie Hamstead’s blog about finishing a novel series!

Click here to head on over and give it a read.

Excerpt:

It takes a lot out of a gal to write a trilogy. What a lot of people don’t realize is that writers aren’t only just writing while they’ve got the pen in their hands, or their fingers on their keys. They are thinking about their stories constantly, playing mental Jenga with scenes as they do the dishes, and composing the perfect opening line in a boring office meeting, and brainstorming how on Earth they’re going to get themselves out of that corner they wrote a character into while doing the bedtime routine with the kiddos. They are making notes everywhere – scrap paper, receipts, notebooks in purses, on whiteboards and chalk walls, and sticky notes bristling from the edge of their computer screens like a lion’s mane. And the moment when you hand that final manuscript in, that moment when it stops being your burden is… wonderful. And Scary.

 

 

JM FreyGuest Post on Katie Hamstead’s Blog
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: When Does Style Get in the Way of Story?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: When Does Style Get in the Way of Story?

The one and only creative writing class I took was in third year of my undergrad studies. I was taking play/screenwriting from the Drama department at the same time, but I wanted a rounder view of storytelling to accompany learning how to construct a script. I signed up for a short story writing course – where, let’s be honest, I handed in a lot of thinly-disguised fanfic – and looked forward to finding the deep, intellectual, creative camaraderie that one sees in films about groups of writers.

There were eleven of us, and I remember four other people from the class distinctly. Two, because they were fanficcers like me (and friends to this day), who also like me learned some things from the class but mostly had been taught all the basics of storytelling and grammar from the online fanfic community.

There was an older woman who really should have been in a memoire writing class over a short story class. I always got partnered with her because I seemed to be the only one who bothered to take the time to explain to her that just because “that’s how it happened in real life” doesn’t mean that’s exactly how it should happen on the page, especially when you only have 5 000 words and no space to waste them.

And then there was him.

You know who I mean.

That Guy.

The self-important, ego-centric, hipster (though we didn’t have that word yet) cis straight white guy who idolizes Hemingway and reads Mein Kampf in public as a deliberate act of protest and discusses Hitler’s wordcrafting as if his politics were never the problem, and doesn’t believe that Writing is a skill you have to practice and improve upon. Someone who doesn’t use an editor because “every word out of my pen is perfect the moment I set it down” and who thinks the publishing industry is just a sad money-grab for hack writers getting suckered by greedy agents, but still not-so-secretly desperately wants to be an Oprah Selection, a New York Times best seller, and Nobel Prize winner.

At the end of the semester, we had to write a short story using some set of elements, which we would all then spend the last few classes critiquing for one another. I left That Guy’s for last because I know I would enjoy it least.

When I finally got to it – printed out, typeset in courier new and bound with a brass brat –  looked like this:

Onceuponatimetherewasacircusclownwho jumped all day upand down ona trampolinemadeoutof thehair of a beautifulgray mare whoneverletanyone brusherhairbuttheclownHelloOldGirlthe clownsaidto heronedayas he pushedbacktehdustyredflap of the circustentinwhichthe oldgraymarelikedto spendhertimebetween herperformances

But it looked like that for five goddamn pages.

When it came time to discuss That Guy’s story, everyone looked around the table, not wanting to go first. Someone said something about the metaphor of the clown, someone else said something tentatively about the color of the prose, and then everyone looked at me.

It was awful, their eyes said. You do it.

(I had, at that point, garnered a bit of a reputation for being a bit of a Stone Cold Bitch when people were Trying To Be Clever in class. At that point I was writing, reading, and critiquing for two creative writing courses, as well as somehow writing a play for the theatre department and maintaining a mildly successful fanfiction series on Fanfiction.net, and providing Beta Reads for other folks in the fanfic community, keeping up with homework for three other courses, and working part-time at McD’s and another job postering for the Centre for the Arts. I think this was also the Year of LARP. I had No Time For Shenanigans.)

I hesitated, and then I finally said, “To be frank, I never read the damn thing.”  There were gasps around the table, and the professor murmured something about it being part of the course. I held up the page – more black than white – and said, “It’s unreadable. It might be a great story, but I will never know because he has intentionally made it a frustrating, difficult experience. I got eye strain trying to figure out the sentences and fatigue from the mental work of understanding. I was so caught up in translating the text that I missed what the story is completely.”

There was some bluff and bluster about the story maybe just being too clever for me from That Guy, and the professor smirked and then looked away quickly.

And I said: “Listen, you ever wanna make money on this? You never will. Not if you pull stupid stunts like this. It feels like you’re condescending to your audience, you’re trying to trick them, and it’s too hard to read. Nobody will pay for you to laugh at them.”

“But the story is good!” someone else in the class protested. (I was perhaps being a bit too harsh, and I think they were trying to soften the blow.)

“I never found a story,” I replied. “The text wouldn’t let me into it. I was locked out by the style. I’m sure there’s a story on the other side of this brick wall of words, but I couldn’t get access to it. And if it’s that hard for me, and I am paying for the privilege of being in this class and reading these stories, imagine how much less inclined a paying audience will be to spend the time to understand it.”

The Guy huffed and crossed his arms and slumped and said, “So, I should dumb down my work?”

And I said, “No, you should work on your work. Standardized punctuation and grammar exist for a reason. They exist so the words don’t get in the way of the story you’re trying to tell. Not knowing the rules and not even trying to learn them is not the same as making a deliberate stylistic choice to break them.” (I might have had a chip on my shoulder from earlier in the semester when I had to teach the fool what a bloody hard return was actually for in dialogue.)

That Guy starting pouting and everyone looked to the Professor. He shrugged and said: “She’s not wrong.”

I don’t know what mark he got on the story, but I do know that he was made to rewrite and hand it in again.

So what does this anecdote illustrate? Why did I bring this up?

Because when I think back to that story, when I think back to what happened, I still get angry and frustrated. I feel like a child trying to express the way-to-big-emotions that are filling up my still-so-tiny body and just crying and screaming because that’s my only tool of communication. I hate the story, and I hate that writer, and I hate the fact that he was trying to trick me in some way and it was all just so weakly obvious and condescending.

Now do I really hate his story? No, I never read it so I don’t actually have an opinion of it. Do I really hate That Guy? No, of course not. Do I really think that he was trying to deliberately trick me? No.

But it feels like it.

I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember his story. I don’t even really remember what he looked like. But I remember how he made me feel.

And for readers, how a book makes them feel is so much more a part of the experience of reading than the wordcrafting. People talk about how stories make them feel all the time – in reviews, in blurbs, to friends and neighbors. Writing sells because of how it makes people feel.

But a story can’t make anyone feel anything if they can’t figure out how to read it.

Now, I’m not advocating for ‘lowest possible denominator dumb it down’ writing. I’m advocating for clear, easily understandable communication.

“Style” is word choice, and imagery choice, and how long your sentences are and where you break up paragraphs. It’s about how you write out dialogue and accents, and what parts of the story you choose to tell, and whose POV you tell it from. It’s about how you play with the musicality of the rhythm of the words. Its about which rules you decide to break, and how, and how consistently you do so in order to convey something extra and beyond in the prose. (Breaking a rule should always be a consistently-applied deliberate choice that adds something to the reader’s understanding of the story, rather than taking away).

I’m not saying don’t have style.

I’m saying that the moment style gets in the way of story, then it’s gone too far.

Style should always add, and not detract.

Think of a story like a set of stairs. Style should be the escalator going up, helping readers get to the destination smoothly. It shouldn’t be an escalator going down, so your reader has to huff and puff and fight against it to get to the end of the book.

When figuring out a style for your tale, build an uppy escalator. Not a downy one.

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

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