If you’re familiar with this blog, you already know my thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.
If you’re not, it’s boils down to my suspicion that for most writers walking the self-pub route hooking up with a traditional publisher doesn’t really make sense.
But what if I’m wrong?
I’m gonna do the Devil’s Advocate thing here and try to figure out why oh why I, a writer who still does a happy dance when he sells a book, would want to cuddle up NOW on that Publishing love seat with a Major. By the way, notice the singular “a” and the lack of an “s” on “book”? Yeah, Majors are knocking down my door, I tell ya.
Any-hoo, there are several reasons to consider a Major, some of which I might cover in future Posts.
The selling of film rights is my focus today.
I’m a screenwriter. I’m also lucky enough to have longtime friends who are neck deep in that world, be they actors, producers, directors, etc. I know the desperation Hollywood has for new source material and the lengths they’ll go to find it. And I also know what it’s like for writers who find their books being optioned into films.
In most cases, it really sucks.
Yeah. It sucks.
Once you’re past the initial excitement of a movie producer actually LOVING your work and being wined and dined by Big Names in LA and then signing a contract (!!!!!!!!) with Celebrity Superstars (OMG!) being bandied about as possible Leads and, of course, having to seriously consider those Oscar nods coming everyone’s way (deep breath), the process kinda goes downhill.
Yep. Immediate hard left into Suckyville, population You.
Because the reality is it takes a … long … time … to … get … anything … done … in … Holly … wood.
Anne Rice’s book “Interview with a Vampire” was optioned by Paramount before it was published in 1976. They sat on it for ten years and did absolutely nothing. For ten years. Once the option expired, the Rights reverted back to her — smart move, Rice’s Attorney — and she took it to Lorimar Productions/Warner Bros. who scooped them up before flipping them to David Geffen a couple years later. Co-writing the script with the uncredited assistance of Neil Jordan, Rice finally got her film made in 1993/1994.
And it only took eighteen years. From the first selling of the Rights to Red Carpet Premiere, eighteen years.
You see? Forever.
But she’s a big fish. And, remember, she infamously had NO say on casting even if she is Anne f’ing Rice.
So, what’s it like for us?
Let me put it this way: make sure your contract gives you tickets to the Film Premiere.
Truth of the matter is, once you sign away the Rights, whoever’s brought in to adapt your work into a screenplay has license to change whatever they like at the Studio or Production Company’s behest. No longer OWNING the story or the characters as it pertains to the Film, all you, the Author, can do is sit back and watch. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be kept in the loop.
And it can get worse from there. I could write a thousand or more words about how Hollywood conveniently forgets you exist once you sign away your Rights with an excited flourish. Months and months going by without a word from anyone about anything as your new BFFs suddenly go all MIA.
Which brings me back to why oh why would we sign with a Major.
Their Legal Department could — COULD — walk you through this. Their lawyers might — MIGHT — have a good relationship with Studio A and perhaps you won’t get screwed too badly. And the Major has stood in this room a million times before (perhaps) whereas you, Newbie Author #54, are stuck doing the I-can’t-see-a-fucking-thing tango with a chair while searching for the light switch.
And let’s not forget the Major knows EVERYONE in Hollywood. You know where Julia Roberts lives, if this Map of Celebrity Homes is correct. (it’s not)
In other words, it’s still up to you to know what you can and can’t get and what you can and can’t ask for.
Reversion of Rights? Sole Separated Rights? Derivative Works and Passive Payments? How about Freezing your Reserve Rights? What Credit are you getting? Is there a Production Bonus? What’s the formula for Residuals? Will there be Box-Office Bonuses? Will you be attending screenings, festivals, premieres?
Granted, the above questions might be more from a screenwriter perspective. But that’s another question that should be on your mind: what access will you have to the screenwriting process? Will they even consider letting you anywhere near the script AT ALL to offer notes or thoughts or WTFs or you-gotta-be-kiddings?
You know, if you’re a screenwriter as well, try and negotiate the writing of a First Draft with two or three rewrites. I mean, hell, you’ll be one of many, many, many writers brought onboard to make this “perfect”, so you might as well stamp your stank on that puppy and hopefully line yourself up for a Written By credit.
Why the hell not?
What I’m trying to say is one of the pluses of signing with a Major is the hand-holding you might get should Hollywood come a’callin’.
But first you gotta write a book — preferably a series — Hollywood will want to buy and build a readership the Studios know without a doubt will put their butts in the seats in a movie theater.
And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.