Friday, October 16, 2015

SELLING MOVIE RIGHTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! by James Mihaley

If you live in Iowa and are working on an MG novel, probably the last thing on your mind right now is selling the film rights to your book.  That’s not a bad thing.  You should stay focused on completing the book and telling the story to the best of your ability.  If you do end up getting it published, and that could very well happen, then selling the film rights to your book is not as farfetched as you might think.  One Hollywood executive told me that one of the best ways to break into the movie business is by publishing a novel.  Why is that?  Well, and I’m sure you’ve noticed, most the movies that are getting made now, particularly in the children’s genre, are based on books.  The movie studios feel this is a safer bet because there is already a built-in audience. 

The fact that you live in Iowa is by no means a deterrent to selling movie rights.  Your agent will handle that on your behalf.  Typically a literary agent in NY will team up with an agent in LA who specializes in selling movie rights to books.  Your project is co-agented.  After you sell the movie rights and consume several bottle of champagne, you will be faced with a major decision.  Do you want to write the screenplay adaptation of your book or do you want the studios to hire a seasoned screenwriter to handle that tricky task?  If you do aspire to become a screenwriter and reap the enormous financial rewards then you should begin learning the craft of screenwriting ASAP.  Syd Field has written many definitive books on the subject.  Jay Asher, the mega successful YA author, told me the best book he ever read on writing in any genre was a screenwriting book.  According to Jay, writing for film forces you to be more concise and plot driven.  It forces you to tell the story with true velocity.  Thus, exploring the art of screenwriting can actually enhance your storytelling skills as a novelist.  And you might win an Oscar along the way. Why not give it a shot?


  1. When a film option was sold on my first book, We Hear the Dead, I was asked to collaborate on a screenplay with the producer. I had never aspired to such a thing, but she worked with me and after 18 months we had a screenplay to shop around. I was pretty proud of the fact that my screenplay writing skills were praised everywhere she took the script. The producer told me they kept asking, "This is really her first one?" Apparently I had an ear for believable dialogue. Alas, it was decided that the proposed movie had a limited appeal. (ie: teens wouldn't go out to see it because it was historical romance and not horror, despite the title.)

    A couple years later, the producer got funding through a Canadian company to make a short film and I bowed out as screenwriter b/c it had to be written by a Canadian as part of the rules. A short film WAS made, premiered at Cannes in 2013, and is now available to watch on YouTube. (It's called The Spirit Game.) The producer still hopes to sell it as a TV series premise, so the project is not dead yet.

    But she first picked up the rights in 2009 and has been renewing them every 18 months since. So, just saying, you have to have A LOT of patience after selling a movie option.

    Ahem, just like when trying to sell a manuscript. Right? ;)

    1. I with you on the time that things take in publishing, Dianne. Did you know that the publishing industry began as a collaboration between Methuselah and Job?

  2. So... did you sell the movie rights, James? (And drink all that champagne?)

    I know Save The Cat was written by a screen writer, and has since been co-opted by novelists, including me.

  3. I sold a couple of screenplays on my own and do feel comfortable writing in the genre. We're working on funding for you can't have my planet right now to make it independently

  4. If you're interested in script writing, or writing in general, you might enjoy my brothers blog, Let's Schmooze:

    Doug wrote the original story for the movie Sweet Home Alabama and teaches pitching and scriptwriting at Pasadena Art Center. I find it interesting how often his advice to scriptwriters works for novelists as well. In fact, I quoted him and a couple of other successful scriptwriters in an article which was recently reprinted here:

  5. Dianne said it, guys. Patience. Hollywood is a lot about the talk up front but things move slow. Before The Atomic Weight of Secrets was finished, there was attention from film folks. Having grown up in LA, I really did not pay much attention (we were in the middle of a revolution in Egypt so it was easy to be distracted.) Seeing The Lightning Thief film (which tore RR's amazing story apart) made me panic since several people who approached us suggested combining the first two books, or even the trilogy, into one film. My editor (who is a screenwriter) and I wrote the screenplays for the first two books. I HIGHLY recommend creating the screenplay or working with a partner! Even if it gets changed dramatically, the essence will be yours. It makes a difference. I met with a producer in LA before returning to Cairo and he said the same thing. That said, if the Australian backing wants something Australian, there will be Australians in the script. If the Asian group is where the producer turns, I may have to create a character from the Far East. It is important to remember that the film and the book are separate entities telling something of the same story in very different ways. You have to let go of details and be zen about it.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!