Hoping For a Movie Deal, Part Two

Yesterday I began by giving you some basics on how books start their journey towards a Hollywood movie option. Today let’s talk about how this might (or might not) apply to YOU.

Will my agent shop MY book to Hollywood agents?

Here’s the hard part. Because the odds are against us selling the film rights in many cases, we have to make careful choices about how to spend our time. We have to see something compelling that makes us believe there’s a good chance your book will translate well to film or TV. Some things that make it worthwhile for us to be more aggressive in shopping your book to film agents:

→ Your book was sold to a major publishing house at auction for a lot of money
→ Your book is a NYT bestseller
→ Your book is garnering extremely positive reviews from major outlets
→ Your book has some special unique element that makes us think it just might have a chance of getting Hollywood’s attention

Those are situations in which the agent may spend more time and energy shopping film rights. But in many cases, even when those elements aren’t present, the literary agent routinely sends book pitches to their list of film agents, in case something grabs the film agent’s attention. Or they may work consistently with one film agent (as we do at WordServe) and they’ll show that agent every project they think could work in the movies.

Keep in mind your literary agent already believes in you and your book. They think your book is great—that’s why they took it on. They’ve sold it to a publisher. So don’t take it personally if they aren’t spending a lot of time aggressively trying to get your movie rights optioned. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in your book. It simply means that the odds are high against getting a movie option, and so your agent’s time is better spent elsewhere.

If your book was sold to a smaller publisher, including most Christian publishers, and it’s a modest success (fewer than, say, 50,000 copies sold), then a Hollywood movie is a long shot.

Sure, there are movies that get made from smaller books, but those usually happen because of a personal connection. A producer or a film scout happened to find the book somehow, and they spent years championing it.

My agent says a couple of production companies have inquired about film rights—how excited should I be?

It’s a great first step! And you can be proud that your book has gotten some attention. But in most cases, the inquiry doesn’t go any further. No counting chickens or looking at mansions on Yahoo Real Estate.

Since I announce my deals on Publishers Marketplace, it’s not unusual for me to get contacted by scouts for film agents and production companies, inquiring about film rights. I always respond and follow up, but so far none of the inquiries have gone anywhere.

If my book gets optioned, can I write the screenplay?

Writing a screenplay is a different art than writing a book. Even if you’ve written screenplays before, the chance is slim that a producer would hire you to write your own screenplay, so this is probably not something to set your sights on. It’s something that can be considered when the time comes. I recommend you don’t dream about a film deal in which you’re attached as the screenwriter.

Will my agent try to sell my book to Hollywood before even getting a publishing deal?

If you’re a bestselling author with a track record, especially if movies have already been made from your books, then yes. If you’re a newer author, either unpubbed or published with modest sales, then probably not. But it’s up to your agent – if she thinks it warrants exposure to Hollywood prior to a publishing deal, then that’s what will happen. And if by some chance the film rights are sold before the publishing rights, or you at least have an option from a production company, then that can sometimes help get a good publishing deal. However, everyone knows that most “potential movies” die long before they reach the screen (in “development hell”), so no one’s holding their breath for the film release.

How do the agent commissions work?

Typically the two agents (literary and film) share in commissions but the numbers vary. Sometimes both agents get 10% of any film options or deals, meaning the author is paying a 20% commission. Sometimes the author pays a 30% commission if there are three agents involved, or if both agents take 15%.

Any more questions? I’ll either answer in the comments or an additional post.

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Jenny on September 19, 2011 at 8:04 AM

    Digging your websites style, but also received some sort of javascript error on load up. In any case, looking good. Bookmarking and will check out often.

  2. Patricia on September 12, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    This is excellent information especially for those of us who are still rather inexperienced in this aspect of the industry.

    However, one thing that I keep hearing is Literary agents do this… what if you’re published with a modest house and have gotten there without the aide of a Literary agent? How can an author then protect themselves best to ensure that their books are given the same consideration and that their rights are protected in the event of an offer for an option is put on the proverbial table.

    Thanks for the information – great post.

  3. DaveDR on March 21, 2011 at 3:58 PM


    You can always ask for that first option to write the screenplay. The pay can be quite nice indeed. They likely will ask to see it and may not take your script. You should still be paid for Story By.

    You will have to demonstrate that you have the mechanics down. Note that a shooting script usually has a Director involved. A spec script, though still not prose-y, will not have every scene broken up.

    For instance, you have our MC's running down a spiral staircase. Either that is handheld, complicated tracking or numerous cut scenes. But one does not write a spec script that way as this is far too tedious to read.

    So make sure you know all these fine points before you toss something in front of them that scares them off. I'm thinking you may not have the luxury of time to learn all this if you are uninitiated. It ain't all that simple.

    Best wishes to you! I hope it works out; really!


  4. M. K. on March 20, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    >Things are a bit different in the book publishing industry in The Netherlands. An author doesn't need an agent in order to get a book deal as much as in the USA and also the film industry is not working the same as in Hollywood.

    I'm an author of psychological thrillers and I found a well respected publisher who is interested in my manuscript. At the moment we're in the first stages of negotiations about a possible collaboration and hopefully a contract will be in the making soon.
    Now for a couple of reasons I also wrote an elevator pitch for my novel and recently I sent it to a major Dutch film producer who is also working internationally (and is well-connected in Hollywood).

    Within 15 minuts he reacted to my e-mail and now we're in a situation where he has requested and seen a brief synopsis and the first three chapters of my manuscript.
    He says that he and his collegues most definately are seeing a movie in it and now he has asked me to show them the final version of the manuscript (which will be on the way in a couple of months, since now I'm in the middle of the editing rounds with the publisher).

    Of course the battle is not won yet and many factors can prevent it from actually becoming a movie, but I do have a question:
    if you look at my position in this right now, do you believe it's realistic for me to be seriously happy and not only keep the book publishing factor, but also the film option in mind when I will go into book contract nagotiations?

  5. DaveDR on March 11, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    >I have had five total screenplays under option. None of them were ever filmed. That is closer to reality. Now I have completed one novel and on to the next. In the movie biz, jobs change hands frequently. There are many along the way who need to sign off on a project. Any hesitation along the way is a "no."

    One way to improve your odds is by way of Attachments. Attachments are bankable assets (talent, usually). Most times talent sign on via a form promising compensation, provided funding becomes available.

    What do I mean by bankable? If you get, hopefully, A-Talent star attached, that person will permit you to run to a certain Director who may agree, provided that star actually moves forward. The star will not till you get the money.

    Now, money in hand, you go to the bank (either an actual bank with a film-lending arm or to private parties -hint- look at Executive Producer credits) and get your funding with the agreements you have in hand.

    Now you are ready for your next step. This is an illustrative simplification as you also have to use these attachments to garner Distribution, etc. But that is the studio method of film-making. Get some assets together and I'll bet an Agent would be more likely to jump in.

    Creative is only one side of the publishing/entertainment biz. One must prepare to suit-up for business as well. You cannot leave it all to the poor, busy agent. Be creative. Be professional.

    My two cents.

    -Dave Reynolds
    Author, Shift (Inpirational Paranormal)

  6. Rachelle on March 10, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    >Marion: Nope, it's all the same thing. When saying "Hollywood movies" in the post I was referring to all feature-length films including those that are made for TV, made for cable (Hallmark, Lifetime, etc) and straight to DVD.

  7. KC Frantzen on March 10, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    >Wonderful information. Thank you so much for your caring approach!

  8. Marion on March 10, 2011 at 3:57 AM

    >What about TV movies? I seem to remember (although I didn't watch it) that Saving Sarah Cain & some others were shown on TV–Lifetime, I think. I assumed they were made-for-TV, but maybe they were regular movies first?
    Is it easier/harder/it-depends to get a book made into a TV movie, as opposed to a "Hollywood" (or Indie or Brit, Bollywood, etc.) movie?
    Thanks, Rachelle.

  9. örgü işleri on March 9, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    >thank you

  10. Julie Nilson on March 9, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    >I've never really considered whether my (incomplete) novel would make a good movie, but as a movie buff, this is fascinating reading!

  11. Michelle DeRusha@Graceful on March 9, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    >The possibility of my book becoming a movie has never once crossed my mind — right now I'd simply be happy with it becoming a real, live book.

    That said, when my parents' neighbor found out I got an agent (because of course my parents are broadcasting it to everyone!), he asked my dad, "Can I play the neighbor in the movie?!" Neither of us has the heart to tell Mr. Walsh that he didn't even make it into the book, so his chances of playing himself in the movie are slim to none.

  12. Monica B.W. on March 9, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    >Thanks Rachelle! Great answers 😀

  13. Tamika: on March 9, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    >What writer doesn't dream of movie rights:) But I won't be greedy a book contract will do!
    It's interesting to know the dynamics though. If Hollywood calls I'll be sure to answer!

  14. Christy Lee Taylor on March 9, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    >Interesting post! I am fairly new to Rachelle's blog as I am just entering the writing world having been in the film industry for many years.
    I have the film rights to Francine Rivers' book, Redeeming Love and it has been a work in progress for many, many years. Although the book has sold close to 2 million copies and I have Ralph Winter who has done over 2 billion at the box office with films like X-Men, Fantastic Four, Star Trek etc.. on board as a producer….it is STILL hard in this economy. As far as the author having input, as an author you can ask for certain things you may want, examples might be no nudity, no taking God's name in vain etc… and if the producer wants it badly enough they will be OK with that. Like Rachelle said you also can have a clause that says you can remove your name if the end product is something you don't want to be associated with…hopefully whoever optioned or purchased the rights will want to make you proud of what they are doing. I could have probably made Redeeming Love 2 or 3 times, but I didn't feel the end result would have been what I have in mind and I want Francine to LOVE it. Hope that is helpful!

  15. Cory on March 9, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    >Hmm I know of several Christian authors books that have been made into movies. For the most part I would say none of them where what I would call chessy, remember though I liked Wyatt Earp so my taste is questionable.

    Micheal Landon Jr directed alot of the ones I have seen.

    He has done:
    The Love Comes Softly series by Janette Oak, Saving Sarah Cain, which was The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis, The Last Sin Eater by Francis Rivers.

    There is also not directed by Micheal Landon, The List by Robert Whitlow, The Note by Angelia Hunt (though I would call this one kind of chessy), and the last one I watched was Like Dandilion Dust baised on Karen Kingsbury's book.

    Alot of them are produced by Fox Faith.

  16. James Scott Bell on March 9, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    >Hollywood is the only town where you can die of encouragement. (Pauline Kael)

  17. Catherine West on March 9, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    >Very interesting stuff here. Sure have thought about it but I wasn't actually aware of all the behind the scenes stuff. I'd be more than willing to sit in on the casting calls though, that should help them out some. If you're going to have a dream, may as well make it a big one!

  18. Julz on March 9, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    >I'm jumping in a little late, but I was curious…

    Let's say that an author sells her film rights for $1,000. The movie gets made within the option period and goes on to become a huge success and earns a lot of money. Does the author get a share of any of that money?

  19. Rachelle on March 9, 2011 at 10:37 AM

    >Monica: Preempts, auctions… whatever. Anything that says people are loving this manuscript will elevate its status and make more people want to get on board, including movie people.

    Question #2: It depends on who owns the film rights. If your agent withheld film rights from the publishing contract, meaning YOU own them, then the publisher will probably not help sell the rights since they do not have any financial participation in the movie. If, however, your publisher owns the film rights, it's a whole different deal. Then they may have someone out there actively trying to sell their properties to production companies. There are several Christian publishers who won't do a deal unless it includes the film rights, because they are actively shopping their books to Christian movie producers.

  20. Dara on March 9, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    >Thanks for posting this! I've pictured my book in my head as a movie, since I'm a visual person. I'm sure many others have done the same! I don't think I'd be broken-hearted though if my books were never made into movies. I'd be really afraid the production company would make the movie a mess 😛

  21. Monica B.W. on March 9, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    >Wow! Awesome post! I devoured it!
    So I have two questions, and btw, thanks for taking the time to answer! you rock.

    My first question is about what makes it worthwhile for agents to be more aggressive in shopping the book to film agents. You named a few things, but you didn't say anything about a preempts. And I had the impression that auctions look better than preempts… if so, why is that?

    And second: say, I sold my book to a major publisher. Do they help in getting a film option. Like with connections or something?

    Again thanks so MUCH!! 😀

  22. Loree Huebner on March 9, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle. You answered all of my questions about the author's hand in writing the screenplay. Interesting post.

  23. Rechelle on March 9, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    >Very informative post. Thanks for sharing.

  24. astrid paramita on March 9, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    >Thank you for posting this, Rachelle.
    I thought about this issue a lot. One of my dreams is for my book to be someday made into a movie (yes, I know it's still a long way up) but at least after reading this I know what to expect from the journey.
    I also thought if what I really want is to create a movie, it might be wiser to just take a screenwriting / directing path instead.

  25. Jessica Nelson on March 9, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    >Wow, fascinating stuff!

    I've never thought my stories would translate well into a movie so it's not something I even dreamed about. There are some books though that I'd love to see made into a movie!

  26. patti.mallett_pp on March 9, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    >Very interesting, Rachelle. Thanks for mentioning Orson Scott Card. How wonderful to hear of someone who cares more about his story than publicity and fame!

  27. Sharon A. Lavy on March 9, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    >I'm wondering if there are benefits other than money to having the novel made into a movie. Does it elevate the Novel? And the novelist?

  28. Cliff Graham on March 9, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    >Side note: Fellow authors, this is one of the best blog posts on this topic I've read. Bookmark it. Thanks Rachelle.

  29. Rachelle on March 9, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    >Rick: One more thing on authors having the right to influence script, casting, etc. I'm sure you know of author Orson Scott Card — incredibly talented and successful. His most famous book, Ender's Game still hasn't been made into a movie because he has very specific requirements of both the script and the casting, and although he's had several MAJOR producers and directors have wanted to make the movie, no one will agree to sign a contract stipulating he'll get his wishes. A couple times he's come close to signing a contract selling the movie rights, with the producers making verbal promises to respect his vision on casting and some script issues… but sure enough, buried somewhere 40 pages into the contract was a clause saying basically they can do whatever they want with the movie regardless of the author's preferences. So more than 20 years after release, despite massive interest in film rights, Orson Scott Card still hasn't sold them.

  30. Cliff Graham on March 9, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    >Tana — The short answer is "sort of." There are horror stories, because once they own it, they really own it and can do whatever they want. But yes, the author is consulted. I was actively involved with the script process from start to finish and then some, but that's rare.

    The person or group writing the biggest check gets to decide what is in the script. The author is reasonably consulted (according to contract language).

  31. Rachelle on March 9, 2011 at 8:03 AM

    >Rick Barry: I answered your question in yesterday's comments. Here is a reprint of what I said: Typically, once the movie rights are sold, the author loses all ability to influence the screenplay. Screenwriters can take as much liberty as they need to make it work in a film medium. As you know, some movies stay relatively close to the book, while others veer wildly. I have a client whose book was optioned by a production company. It's a Christian book but we knew they'd never make a Christian movie out of it (if it were to ever hit the screen) so we included a clause in the contract allowing the author's name to be removed from the project if it ended up to be something that goes against what she stands for as a Christian author and speaker.

    Timothy: As you know, there are plenty of movies made each year by real production companies and starring recognizable actors that you'll never see in a movie theater. (Not just Christian movies, I'm talking about dozens or hundreds of mainstream-type movies.) And some you'll never even see in the video store. I would assume all those alleged Christian movies you're talking about went straight to video. But even with video, the issue is distribution, and many of them are probably only available through Christian outlets. Unfortunately the Christian books made into movies have a reputation for being terrible and cheesy – one more reason they're not easily found in the market.

  32. Cliff Graham on March 9, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    >Sharon– Yes, the novelist is paid an option fee if the production company exercises the option to make the film. The first round of checks written in the process go to the screenwriter (if it's an A-lister then the amount of money will be in the seven figures, something that may frustrate the author!) and production workers getting the film ready for serious pitches to investors, actors, and studios.

    Once everyone else is paid and the movie is ready to roll cameras, then they pay the option fee. Once the movie is released, the author gets royalties from everything.

    Rick– The author, unless named John Grisham, loses all control over it. Which is why you need to trust who is optioning your work (as much as is possible) and not just hand it out to anyone just because they are a producer. The team that is doing my stuff went out of their way to say that they wanted to keep my vision intact, but that cinema is a different language. And they were right.

  33. Alannah on March 9, 2011 at 7:48 AM

    >Thanks for the informative post. Having a film made out of my novel is one of my dreams, along with being published. I do not want Hollywood though, I want a UK indie cult film made, English through and through, so perhaps, there is more hope for me, though I know it's tough out there for everyone.

  34. Sharon A. Lavy on March 9, 2011 at 7:26 AM

    >A good movie director and good actors could probably make an interesting movie out of any novel, they change it all around anyway. LOL.

  35. Wendy Paine Miller on March 9, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    >Several people have asked me if I write screenplays after I share with them I write women’s fiction. I try to briefly explain how those two types of writing are different ball parks entirely.

    Interesting to learn more behind the scenes on this topic.

    Water for Elephants is coming!
    ~ Wendy

  36. Sharon A. Lavy on March 9, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    >Does the novelist get any money from the movie, since they give the scriptwriting job to someone else?

  37. Rick Barry on March 9, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    >Excellent reality check, Rachelle. But if Tinsel Town purchases movie rights for a book, does the author retain any veto power at all concerning what the screenplay writers and director inject into the story? (Foul language, bedroom scenes, etc.) I've read of cases where the chosen actors say, "How about if we do this…?" and persuade the director to adjust the story in a way that even the screenplay writers didn't foresee, let alone the book author. If I recall rightly, Clive Cussler was so ticked off at the way Hollywood butchered his first movie that it took years before they got to do another of his novels.

    (Not expecting any of these woes to happen to me, just wanting a full-sized reality check!)

  38. Timothy Fish on March 9, 2011 at 6:22 AM

    >There is something I've wondered about. I realize that many of the movies I've seen were inspired by books, so I know it happens, but I've seen people talking about Christian novels being made into movies and I haven't seen any. I'm talking about big name Christian authors whose books grace every church library in the country. Am I missing something? Where are all of these movies?

  39. Tana Adams on March 9, 2011 at 3:16 AM

    >I wouldn't want to write the screenplay, but does the writer have the option to go over the work and give input to the translation?

  40. Martinelli Gold on March 9, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    >Fantastic, straightforward explanations without a lot of technical jargon. Thanks!

  41. Flower Patch Farmgirl on March 9, 2011 at 12:39 AM

    >This is fascinating! I remember reading The Help (we've ALL read it, right?) and knowing for sure that it was just a matter of time before it would be transported to the silver screen. I'll be there opening night, baby!

  42. Jeigh on March 9, 2011 at 12:04 AM

    >Learning all of this is just further proof of the value of agents. Thanks for taking the time to explain it!