Books to Movies

There are four major platforms for taking a fictional story big. You can launch it as a book (either traditional or comic), or film (either movies or television), or as a videogame. But in the last couple of years, we’ve also seen toy franchises breaking out as platforms for movies with things like Transformers, Battleship, and The Lego Movie.

Any time that you have an intellectual property (IP) that goes big in one medium, it becomes ripe for production in other mediums.

So, for example, if you write a book and go out and sell millions of copies, you are creating an audience for that IP. Movie studios don’t have to give much thought about whether to turn your book into a movie. All that they have to do is look at the numbers. If you hit 5,000,000 sales with a mainstream novel, then the chances are excellent that someone will want to base a movie off it. But if you’ve only got an audience of 20,000, chances are excellent that no studio will back the project—even if you line up star actors, an A-list director, and a talented producer.

Instead, the studio will wait until you grow an audience. As you get a couple of million sales, the studios will show more and more interest . . . until the audience becomes so vast that the execs salivate at the thought of making a film.

You see, the size of the IP is far more important than those other considerations. If you have a built-in audience, then the studios know that the fans will come. Otherwise, the studio may have to spend vast amounts of money to try to interest potential customers, and that can be a risky proposition. How much can they spend? Well, even a small movie release can cost $10 million in advertising, and many major motion pictures might spend far more on previews, television commercials, ads in newspapers and magazines, radio ads, and so on. We’re talking as much as $100 million or more. In fact, in some cases, the budget for advertising can exceed the cost of shooting the film.

Yet sometimes, you can have low sales on a book and still get lucky and find a movie deal. Right now in the theatres, you can see The Martian, based on the novel by Andy Weir. It’s one of those rare novels where a talented director picked it up, and convinced the right power players that it would make a great movie despite the fact that sales were comparatively low.

So how can you get your book turned into a movie?

First, focus on writing and promoting your book. Try to grow your audience. As you do, you’ll see increased revenue from your books, even if you don’t make a movie.

Second, if you write a screenplay you may be able to sell your story in that form. It may be that all you need to do is invest a little time.

Third, many films in science fiction and fantasy are based upon graphic novels. If you create a graphic novel based upon your story, it acts as “eye candy,” appealing to directors and studio execs. This can be a bit costly, taking as much as $80,000 or so to produce, but it is an excellent selling tool.

Fourth, don’t forget to look for critical acclaim. You can enter your novel or your screenplay into contests and possibly win awards and gain visibility.

While you’re doing all of this, be patient. The truth is that the average book takes 14 years to go from a book to a movie. It’s a journey fraught with lots of difficulties and ups and downs.

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