Many authors dream of seeing their books turned into films, but for some, it’s a nightmare.
After all, filmmakers tend to take liberties with an author’s story, often making changes that seem detrimental to the tale just to “make it their own.”
For example, P.L. Tavers, author of the Mary Poppins series, burst into tears when she saw what Disney had done to her books. Now, the film “Mary Poppins” won the Academy Award for “Best Picture of the Year and became a huge hit, but Tavers didn’t like it. In the same way, Tolkien didn’t want to sell his rights to Lord of the Rings, but filmmakers got them anyway. When the rights to Harry Potter went up for sale, Rowling went so far as to put an ad in the New York Times decrying the sale.
Heck, just a few weeks ago I pulled my Runelords books from consideration with a large television studio because I had an artistic disagreement. They wanted to add more sex and violence, I didn’t.
You might not always like what a studio does with your books, but usually, the film sale will work out very well for a writer. Why? Because one of the biggest costs for making a film comes from promoting the film.
Promoting a major movie typically costs $35 million spent on ads in-theater, on television, in print media and on the internet and radio. All of that advertising doesn’t just sell the movie, it also spills over and increases sales on your book.
Once a book gets turned into a film, the book gets a new lease on life. The book will get wrapped with a new cover—one taken from stills for the movie—and will be distributed widely in better supermarkets and gas stations everywhere. The book will also be put in special displays in bookstores, and the publisher may engage in a bit of print advertising.
All of this will sell a lot of copies. A few years ago, a terrible movie was made from a popular book that I won’t name here. The movie was a real dog, a classic disaster. But the publisher told me that they sold an extra two million copies of the book anyway.
Think about it. The royalties paid to the author would have equaled about $1.6 million dollars. You could crumple those 1.6 million-dollar bills all up and make a very cozy mattress out of them!
This example comes from a movie that was a disaster, but what if a genuinely good film were made from your books? The Lord of the Rings movies helped sell about 100 million books globally, from what I can tell. The Harry Potter movies helped make the book the bestseller of all time. And Tavers with Mary Poppins—I’m sure she cried all the way to the bank.
The same can happen in television. The Game of Thrones series helped make the books into a phenomenon.
You can, of course, turn a book into a huge hit without having a movie tie-in. The problem is that it requires a lot of investment from the publisher in cooperation with the bookstores. The stores have to agree to give the book special face-out advertising in prime locations in the stores. They may have to agree to put up special displays. If the books are selling at a high-enough velocity, this makes sense for everyone. But coordinating these efforts with bookstore owners who might be harried, lazy, or stupid is emotionally draining for the publisher, and often doesn’t work.
That’s why, if an author like JK Rowling or Stephen King or Dan Brown breaks out into the “phenomenon realm,” where they are actually selling more books than the genre’s audience would seem to allow, it is almost always done because a good film tie in was made.
This is why, with my Apex writing group, I want to stress that writers be open to filmmaking. You should begin nurturing contacts with film producers and agents early. You might find it helpful to attend large film festivals or even begin mastering the fine art of writing a screenplay.
If you would like to learn more about my Apex Writers group and sign up, click here: https://www.thecompleatwriter.com/ and then click on memberships. One thing of many that I offer is bi-weekly video chats often with special guests. I have invited New York Times Bestselling thriller and horror writer Jonathan Maberry to speak in tomorrow’s video chat. Apply today!