Subrights Part 3: Film Rights

Welcome to Part 3 of the Subsidiary Rights series, or as I affectionately call it “Money For Nothing.” You’ve already done the heavy lifting in writing, revising, and editing. Now it’s time to leverage your rights into other areas.

As you may recall, in February we talked about foreign rights. In March we discussed book clubs and large print. In July we’ll be focused on audiobooks.

But today’s all about film and TV rights.

Do you like watching a movie adaptation of a book you enjoyed? How about a TV show? I don’t know about you, but it’s long been my dream to see my work dramatized.

In general, film/TV deals are structured as an “option.” A production company will pay an author a lump sum for the right to consider producing a film or TV series based on the underlying book. The initial payment is for a set period of time. If they have not produced it by the time the option is up, they can renew the option and the author will receive another sum of money (generally a little more than the initial signing advance) for another period of time. Books can be optioned and re-optioned over and over again, sometimes indefinitely. Simply having your book optioned does not guarantee that the film or series will be made, although it does guarantee money during the option period regardless of what happens.

If the film or pilot is made, then the author will receive a production fee. If it gets picked up by a network or by a studio for distribution, then the author will receive another fee.  In the context of television, depending on the terms of the contract, the author will also receive a certain amount for every episode that is made, possibly a consulting fee, as well as a fee when each episode airs.

If the book being optioned is a series, then the production contract will need to re-contract for each book in the series (if they want to continue).

So how do you get such a deal?

The Rubies’ own Darynda Jones‘ FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT was optioned by CBS. Her literary agent acquired a film agent from ICM, one of the top three talent agencies in the world. Her film agent specializes in packaging deals, and felt that the books would work best as a TV series as opposed to a film, something along the lines of say, True Blood. So the film agent contracted a writer to go around Hollywood and pitch FIRST GRAVE as a TV series.

CBS heard about a grim reaper series that was being shopped around and was interested, but they already had their own writer who had pitched a grim reaper series that they’d rejected, but they wanted that writer paired with her series. And they wanted it for the CW. So CBS’ writer went to the CW to pitch Darynda’s series. The CW was itnerested, so CBS optioned it. According to her contract, if the series goes into production and the pilot gets made, either CBS or the CW can pick it up. Fingers crossed they do, and we all get to watch FIRST GRAVE on TV!

One thing that floored Darynda was that her film agent had to negotiate to get her name into the credits. It’s her book, but that’s part of the negotiation process.

That’s the traditional route. But does that mean only big books that hit the big lists with tons of press from Big Six houses can get optioned?

Absolutely not. A writer friend of mine from the IndieRomanceInk loop recently announced her own TV deal, and her journey is rather unconventional. So let’s hear from Maree Anderson in her own words:

“I had a YA that had done well on the contest circuit (but hadn’t interested agents or editors) languishing on my hard-drive. So in September last year, I self-published FREAKS OF GREENFIELD HIGH on Smashwords, Amazon, B&N, iTunes, etc.

To help get my name out there, and to build a fan-base, I decided to put FREAKS on Wattpad. My initial intention was to put up a chapter a week until the entire book was up, leave it there for a month or so, then delete it and leave a three chapter excerpt only.

Wattpad staff discovered FREAKS five chapters in, thought it was great, but not getting enough exposure. They wanted to feature it. This meant posting the whole book on Wattpad and leaving it there for an extended period, plus doing a few guest blogs and a podcast for Wattpad fans. FREAKS was featured on Wattpad in December and to date has had over 1.2 million reads.

It’s important to note that “reads” doesn’t translate to “sales” when it comes to Wattpad. “Free” rules on Wattpad, and the vast majority won’t rush out and buy the published version of your book. But there’s a bunch of fans eagerly awaiting the sequel I’m currently writing, and another bunch demanding I put out a print book. Plus the fan-mail is awesome!

In February, I was approached by a Canadian production company executive who’d read FREAKS on Wattpad, loved it, and thought it’d make a great TV series!

Obviously I did some research on the production company when I received the initial offer. Cream Productions is well known for its documentaries (and has won awards for them), but the backgrounds of the key drama department staff I dealt with reassured me that they were legit and well-respected in the industry. I found the IMDb website invaluable for researching individuals involved in the entertainment industry.

Next step was begging my indie-pub loop for advice. And the best advice I got was to go with an entertainment lawyer for this sort of negotiation. A literary agent — unless they also have a background in entertainment law — was not going to be the best person to negotiate this kind of complicated contract. One of the loop members had a friend who’d just sold a script to Disney, and he referred me to his lawyer. She charges a percentage of my earnings from this deal, just like a literary agent does, except the percentage is much lower. And she’s been invaluable.

After much to-ing and fro-ing to nail down the terms of the option if it progessed to being made into a TV series, a couple of weeks ago I signed off on the contract. So…

My young adult novel, FREAKS OF GREENFIELD HIGH (about a teenage cyborg hiding out at a small town high school and struggling to cope with human emotions) had been optioned for TV by Cream Drama, Inc. The next step is for Cream to pitch the project to broadcasters and if they obtain funding, we move forward from there.”

Sounds great, huh? Just like with Darynda, I really hope to see Maree’s series on air someday, too!

So Ruby readers, what books would you like to see made into a movie or TV series?


The second book in Amanda Brice’s YA mystery series, POINTE OF NO RETURN, was released last week exclusively for the Nook. It will be available in all other formats — including print — on June 13. For more information, visit her website:

51 responses to “Subrights Part 3: Film Rights”

  1. I must say, I’ve seen very few (as in three) adaptations of books I loved make a good transition into film. Still, to see your characters come to life on-screen has to be a fabulous high. I really hope Charlie can make the jump–although finding a suitable Reyes might take some doing. 😉

    As always, the info you provide is invaluable, Amanda. Thank you.

  2. This is a great post, Amanda, and a great series! It’s funny because I was recently talking to Steven Gould who wrote the book Jumper that was optioned for a film and starred Hayden Christianson. He was telling a story about how a fan asked him a question while he was on a panel. The fan said, “They didn’t stick to your version of the book. They changed it. Wasn’t that an insult?” His answer was quick and non-apologetic. He said simply, “Insult me again.”

    Once that baby leaves the writer’s hands, he or she rarely has much say in anything including casting, production, final scripts, but even a small adaptation can make sales skyrocket. Steven couldn’t have been happier and he defended the movie company’s vision that was admittedly different from his own. I found his attitude so refreshing. You hear so often how a writer didn’t like this or that or even threw a tantrum because an actor she doesn’t like was playing the lead role. The way I see it, this is like defusing a bomb. These things are much better left up to the professionals, the people who do it everyday.

    Anywho, just thought that an interesting story! Thanks for this post! Great info!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Awesome. I’d like to be “insulted” too, as many times as Hollywood cares to. 🙂

    • Elise Hayes says:

      Great story, Darynda–and great point to remember, both as viewers watching a favorite book adapted for TV/film and as writers who might someday (we all hope!) have our work dramatized.

    • Congratulations on your deal, Darynda–bet there was a heap of celebrating in your house once that contract was signed 🙂

      You raise a really excellent point about graciously accepting that if our stories make it to the small (or big!) screen, they may be vastly different to our original vision. I’ve been asked to provide a *wish list* for casting, which was huge fun, BTW. (I spent a few hours with my teenage daughter Googling hot young stars as potential “Tylers”–talk about mother/daughter bonding *g*) And I’ve also been given the opportunity to work on potential episode synopses to assist with the pitching process. But I’m very aware that *if* this project does get made, the result will be someone else’s vision. I’m totally cool with that. In fact, I think it’ll be quite fascinating to note all the differences. The way I see it, I write books so I’m happy to leave everything else to the experts!

      And yeah, I’m working on a sequel right now so please, insult me some more *g*

      • I just saw this, and that is too cool, Maree!!!! They haven’t asked me anything. LOL. Probably don’t really want my opinion on the subject. It’s cool that yours does. Shows lots of trust.

        Huge congrats!

        • LOL! I can just picture a producer or director going “OMG, Diva author who thinks she can write scripts and tell us how it’s done ahoy. Look out world, one bigass ego comin’ through.” Seriously tho, the toing and froing has been a hugely fun process so far. And though it’s nice to think it’s a two-way street and I’ll be consulted further down the track, I doubt it’ll continue this way because it’s probably not feasible to involve me too much–especially with me being in New Zealand and the production company being in Canada!

        • Ack! That was a description of how they’d see me, BTW *headdesk* Quick, someone get me more caffeine so I make sense before I press Submit Comment!

          • HA! No, I totally understood that, but I do think that is exactly what they’d be thinking about me if I ever tried to make an suggestions. LOL.

  3. Kat Cantrell says:

    Such a fascinating process! Thanks for the post Amanda. Congrats to Darynda and Maree for this fabulous achievement.

    I’m with Gwynlyn – so rarely does a book translate well to the screen. I prefer to see movies for books I haven’t read.

    • Hi Kat! *waves from New Zealand where I’ve just started work for the day* Thanks for the congrats — I’m pretty stoked! And I’m entirely realistic about the chances of this project actually making it to the small screen. But boy, the dreams sure are fun right now *g*

  4. Rita Henuber says:

    Amanda thank you for these. You are brilliant! It really is interesting to see all these processes. I can’t wait to see the series for Darynda and Maree.

    • Elise Hayes says:

      Ditto. Thanks, Amanda–this series has bee SOOOO helpful.

    • Thanks so much, Rita! But this is just the very first step in a long process that may stall at any time. Still, it’s been a wild ride so far–not to mention a huge ego boost *g*

  5. Liz Talley says:

    Yeah, I’m like Kat. I’ve changed. I once liked to read before the movie, but now I’d rather enjoy the movie then read the book. I usually find the book better, but it never ruins the movie for me.

    I’m more than a little upset that Tom Cruise has been chosen (or rather chose himself) to play Jack Reacher. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Tom Cruise is a bad actor. I like most his Mission Impossibles and when I watch Jerry Maguire I remember why I was so crazy about him in the 80-90s (before he jumped on Oprah’s couch), but he is NOT JACK REACHER. No, no, no. Liam Neisen? Yes. Tom Cruise. NO! Can you see I’m passionate about it?

    Jack Reacher is TALL, BLONDE and ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES. About as opposite as manicured, short, dark Tom Cruise as one can get. Yet, Lee Child has defended the choice. Smh at that one.

    Okay, enough yelling. I’ll smile and accept changes publically if ever any of my books (ha, ha) get made into a movie, even if secretly in my writer’s heart I’m thinking “WTH?”

    Great post. Off to share with others 🙂

    • Liz Talley says:

      Oh, and I meant to add that Linda Castillo’s “Pray” series is being developed for one of the cable stations. Her character is a former Amish police chief in an Amish community in Ohio. I really think the juxtapostion of the wholesomeness with the gruesomeness of murder is interesting and I think it will translate well as a TV series. Can’t be worse that Rizzoli and Isles (which I still stangely watch). I think Neve Campbell is the lead on Castillo’s series.

      • Amanda Brice says:

        That actually sounds really great!

        (And I still watch Rizzoli and Isles, too. LOL)

    • Amanda Brice says:

      That’s one of my big pet peeves. When the casting director GETS IT ALL WRONG!

      Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum? REALY?!?!?

    • WHAT?????????? Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher????????????

      Wow. And damn it. I’ll try to get over this soon. But I do understand Lee’s defense. Tom is huge. He could definitely get the backing to do the movie right. So there’s that.

      But really???????????

      Okay, now I have to stew for a while. 🙁

    • Hyperventilating (and not in a good way!) about Tom Cruise being cast as Jack Reacher 🙁 But then, I thought they’d made a huge mistake casting him as Lestat in Interview With The Vampire and he pulled that off brilliantly. So… maybe I’ll have to reserve my opinion (once I get my breathing under control!)

  6. If First Grave became a television show it’s pretty safe to say that all of the Waterworld Mermaids would go completely nuts!!! A big typhoon wave in the lagoon for sure. 😉

    Really interesting post today!

  7. Addison Fox says:

    This is a great post, Amanda, and sending very good wishes (and production vibes!!) for Darynda and Maree!


  8. June Love says:

    Interesting post, Amanda. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    I missed a lot of first-run movies waiting to read the book. Finally, I learned to suck it up and watch the movie first. Sometimes I’ll read the book afterwards, but more to see how the author wrote the emotions that were captured on screen. I agree with Steven Gould. They can insult me all they want. The only thing I’d probably fight for is acknowledgement that the film/series was based on a book written by me.

    Gwyn has a point…I don’t there’s an actor who exists who could do Reyes justice. I feel the same way about J.D. Robb’s Roarke.

  9. Diana Layne says:

    You know I barely have time to read these days so I actually saw Hunger Games first before I read the book. Or I should say am trying to read the book. I liked the movie but I simply can’t get into the book, it loses my attention fast! (of course I have the attention span of a hungry flea these days).

    Congrats and best of luck to Darynda and Maree, sounds like both will make a great series!

    • Diana, I read The Hunger Games before seeing the movie–as did DD and DS. So I was very curious to see what my husband thought of the movie, as he was the only one of us who hadn’t read the book first. He thought the movie was brilliant and very very well done. But I know he would not be able to get through the book. The genre isn’t his “thing” and I think he’d struggle with the first person present tense. I know a few people who commented they couldn’t finish the book, so you’re not alone in that. And hey, life’s too short to struggle with books that don’t work for you, especially if you’ve already enjoyed the movie adaptation *g*

  10. Magdalen says:

    Amanda (& everyone else) —

    What’s the advice if what I have to option is both the book and a screenplay?

    I’m in an MFA program, so I thought it would be educational to take a completed novel (my Golden Heart finalist story, BLACKJACK & MOONLIGHT) and adapt it as a screenplay. The result is hardly a “major motion picture” but might be a Lifetime Movie of the Week. However, it’s not bad. My mentor, who’s written a rock opera based on Tonya Harding & Nancy Kerrigan, has been pretty adamant that I not pooh-pooh the chances of getting someone interested in it.

    I don’t have an agent for either my books or screenplays (hah – screenplay, singular) and as I’m committed to independently publishing the books, that leaves the question of who might, theoretically, be interested in the screenplay.

    Do I query screenwriting agents the way I would literary agents? Anyone know?

    Thanks — Magdalen

    • I wish I knew more about this, Magdalen. The film industry does everything backwards. LOL. I can ask my film agent, but I’m not sure when she will get back to me. I’ll give it a shot though if no one else knows. But from my understanding, if you’re the script writer, you would pitch and/or submit the script. I’ll try to find out more.

      • Magdalen says:

        Thanks, Darynda. And congratulations on CBS’s interest in First Grave on the Right. Can’t wait to program THAT into my DVR!

    • Magdalen, it’s very hard to get anyone in Hollywood interested in a spec script with no inside track record. Last time I looked, the studios as a whole bought approximately twelve scripts a year by unknowns. Twelve. Out of thousands. Screenwriters often move to Hollywood so they can parlay script reads into meetings and relationships and thereby end up inside the loop, trustworthy and hireable.

      But if you can go with a small budget (and I think you can), it’s more feasible to get an indie made. You have to either hook up with a producer or raise the money yourself, but it certainly is doable, and it could be a blast. Then, once the film is made, you can take it to festivals, get some attention, and ideally land a distribution deal.

      Screenwriting agents aren’t as accessible via query as lit agents, sad to say. They mostly take on new clients via referral. Your best bet is to enter high profile contests. Becoming even a semi-finalist in the big ones can get you the kind of attention that would interest an agent and garner meetings with producers.

  11. Thanks for all the good vibes!!!!!

  12. I’ve been thinking about the whole “Tom is wrong for Reacher” thing, and yeah, he might be, but I don’t personally think that a character’s physical description in the book should necessarily dictate who plays him on screen. (I also don’t think that his appearance is what is throwing you guys off — I bet it’s his personality, or at least the personality that he’s shown to the media.)

    They’re actors, and I believe that they should be given the opportunity to use their craft. There are certainly times in which the appearance of the character is key to the plot, but most times, it isn’t, even if it’s a book-to-movie adaptation. Whether or not an actor looks like the person I’ve imagined in my head is less important than whether or not they can behave as they did in the book.

    That said, Liam does seem like the better choice. 😉

  13. What book would I like to see made into a movie? Well, not to be big headed, but, DUHH, my book, of course. 🙂 I’ve always thought The Memory of You would make a great Lifetime movie.

    I think Darynda’s book will translate really well into a series. And I believe it WILL get produced. I can’t wait to watch it.

    I think the casting of a movie only matters if you’ve read the book and have preconceived notion of the characters. Hollywood cares nothing about that. Their priority is to get the best box office draw who can play the part effectively.

    I think almost any of Suzanne Brockmann’s books would make great movies.


  14. Awesome post, Amanda. And congrats to Darynda and Maree. I can’t until I see Charlie on screen. It’s going happen, sis. WINK

  15. Minx Malone says:

    Great post! I’ve always wondered about the process of taking a book to film. Hollywood is definitely a different animal

  16. Amanda, thanks so much for thinking of me and including me in this post. I’m honored! (And having a total fan-girl moment because of the company I’m in!) Thank you all for making me feel so welcome on your awesome blog, and to all the commenters for your congrats. I really appreciate everyone’s kind words and support. HUGS!

  17. Amanda, this series has been really informative! I always thought selling a book was a one step process. So not true, as I’m finding. Posts like these really help me keep up with what’s going on. Thanks!

  18. Lyric James says:

    Great info Amanda!! I would love to see the In Death series in film or TV. Seeing Roarke played out would be awesome.

  19. Kimberly MacCarron says:

    I have very mixed feelings about First Grave on the Right becoming a TV series–although I know it will be good.
    I just can’t think of any two people to play either Charlie or Reyes. Both are beyond amazing. When you have characters who are over-the-top exceptional like both of them, how does any actor ever measure up to that?
    But, I’ll definitely be tuning in. And throwing a huge party for all my friends who are now reading the series. OH! That’s exciting. I could dig out all my Halloween stuff! Gravestones for the backyard. Scythes hanging on the wall …Oh, this could be good. Real good…
    Gotta go plan…

  20. […] of blogs, the third in a series of posts about sub-rights from Amanda Brice is now up on The Ruby-Slippered Si…. And I was honored to be mentioned in the post along with the uber-talented Darynda Jones! *excuse […]


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