As I said in my last post, one of the most common questions I get asked in regards to my book deal is, “Do you get to design the cover?” This is a hilarious inquiry considering my artistic skill. At this point, the book cover is still a mystery to me. I’m assuming the publishing house has artists on staff. (Side note: What a cool job). A book cover is really important, if you ask me. There have been plenty of times I have read a book (for better or worse) because the cover was cool. Right now, I have In Case of Emergency and Fourth of July Creek (both below) in my Amazon cart because the covers caught my attention.
I went back and looked at some of last year’s book covers. These are my 10 favorites:
These are the 2 most common questions I’ve been asked by people in regards to my upcoming book:
1. Do you get to design the cover?
2. Will it be a movie?
As for #1, I sincerely hope I don’t design the cover because I can barely draw a stick figure. Furthermore, I have no idea how the book cover design process goes, but I’ll do a post about it when I find out.
As for #2, I sincerely hope it becomes a movie, but I’m not holding my breath.
There are lots of examples of books becoming movies. Bestsellers like Gone Girl, Wild, and The Hunger Games became big-screen hits.
Other recent adaptations: This is Where I Leave You (based on Jonathan Tropper’s book), You’re Not You (based on Michelle Wildgen’s book), Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (based on Nicky Flynn’s memoir), Ten Thousand Saints (based on Eleanor Henderson’s book).
Also, more and more, novels are making their way to television. Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers is now a show on HBO. The Sundance Channel is developing a series based on Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding and a series based on Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad.
So, yes, there’s opportunity for books to make their way to Hollywood. But it’s still a long shot.
Here’s how it works:
According to “Going Hollywood: The Business of Film Adaptations” (Michael Bourne) in Poets & Writers magazine:
“Typically, once a book has sold to a publisher, if the author’s agent thinks it would make a good film or TV series, that agent will hand off the manuscript to someone with contacts at Hollywood studios and indie film companies. If studio executives see potential in a manuscript, or if an author has a wide enough readership, producers may snatch up a book before it is even published, but for most so-called midlist authors–that is, writers who don’t write best-sellers–producers wait until a book is in stores before making a commitment.”
Holly Frederick, an agent at Curtis Brown who specializes in marketing books to film and TV producers says, “There are a lot of bites at the apple. If you’re not able to sell it to Hollywood when it first sells to publishers, then you can wait until the galley stage, or you can wait until publication, because at publication you’ll be armed with reviews, you will be armed with press, and hopefully a best-seller mention or two, and that also perks up the studio’s ears.”
Because studios want blockbuster films that will do well around the world, literary novels usually end up with independent producers (if they end up anywhere at all). And the journey to getting the film made can be an arduous one.
Bourne writes: “With a book, writers need only win over an editor to see their vision of the story through to publication. Filmmakers, even those outside the Hollywood studio system, must accommodate the needs and wishes of a huge number of people, from actors and crew members to financiers and executives at film companies, each of whom helps shape the movie the audience sees.”
“For authors, the trade-off for this loss of creative control is the fat paycheck that can come from selling a book to Hollywood. But Frederick, the Curtis Brown agent, says writers need to keep in mind how rarely that big paycheck actually arrives. In most cases, when producers want to adapt a book for the screen, they first pay the author a small option fee. This payment gives producers twelve to eighteen months to get a screenplay written, find a director and perhaps a bankable star, and otherwise assemble the component parts of a project that will attract the millions of dollars it takes to make even a modest feature film.”
So, how much is a “small option fee”? What kind of money are we talking?
Bourne writes: “The rule of thumb, according to Frederick, is that the dramatic rights for a book by a midlist author are valued at 2.5 percent of the production budget, with 10 percent coming up front and the remaining 90 percent only paid if the project goes forward. This means that if producers expect a movie to cost $10 million, a writer could expect to receive $25,000 for the initial option, with another $225,000 coming due if the movie gets produced.”
“Add to this the writer’s share of any profits the screen adaptation earns–typically, Frederick says, writers receive 5 percent of the producer’s net profit–along with any bump in book sales driven by the heavy promotion of a Hollywood production, and an author of a book that spawns a hit film or TV series is in for a rich payday indeed.”
“But here’s the rub: Only a tiny fraction of books optioned by Hollywood make it to the screen.”
“Frederick says she negotiates thirty to forty page-to-screen options a year, and of those no more than two or three get made into movies or television shows. It is even rarer, she says, for a movie or series to make enough money for the writer of the original book to see a share of the net profits.”
Cue the sad music.
Her advice? “Write the novel you want to write. Don’t write with an eye toward the screen, because it’s probably not going to make it there.”
Well, works for me. I didn’t even think about my book becoming a movie until people started asking me about it.
What better way to motivate me (and you?) to read more than a CHALLENGE? I love being able to measure progress according to rules. Type A Nerd alert.
Here’s the challenge that Book Riot posed on the eve of 2015. Click the image to learn more about it and get recommendations for each category. Important: You can’t use a book for more than 1 category. A book set in Asia, written by someone under the age of 25, and published by an indie press only counts for 1 of those categories. You will be surprised how many books fit in multiple categories. You will want to cheat. Don’t.
You have 9 months left to read all 24 books. That’s 1 book every week-and-a-half. I’m more than half way done and it’s only been a few months. And, trust me, I don’t get that much time to read. I read for about 20 minutes on my lunch break at work and 20 minutes before bed. That’s a good day. Some days, because life gets in the way, I don’t read at all. So, this is totally doable.
What I’ve loved about this challenge so far is that it’s forced me to read books I wouldn’t normally read. For example, one of my favorite books so far is a book of poetry. I NEVER read poetry. So, go do it and tell me what you read! Have fun.
There is one word NOBODY will ever use to describe me: Patient.
I don’t even aspire to be more patient because it seems like striving for something impossible, like wishing I was shorter (which I do, occasionally, because I’m 5’11” and gangly as all hell). My brain moves really, really fast, and my expectations move at that same pace. Pros of this: I’m super efficient and good at getting things done. I can crank out the first draft of a novel in a couple months. Cons of this: I get very distressed when the world around me moves slowly (or what I would define as “slowly”). Oh, and when I say “distressed,” I mean moody and irritable and generally unpleasant. My poor husband.
I had it in my head that if/when I got a book deal, things would move fast. I did not know there was this year of time between getting the deal and publication. The publishing house has a list of titles already in their queue, after all; plus, they need time to do final edits on my book, proofread the thing, design the cover, set up a marketing plan, etc, etc (I’m sure I will become more familiar with what “etc” entails in the coming months). My publisher warned me that most writers HATE this year of waiting. I didn’t really understand why. I thought, “Well, isn’t it kind of ideal? There’s this year when things are in motion on the to-be-published book, and there’s momentum that will come in handy for working on something new.” Except it’s not like that.
Right now, I’m waiting on final edits to my manuscript. Waiting, waiting, waiting. I have absolutely no idea how big or small the edits will be. Will I have to cut a few lines here and there? Or will I have to change the gender of a character? Or kill someone off? Or…or…or… As the months go by, my brain has come up with about a thousand different scenarios. What if I don’t agree with the edits? I signed the contract, so I guess I have to make them anyway. It all feels very out of my control because, um, it is.
I just checked the time stamp on the Word doc that holds my novel to see when I last worked on it. October 1, 2014. So, it has been almost a full 6 months since I’ve even LOOKED at it. That scares me. What if I get the edits and I’m just not interested in the story anymore? I feel like I’m going to have to go back in there and dig around, like a surgeon who left gauze in some poor dude’s chest cavity during a procedure months ago. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but I know it’s necessary. Or mandatory, rather.
I’ve been working on a new novel. I have about 100 pages. I couldn’t help myself. A damn story ran up and bit me, as Bradbury says.
It feels like I’m having some kind of scandalous affair, cheating on my to-be-published novel. It would be prudent (as grandmothers say) to wait and do my final edits before getting involved with new characters, but six months is a long time for me to wait. And we’ve already established that waiting is not my jam. I kind of HAVE to write. It doesn’t work for me to set aside a story idea “for later.” Like Bradbury says, there is this specific time when the story latches on. If you wait, it will let go and find some other poor bastard to give it some love.
So that’s where I’m at: Knee deep in a new story I love while waiting to edit a story I’m not interested in anymore. It’s like a literary-themed episode of Days of Our Lives over here. Pray for my husband.
I loved this BuzzFeed list (by Curtis Sittenfeld) so much that I had to include it here, along with my thoughts.
1. When it comes to fellow writers, don’t buy into the narcissism of small differences. In all their neurotic, competitive, smart, funny glory, other writers are your friends. <— It’s really true. Writers get each other, even the super hermit-y ones. We had each other at hello.
2. Unless you’re Stephen King, or you’re standing inside your own publishing house, assume that nobody you meet has ever heard of you or your books. If they have, you can be pleasantly surprised. <— I would consider my life complete if I met someone who had heard of my book. Like, I could die right there on the spot and be happy.
3. At a reading, 25 audience members and 20 chairs is better than 200 audience members and 600 chairs. <— Um, yes, the idea of empty chairs sounds terrifying. Actually, the idea of a reading sounds terrifying.
4. There are very different ways people can ask a published writer for the same favor. Polite, succinct, and preemptively letting you off the hook is most effective. <— Nobody has asked me for any favors yet. Well, my sister asked to borrow a suitcase the other day, but I don’t think that had anything to do with me being a writer.
5. Blurbs achieve almost nothing, everyone in publishing knows it, and everyone in publishing hates them. <— Good, because I don’t know anyone who would want to blurb me.
5a. “Blurb” is a verb in the publishing world.
6. But a really good blurb from the right person can, occasionally, make a book take off. <— Damn it.
7. When your book is on best-seller lists, people find you more amusing and respond to your emails faster. <— I’d probably find myself more amusing if I was on best-seller lists too.
8. When your book isn’t on best-seller lists, your life is calmer and you have more time to write. <— This sounds good to me, as long as my publisher doesn’t cut me loose because I’m not on best-seller lists.
9. The older you are when your first book is published, the less gratuitous resentment will be directed at you. <— See, it’s good nobody wanted to publish my stuff when I was 23. Oh hindsight, you give me such comfort!
10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career. <— Word. When I signed with my publisher, I actually said, “My goal is to have a career.” The term “media darling” makes me want to hurl. Actually, just the term “darling” makes me want to hurl.
11. The farther you live from New York, the less preoccupied you’ll be with literary gossip. Like cayenne pepper, literary gossip is tastiest in small doses. <— Phew. I’m as far away from NY as I can get without crossing an ocean.
12. Contrary to stereotype, most book publicists aren’t fast-talking, vapid manipulators; they’re usually warm, organized youngish women (yes, they are almost all women) who love to read. <— That’s a relief. I don’t know who my publicist is yet. Hopefully she’s okay with me doing these types of blog posts about how I don’t really know what I’m doing with this publishing thing. Am I supposed to act like I know what I’m doing? I’m going to shut up now.
13. Female writers are asked more frequently about all of the following topics than male writers: whether their work is autobiographical; whether their characters are likable; whether their unlikable characters are unlikable on purpose or the writer didn’t realize what she was doing; how they manage to write after having children. <— Wait, people are going to ask me shit?
14. If you tell readers a book is autobiographical, they will try to find ways it isn’t. If you tell them it’s not autobiographical, they will try to find ways it is. <— That’s fine. I will remain shrouded in mystery.
15. It’s not your responsibility to convince people who don’t like your books that they should. Taste is subjective, and you’re not running for elected office. <— I haven’t even convinced myself yet that my book is good, so to all my future critics: I feel you.
16. By not being active on social media, you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot. That said, faking fluency with or interest in forms of social media that don’t do it for you is much harder than making up dialogue for imaginary characters. <— I genuinely like Facebook. I still think Twitter sounds like a drug withdrawal symptom. I’m giving it the ol’ college try though.
17. If someone asks what you do and you don’t feel like getting into it, insert the word freelance before the word writer, and they will inquire about nothing more. <— I have a day job so I don’t have to explain to people that I’m a novelist. The barrage of questions that follows such a declaration is unbearable.
18. If you read a truly great new book and feel more excited than jealous, congratulations, you’re a writer. <— I’m not really the jealous type. However, my husband has long, beautiful lashes that he doesn’t appreciate and that makes me envious and angry.
19. Fiercely, fiercely, fiercely protect your writing time. <— I do, much to the chagrin of people who want me to have a social life with them.
20. It’s OK to let your book be published if you can see its flaws but don’t know how to fix them. Don’t let your book be published if it still contains flaws that are fixable, even if fixing them is a lot of work. <— I’ve been through one heavy duty editing round that involved admitting there were flaws to fix. I didn’t want to see them because I’m lazy. They are fixed. I’m getting my final edits from my publisher soon. I’m hoping for minimal remaining flaws.
21. Talking about how brutally difficult it is to write books is unseemly. Unless you’re the kind of writer who’s been imprisoned by the dictatorship where you live and is being advocated for by PEN American Center, give it a rest. <— I don’t really think writing a book is hard. Maybe it seems hard to a non-writer, but that’s irrelevant because they are not writing. Like, fixing my transmission sounds hard because I’m not a mechanic. There are certain things in life that are unarguably hard. Living below the poverty line. Chemotherapy. Tying a cherry stem with your tongue. Writing is, ultimately, a joy. Or it should be. Yes, it’s a huge commitment and there are frustrations along the way (especially when you get to the publishing stage), but all those frustrations are mostly issues with the ego. I have a NEED to write, so one could argue that writing is just a selfish indulgence for me. Books are just a product of that need and indulgence. So, yeah, I don’t think writing is hard. Is it unseemly to say that?
22. Books bring information, provocation, entertainment, and comfort to many people. You’re lucky to be part of that. <— That’s very true, and that’s why it’s been a dream of mine to publish books. It’s one thing to write them, another thing to share them.
23. Sometimes good books sell well; sometimes good books sell poorly; sometimes bad books sell well; sometimes bad books sell poorly. A lot about publishing is unfair and inscrutable. But… <— Sigh…
24. …you don’t need anyone else’s approval or permission to enjoy the magic of writing — of sitting by yourself, figuring out which words should go together to express whatever it is you’re trying to say. <— Well, yes. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.