I think this may be true in my case. I’ve been writing seriously for a little over four years. In those four years I’ve written eight complete novels. I’ve had an agent for two years, but I’m still unpublished. I’ve gotten extremely close a few times, but still no book contract. But even though I’m unpublished, a couple of weeks ago my agent sold the movie option to one of my books to a production company. Yes, you read correctly. The movie option! So even though I haven’t gotten what I want (The book deal) maybe this is just what I need to entice a publisher to take a chance on this first time author.
The contract for the movie deal came a few days ago and I’ve been pouring myself over it to make sure I understand everything. Don’t get me wrong, I trust my agent implicitly, but I’m just not the type of person to sign something without fully understanding it. While I can’t give you specific details of my contract, I will tell you what I’ve learned about this business from all of my research over the past few days.
Getting a movie deal for a book before a book deal is a little backwards but it happens. Actually, when a book is optioned, the producer hasn’t actually purchased the right to use the book, he’s just buying the exclusive right to purchase the book at some point in the future if he is successful in setting up a deal with a movie studio. Did you get that? Yeah, it’s confusing. Think of it this way. The producer has basically just called “dibs” on my book. Now he’s off haggling with movie studios to get enough money to really purchase it for the full “purchase price” which I will discuss later. But during that time, no other producer can come in and make me an offer.
My “dibs” paycheck isn’t very big. It just lets me know that my producer is serious and it gives him a year to try and make a deal happen with a movie studio. I get a bigger paycheck if during that year period either the book gets picked up by a publisher or the book gets written into a movie script. Right now my book is being read by nine major publishers so I’m hoping that book deal is just around the corner. If a movie deal doesn’t happen within a year, then I get another paycheck to extend the option period.
What I found interesting is that I get a bonus for each week the book appears in the New York Times Young Adult 25 Best Seller List. Personally, I take it as a huge compliment that my producer even thinks it will make this list. It was a definite confidence boost to see this in the contract.
Next comes the actual “purchase price” for the book. This is the big money that would allow most people to quit their day job. I will probably never quit my job though. Most of my ideas come from my students. If I don’t teach, I may lose my mojo.
Then there are the conditions for television rights. At this point in reading the contract my head was about to explode. I never knew there was so much to consider i.e. TV movie, mini-series, TV shows, remakes, generic spin-offs, planted spin-offs, etc. Each of these things has specific numbers and clauses attached to them. It took me a while, but I finally think I understand what goes on in TV land.
What I’m still trying to figure out is Hollywood’s definition of “net profits.” This is a pretty sticky area with a lot of hinky math going on. I’ve read horror stories about first time authors getting screwed out of profits because of this “net profit” thing. I mean check out this article about the author of the Cheetah Girls novels:
Anyone who goes to Disney as much as I do (four times just this year!) or who has daughters has probably heard of this series. There are movies, TV shows, clothes, DVD’s, even world tours based on this series of 16 books. Yet, Disney claims that they didn’t make a profit so the author didn’t make a percentage of the “net profits.” Like I said, hinky math.
This is a quote from the article above:
In one of the most notorious cases — when columnist Art Buchwald sued Paramount over its use of his idea for the 1988 film “Coming to America,” a film that grossed $350 million, and then later for its failure to pay him revenues — a judge ruled in 1990 that the studio’s internal accounting procedures were “unconscionable.”
In any case, as a math teacher, I’m going to make sure I understand this “Hollywood Accounting” before I sign any dotted lines.
Some fellow unpublished authors have advised me to ask for a percentage of “gross profits” instead of “net profits.” Now, mathematically that makes perfect sense. But in all my research, I have not been able to find an example of when this was done for another author. What if I make that demand and my producer laughs in my face and then goes after someone else’s book instead? (Anyone have Ms. Rowling or Ms. Meyer’s phone numbers so I can ask them about their contracts?)
Part of me says it doesn’t really matter. I mean, I didn’t start writing so that I could become rich. I don’t expect to be the next Rowling, or Meyer, or Sparks, or Crichton. I just don’t want to get screwed too much by Hollywood. But, hey, sing it with me now:
You can’t always get what you want…