It’s a fun thing to have happen… even when you’re on the road and can’t really celebrate or respond to the massive number of messages, well-wishes, and congratulations flooding in. It started as a short, single paragraph article that came out in the print version of Variety. Variety is the trade magazine for the Hollywood film industry. Everyone in the business reads it. They’ve been reporting on movie news and Hollywood since 1905. Stacy Jorgensen of Jorgensen Pictures had worked hard to get the Pennsylvania announcement into Variety, and we were all excited to actually see it come out. We’d been watching Variety.com for a full day expecting the article to appear online at any time, and the waiting had grown to be painful. Then, this little picture showed up in my email from Stacy. I was surprised when I was able to release the screen grab of the print article BEFORE the online mention. As my social media blew up and my smart phone went crazy, all I could really do was watch and wonder. I was driving so I couldn’t read anything. My son was checking things and telling me what was going on. Selling a film/screen option on a novel you’ve written is always a very cool experience, even if you’re in a car driving from Oklahoma City to Central Texas.
A few hours later (I was still on the road) the larger news piece hit the front page of Variety.com! Now it was being picked up by other entertainment sites and geek aggregators all over the web.
Someone is making a Sci-fi movie about the Amish!?! Well, we hope so… eventually… a film or a TV series… but that is not what “selling an option” literally means.
But what does it mean? And how does it happen?
“Selling an option,” basically means that someone has purchased the option to, at some point, purchase the “property” (a novel, short story, screenplay, poem, etc.) to develop it into a screen project.
I explained it to my children like this. Say you built a beautiful bicycle that you really liked. And say someone came by and said, “I want to make that bicycle into a car.” Well, you may not be able to imagine that someone would want to make your bicycle into a car, but it is exciting nonetheless! So this person, she doesn’t want to outright buy your bicycle up front. She may need all of her operating cash to make some other bicycles into cars, and she may need to raise more money… or get another bicycle/car maker involved. What she wants to do, is give you a little holding money, a down payment, that says “If I can do what I need to do to make this happen, I reserve the right to buy this bicycle within X amount of time for Y dollars.”
So the clock starts running. The producer who bought the option can hire screenwriters and commission a script. She can partner up with a big studio or production company. She can raise money for the project. She can attach actors and directors, etc. She can even move into production if she can move that fast. What she can’t do is actually film anything. Not until she comes back and buys your book (we switched away from bicycles and cars for a bit.)
And everyone is quick to make sure you are in on the joke… or the “reality of the business”:
- Most literary works never sell a film/screen option (nobody wants your bike.)
- Most film/screen options are never actually exercised (someone likes it but the bike is never bought.)
- Options can be extended year to year and these things can drag on, sometimes for decades (your bicycle sits on a shelf dusting and rusting.)
- Even if your option is exercised and you sell your work, it still isn’t likely to ever be seen by anyone (sad bicycle, all alone.)
- Even if it is made (we’re told) it’ll probably suck and won’t be your work at all and everyone will hate it (they ruin your bike.)
- Even if it doesn’t suck, you will have sold it for a pittance and they’ll make kabillions of $$$ and you got screwed, lol hahahahaha (we stole your bike!)
- Your soul is forfeit (how could you sell that bike to those people???)
This is what you hear as soon as you even entertain the idea of selling a film/screen option on a work. Also, there are different kinds of people who purchase film/screen options…
- Very rich and famous people (producers, directors, actors, etc.) who buy hundreds of bicycles and hold them in their garages in order to keep other people from making them into cars. Just in case they decide to, at some point, make your bicycle into a car.
- Specialists who, like gamblers or investors, company employees who acquire options hoping something might happen in the zeitgeist that will turn some bicycle idea instantly into gold.
- Every once in awhile, you run into someone who loves the bicycle as much as you do. They want to see it get made, and they are eager to work to make that happen. Believe me, it is extremely rare to find someone who loves your bicycle as much as you do.
Most writers want the first kind of deal. And I’ll admit, it would be cool to say that Scorsese or Ridley Scott, or someone like that purchased the rights to my novel. For some people (Andy Weir – The Martian for example) that works out great. For others, they make some money on the options and/or rights sale, but their work isn’t likely ever to be on any screen. During this long process I talked to people who’d sold dozens of options (some over and over again) but had never seen their work make it onto the screen. It is a very long shot after all.
I’m pleased as can be to be working with Stacy Jorgensen of Jorgensen Pictures. She definitely falls into that third category. She has been a blast to work with, and I’m so excited that she’s so excited about Pennsylvania.
So… but… HOW DOES IT HAPPEN? HOW DO YOU SELL A FILM/SCREEN OPTION?!? TELL ME!!
In 2013 I was still a newbie in this sci-fi world (still am.) My daughter Jennifer and I were at WorldCon in San Antonio, dressed in our usual Amish clothes. We actually fit right in since so many people were in cosplay outfits. I decided to attend a panel discussion on Film Options. I think it was even called “How do you sell a film option?” or something like that.
There were a handful of panelists, all who had sold at least one film/screen option. A few were heavy hitters who had shows or movies that had actually been made. The one I recognized was Charlaine Harris who had written the Southern Vampire Mysteries that were sold and made into the TV series True Blood.
Make no mistake, the audience that filled the venue was there to learn HOW TO SELL A FILM OPTION. They were adamant about it. I wasn’t. They had pens and paper ready to write down the steps. I didn’t. I didn’t figure there was anyone in the world that could tell you how to sell a film option. If there was a way to do it that worked, everyone would do it. I figured they could tell you how they sold a film option. I figured they might be able to tell you how you can improve your odds of selling a film option. But no one could tell you how to do it in a way that would work for everyone. If they did, that way would cease to work for anyone.
Each of the panelists told their story, and soon a pattern emerged, and believe me the pattern was picked up by the audience. One panelist had a friend who had another friend who knew someone who helped get the option sold. That was basically the gist of the stories. Charlaine Harris’s book was in a book store down the block from the barber shop where the director was getting his hair done. He had a short wait, so he walked down the block and her book just happened to be on a display at the front of the store. He read it, loved it, and bought the option.
The audience was not pleased with this news.
WAIT A MINUTE!!! SO THAT’S THE TRICK? YOU JUST GET LUCKY???
One man stood up, obviously flustered… “I thought this panel was going to teach us how to sell a film option! All I’ve heard is that you have to know someone famous or you have to get lucky.”
A woman stood up to ask a question too… “Ok, so what happens if a famous director doesn’t just happen to fall down and find your book?’
I laughed a little. They were looking for the “easy” button. Tell me the steps so I can do it too! That’s what they wanted to know.
One of the panelists objected. Charlaine Harris wasn’t “lucky,” he said. Her book was in that bookstore, on a display table, face out, and probably in hundreds and hundreds more bookstores just like it. Her statistical likelihood of getting seen was astronomically higher that that of most other authors. The audience grumbled some more. So now you have to get “lucky” enough to get published, get “lucky” enough to get prominent placement in a bookstore, then get “lucky” enough to have a director read your book. Wow. Good information, panelists!
I think people were missing the point. There isn’t any easy button. A lot of things have to happen just right, but first of all, you have to have a great book that people like. That’s the part you can control. Then you have to work as hard as you’ve ever worked in your life to get people to read it. You can control that part too. The next thing is you need to work hard to get reviews. A lot of reviews. Because that director or producer is going to go to your book page to see if many people have read and liked your book. That part is hard, hard work.
Even if there were an easy button that could get your book in the hands of that director… if he doesn’t like what you wrote… well, you know, sorry. So there are a lot of things that have to happen. The only thing I can positively say is… (once you’ve written an awesome book that people like and share) get as many people to read it as possible. And review it. No easy button for that either, but the more people who read it, the more probability that someone who reads it will love it and want to see it on the screen. I don’t believe in “luck,” but if I did I’d say this: The more people who read your awesome book, the luckier you will be in this business. Here’s how it happened to me…
Just “lucky,” I guess, but here’s the deal. Over 80,000 people bought at least part of the Pennsylvania story since it first started being published as a serial. Add to that another 60,000 who got Part 1 of Pennsylvania for free. Add to that some untold number of people who have read Pennsylvania fanfic stories, or the Tales from Pennsylvania fanfic anthology. The Pennsylvania Omnibus has well over 300 reviews, and holds a 4.2 star rating on Amazon.com. Everyone didn’t love it, but most people did. Altogether there are more than 800 reviews on Pennsylvania related stories or parts, and those reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Authors out there know how hard harvesting reviews can be. A lot of work goes into all of this, and sometimes, when we work hard, good things can happen.
I understand that the road is long from here on out, and the odds are long too. Just like it took a ton of work to get here, it’ll take a ton of work to get this thing made into a film or TV series (that’s still up in the air.) I need your help, and you can start helping me right now. Here’s the deal…
- Hollywood types are like small gray squirrels with extremely short attention spans (this isn’t exhaustively true, but it is generally true.) What they are looking for today is social media buzz. Word of mouth, etc. Particularly, we need as many of you as possible to click on the picture above (or click HERE) and go to the Variety.com article. From there, right under the title of the article, you will see little buttons there for sharing the information on Twitter and Facebook. Those little numbers there are like gold in the bank. The higher those numbers are, the “luckier” we get 😉 If you would please go there and share the article from there, I would appreciate it greatly. Also, if you can comment on that article. If you loved the book, tell people you did, and why.
- If you know someone who has not yet read The Pennsylvania Omnibus, why not get them to read it? Tell them it’s going to be the next big thing on the big screen (or the small screen,) and let’s see if we can get more people to read the book. The more people who read it, the more people will want to see it on the screen!
- Make sure you are subscribed to my email list. Besides, everyone on my email list gets at least the opportunity to read all my new stuff for free. You also get free books and other goodies. But the big thing is… you’ll get all the news about the Pennsylvania big adventure as it happens!
Ok, I know this isn’t an Oscar speech. That will likely never happen, and I refuse to shave or shower for the party, so that’s not this. But there are people I need to thank… profusely. I’d like to thank Nick Cole, my good friend and co-author. Nick has been so valuable to me as a friend and advisor. He’s also the best writer I know, and if his books don’t get made into movies, well, something is seriously wrong with the film business. Huge thanks to Stacy Jorgensen of Jorgensen Pictures for loving the book as much as me! I look forward to working with you, Stacy, as the process goes forward. The rest of you know who you are. The whole Indie Author community is so valuable to me, and I appreciate your friendship!