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Pick Your Pathway: How To Turn Your Book Into A Movie

How To Turn Your Book Into A Movie
Photo by JOCELYN, yo.

Many writers dream of seeing their novel or nonfiction book turned into a movie. But much like trying to write in a genre with which one is unfamiliar, it can be a bit of a culture shock to shift from the publishing industry to the film industry.

The pathway that writers have traditionally taken to break into the book publishing industry is pretty straightforward: Write book -> get agent -> agent gets book deal. Of course, there are increasing variations on this method—thanks to the self-publishing and digital publishing explosion—but for the most part, the traditional channel has been pretty well-established.

In the film industry, however, the path to getting a book turned into a movie is not so “standard” or typical. There are many different inroads into the movie industry—not all of which are familiar to someone whose main business is putting words onto a page.

If you want to turn your book into a movie, whether you’ve written a novel or a memoir, be prepared to start doing some legwork, trusting your instincts, and feeling your way into the movie biz with lots of research, professionalism, and hard work.

Turn Your Book Into A Movie: Choices To Be Made

Choosing what to pitch: book or screenplay?

People in the film industry want to know one thing: “Is it a movie?”

By pitching your book out of the gate, you have the chance to show prospective producers your project in its purest form. If they can “see” the movie adaptation of your book just from reading it, you’re in good shape. An interested producer will make an offer to option your intellectual property (more on that later) and eventually hire professional writers to adapt the book into a screenplay.

However, not all books are written in a way that can immediately call to mind how it will look on screen, which may cause people to turn it down.

If that’s the case, you might want to consider getting your book turned into a screenplay first and then shop it around. This will help agents and producers visualize the final product in a format with which they’re more familiar. Plus, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of a studio-hired writer taking over your story, skipping forward to pitching a screenplay will help you maintain more creative power.

Which brings us to the next choice you’ll have to make…

Adapting your book into a screenplay: Hire or DIY?

If you have a substantial budget, you can hire a professional screenwriter to turn your book into a screenplay for you. In general, hiring a writer who has a stellar reputation in the industry for writing your kind of movie may help your story impress the right people, and gives you the ability to choose exactly who you think is right for the job.

If you don’t have enough money to hire someone to write your screenplay, however—or if you simply don’t trust another writer with your baby—you can take a crack at adapting it yourself. But keep in mind: Screenwriting and book writing are two totally different animals, not just in structure, but in execution as well. While prose depends on well-written narrative to create images in the readers’ heads, a screenplay relies heavily on dialogue and action to tell the story with little to no narrative text in between.

Make sure to do your homework, read a lot of screenwriting books, and maybe take a few classes before you attempt to make the jump. You can also hire a consultant to help ensure that you’re taking your book from text to screen in an effective way. Read more: Five Resources for Screenwriters.

Like our insider info and writing advice?

Then you’ll love the many other ways Writer’s Relief can help!

From effectively targeting markets, writing dynamic query letters, building authors’ online platforms, and much more—find out how Writer’s Relief can boost your exposure and maximize your acceptance rate.

Should you sell your project or option it?

Here is where the movie biz lingo starts to kick in. If you’re shopping your book’s film rights around, you have to wait until someone offers to option it. If you’re pitching a screenplay version thereof, there may come a time when you’ll have to choose between selling and optioning.

Not sure what any of that means? Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.

Say you have a great book and have secured an agent who, in addition to pitching it to publishers, can connect you to a film agent or help you shop the film rights directly. A producer might come along and offer to option it. In this scenario, you would basically be agreeing to give this person exclusive rights to the possibility of getting your book made into a movie. The length of an option is typically 12 to 18 months, often with the option to extend.

This can get a bit tricky, depending on how reliable the producer is. There are a few steps between the book being optioned and the film getting made, but realistically speaking, the former doesn’t always guarantee the latter.

Worst case scenario: A producer options your book for a year and leaves it to collect dust on a shelf. Or even worse—the entire project gets stuck in developmental hell!

Best case scenario: A producer options your book for a year and gathers enough energy around the project to secure reputable screenwriters to adapt it, investors to fund it, and a director to make it all happen. There are few hiccups along the way and voilà—the movie gets made!

Just keep in mind that during the time your project is optioned, no one else can buy or option it—no matter how much money they’re offering.

If you’ve skipped forward to adapting your nonfiction book or novel into a screenplay yourself, it’s still possible for it to get optioned—or you might be able to outright sell it. Remember, you should always consult an attorney before trying to sell your book’s film rights or adapted screenplay. You’ll want to make sure the contract will result in you getting paid fairly—regardless of whether the movie is a box-office smash, is a flop, or never gets made at all.

For more about how much a screenplay can (and should) sell for, check out this great article by entertainment attorney Jesse Rosenblatt.

Some Other Options To Consider

Although the aforementioned scenarios are quite common in the book-to-movie industry, they’re not the only ways to get things done. Consider some of these alternatives:

Hit the best seller lists. If sales figures demonstrate that your book has caught the attention of readers on a grand scale, you’re much more likely to see your story optioned. However, given Hollywood’s current economic climate, you’ll really need to have a 50 Shades of Grey type of literary phenomena to get producers to fight over the ability to option.

Take the festival route. Let’s say you decided to adapt your nonfiction book or novel into a screenplay yourself, but you’re not crazy about the idea of getting involved with Hollywood just yet. Try entering it into a few film festival script competitions. It costs money to enter (not unlike contests that literary journals hold), but making it far can earn your money back—and possibly get potential buyers’ eyes on it.

Make it yourself. This is a little far-fetched if you’re solely a writer, as the art of filmmaking is no walk in the park. However, if you have enough money and the right training (or have friends who do), you could always take the indie approach and produce the movie version of your book yourself. Only attempt this if you know what you’re doing—otherwise, leave it to the professionals.

Turn Your Book Into A Movie

In any business, it’s important to make great contacts. If you’ve got big dreams of being a Hollywood blockbuster writer, then it may be time to launch yourself full-on into the Tinsel Town community.

But if you’re primarily a BOOK writer and hope to stay that way, your decision to tell your story in book form doesn’t mean there’s no chance of your book making its way into film. Just write the best story that you can—one that captures people’s imaginations in a big way—and you’ve already taken your first, most important steps.

Writer’s Relief can’t help you turn your book into a movie directly, but we may be able to help you find a literary agent, who in turn can help you get published by a major publishing house. That may lead to an increased likelihood of success if you then try to turn your book into a movie.

Read more about turning your book into a movie in our interview with Industry Influencer Michael Hauge.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: What are some of your favorite movies that are based on books?

23 Responses to Pick Your Pathway: How To Turn Your Book Into A Movie

  1. Without a doubt, two novels by Ira Levin made into movies: Rosemary’s Baby and Sliver. All I can say is WOW.

  2. my favorite movies that are based on books are:
    1. A Walk to Remember
    2. The Client
    3. Dear John
    4. The Lucky One
    5. Twighlight (All)
    6. The Notebook
    and a lot more.

  3. Midnight Express was a great movie made from a book, so will “RUN TOWARD THE BLAZING SUN” Another exciting, true life escape story From Turkey during the 1971 Turkish uprising.

  4. Hard Up, Ardon by Jimmy Perrin should be a movie. The second in the series is just about to be released and the third next year. Funniest thing I have ever read.

  5. You have to remember the Lord of the rings – Trilogy. I have written a trilogy [book one “Until daylight breaks” and book two “two minutes to midnight” both part of the ‘Black flag trilogy’. Those who have read them have said all would make great movie’s, and that the books are “Page turner’s” we shall have to wait and see. But word of mouth seems to be the way they are both now selling.

  6. I have written a novel,based on a true story, soon to be published. I have had speaking engagements and I am told over and over, my book could be made into a riveting film.There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience.
    The title ” A Bridge to Cross” I depict my mother as the hero. We were pursued by Hitler when we were almost crushed by the Soviet shock troops. I was two, my sisters were 4, 7, and 9 years old.My mother saved hundreds of women from the Soviet soldiers from being raped. Many miracles occured which helped us to reach freedom.

  7. I would love to see to my book turned into a movie. It’s a murder mystery set in London in 1814. It’s entitled The Abandoned Countess and tells the story of a lady whose husband disappeared and her desperate search to find him. It has action, drama, suspense and is seasoned with a little romance.

  8. My manuscript, ” A Bridge to Cross” is about our family’s struggle during WWII when Hitler wanted to exterminate us. Us four children and my mother fled Hitler. We traveled on foot to Former Prussia where we were met by the Russian shock troops.
    Mt mother became the heroine, saving hundreds of refugee women from the Russians. At the same time she cared for us while there was no food, no shelter. We were desperate and close to death many times when we were rescued by God. There was no way to explain it. Angels in human form rescued us of which two were Russian soldiers. I should have the book published by April.
    Even my publisher said, it would make a great movie.
    Thank you for your time.

    Hans Berger

  9. While my book was released as an e-book fairly recently and really hasn’t much time to build a substantial audience, I believe it would be a great movie. The title of my book is The Fine Art of Boxing: No Stooge in the Ring. It’s a fiction (with some facts) based on the early years of Larry Fine – the middle frizzy-haired member of The Three Stooges.
    As an alternative history, the premise is what would or could have happened if Larry had been able to pursue his interest as a youth, that of boxing. In fact, he was a successful amateur boxer (although no records exist) and had one pro fight – a success. His career was cut short by an irate father. My book is a ‘what if’.
    The time frame is the very early years of the 20th Century up to one month before the Great Depression.
    Just throwing it out there. Thanks. – Geoff

  10. My story is about to be released as a book based on true story .
    Little girl of mixed race abounded by her mother for adoption in a eastern european country ,where rasism is an issue.
    Lucy is determined to find and reunite with her father , who she descover died when she was five and things are not simple because he was a President of a State .
    The story will take the reader through a journey that they won’t forget !

  11. I served 19 years for the illustrious Israeli Mossad. I’ve written 2 books about my assignments as a field agent, and have a few incredible stories to tell. My books are as follows; “Waltzing With The Wicked” and more recently, “Redemption Denied” I do believe that they are exciting enough to make into motion pictures. Thank you,

    Dave Sheskin (Major-ret.)

  12. Some good advice, which I thank you for. I too am one of those authors who believes their book would convert into a major movie, Fortunately, so do many of the reviews. The premise of the book is: Imagine a world without the internet. For some, this would be a catastrophe: for others, a Godsend. For one man, however, it has become a necessity and with his power and money, he is determined to see his fantasy turned into reality.

    OUTERNET examines the consequences of one man’s actions in a story of greed, intrigue and murder.

    Would be interested in any feedback.

    Thanks
    David Nicholls (D.P.Nicholls)

  13. I co-wrote Dreams Do Come True with my husband Lloyd, it is our story and it proves anything is possible and everything is achievable, all we need now is our film offer.

    “I am so very sorry…” The words were out. My mouth was dry, my heart was thumping, and my despair was clearly visible. And so began Trudie and Lloyd Thompson’s heart breaking 12 year journey of IVF treatment, losing a business and even bankruptcy. Through all of this, their love and their relentless enthusiasm kept them strong, and now they are sharing their unique and uplifting story with you. The twists and turns of fate, including an appearance on a TV home makeover show, brought Trudie and Lloyd closer together, and ultimately their courage brought them their most treasured dream; a family. Dreams Do Come True is a story of that courage, a story that proves that with love and determination, anything is possible.

    BRING IT ON!

  14. I would love to see a movie of a successful white family, living the successful life. They have 3 children between 12-17. The family is prejudice; however nobody in town knows that the wife was born black until a complication in her fourth pregnancy (which the doctors had advised the couple to terminate due to the seriousness of the illness and her age -45) reveals that she needs a match to provide some rear gene related issue to have a successful birth. A country search comes up with one match. Which the doctors realize was such an accurate match they had to be related; but this man was black. Time reveals who the donor is. Her husband feels betrayed. On reflection she never commented on occasions when he criticized colored folks. The wife tries to deny something she has denied for years. A life she vanished from some 28 years ago. Her dad had married a blond woman from Sweden. Her father’s mother was also white, but died years before his children were born. Her family after using all they had to send her off to one of the best school in USA had never seen her again. she was the first of 8 children. the family had to adjust. She had written only once, asking them not to worry about her she would never return to the dingy life. she had hurt her parents. Her parents suspected that the woman needing the medical assistance could have been their child. His mother had died due to the same complication in child birth and he battled. His other children, although a deep struggle had been all very, very successful individuals. It turns out two of the doctors serving on her medical case were her siblings. The minute she left home she had completed her transformation (texturizing her hair was all it took – it had a glamorous color )her identity, because of childhood challenges with being the only “white girl” in her school growing up. Her 4 brothers and 3 other sisters passed for black. It turns out after many serious and emotional scenes of acceptance/rejection – from even her husband – the fourth child near the end of the movie is born black…and is the identical image of the mother when she was young. Long woolen pigtails. The movie ends after a lot of pain, confession, forgiveness and love. The fourth child is shown at an age of btwn 7 to 12 when the movie ends.

  15. *….he battled whether to help this person; but he knew he had to do the right thing, regardless of who this person turns out to be. Denzel Washington is the dad. Some porcelain looking children meet their black grand father, who they learn to love almost immediately…though being brought up prejudice.

  16. The Normal Heart (Matt Bomer is amazing, great actor). Also I’m sure Fifty Shades of Grey will be a great movie when it comes out on Valentines Day.

  17. I read a book called sea of red and black by Shaun Hudson on my kindle. I hope that gets made into a film, lord of the rings meets dawn of the dead. It’s epic

  18. I would love to see Beyond Graces Rainbow by Carmel Harrington made into movie .Such an inspiring book and also a best seller ..

  19. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE THE BOOK THE ANGELS SON BY MIGENE GONZALEZ WIPPLER BECOME A MOVIE..THIS IS AN AWESOME BOOK.

  20. My book was finally published back in April this year. Sales are terrific and the comments I have received are astonishing. I didn’t think it was that great of a book, but people love it. It’s a page turner for sure. They tell me, once you start reading it, you can’t put it down.
    I am looking for a film producer to turn it into a screen play and from there, a movie. Professionals tell me it would make an awesome movie.

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