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How Do Books Become Movies?

How Do Books Become Movies?

If you’ve ever seen Twilight or Harry Potter or To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ll know the magical experience of watching your favorite book characters come to life on-screen.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a scene play out exactly how you pictured it in your imagination or watching a beloved actor portray the literary villain you love to hate.

If you’re a film buff, author, or bookworm (or all three!), you may be wondering how books turn into movies.

Luckily for you, we have the answer to this question and more below.

Related to: Can Self-Published Books Become Movies?

How do books get turned into movies?

The Kissing Booth

There are several ways that books can be converted into movies. Most commonly, a traditionally published book will find its way to an agency’s desk after getting shipped off to Los Angeles and Hollywood by a literary agent who is already working with the author.

Some popular titles in recent years have also been picked up by screenwriters scanning self-publishing platforms like Wattpad for fresh literary talent. Netflix’s The Kissing Booth had its roots on Wattpad before it became a successful teen movie.

Some books translate better from the page to the screen. As janefriedman.com points out, “What does work are books with an unusual plot twist—or anything that’s a bestseller.” 

Popular books frequently translate into popular movies, but this is not always the case. Ultimately, the built-in fan base for a widely read book will typically mean a great deal of initial interest. If the movie disappoints readers, though, it may tank harder than a film without an automatic set of expectations created by the initial intellectual property.

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After an agent discovers the book either through a referral from a connection or their own digging through self-published and traditionally published titles, the agent pitches the book to producers and directors in the film industry. 

Once a director or producer shows interest in making the book into a movie, they may approach the publishing company asking for an “exclusive.” An “exclusive” is just industry speak for a hold on the title that takes it off the table for other producers and directors. 

After the exclusive ends, the producer or director will then offer an “option,” which means giving the author an option to agree to allow them to create a movie based on the book’s material.

While an option might sound like the golden ticket to turning a book into a movie, it’s actually rare for an option to turn into a fully realized film. Oftentimes, the studio pays an author for an option and then fails to make the book into a movie.

The author gets to keep the money and potentially seek out other options if the terms of the agreement allow it. 

Options include several different key points. These points range from how much the author will get paid for the option to how many tickets the author will get if the book does become a movie.

It can also entail highly specific terms and conditions for what will occur if the book does become a movie. 

Options also usually have an expiration date of about 18 months. Some options are as short as six months or longer than the standard. It all depends on the studio and the specific terms of the option.

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At that point, depending on the terms of the options, the studio can either renew the option once or twice or release the work for other studios to option.

These terms and conditions could limit a publisher’s rights in the future if they aren’t carefully examined. For example, some studios try to incorporate rules like a guaranteed publication option on the author’s next novel.

This is a tricky situation and authors should be firm on what they will and will not allow the option to avoid getting into a tough situation down the road.

When a studio decides to move forward and turn a book into a movie, the process begins with writing the script. Sometimes, the author has a hand in writing the script (or at least reviewing the material before it is finalized).

Other times, the author has little say or insight into the script. 

Once the script is written, the book may or may not get the green light for production. If the studio agrees to produce the script, it still isn’t guaranteed that the book will become a movie.

Release as a film is only a surefire deal after the screenplay makes it through production and the film is slated for premiering.

Authors also should be protective of their intellectual property and vision. As marketplace.org quotes Nicola Yoon, author of #1 New York Times Best Seller Everything, Everything, “Writing a book is sort of a lonely and personal process.

To give it to someone else, you have to trust that they match your vision … [and] bring the same sort of passion and commitment that you did.” 

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It may be exhilarating to think about your book becoming a movie, but writers should make sure their filmmaking team shares that vision and respect for the book. 

While it’s exciting and flattering to get an option on a book, there are many hoops that books have to jump before they reach the big screen.

Though the process is long and grueling, with as many ups and downs as the best novel, it’s worth it for writers who get to see their books become movies and for the fans who love watching their favorite book characters in theaters.

Do authors get paid when their book becomes a movie?

A photo of J.K Rowling at a press conference.

While payment varies greatly between studios and specific books, authors can usually expect to be compensated when their book becomes a movie. According to sidebarsaturdays.com, options can pay anywhere from $500-$50,000.

Many factors go into calculating payment for authors, including the popularity of the book, the potential popularity of the movie, and the size of the studio producing the film. Generally, options pay about 10% of the purchase price. 

Authors also usually get paid purchase fees, which are calculated based on a percentage of the film budget. Additionally, authors sometimes earn royalties off of their book-turned-movie.

All of these payments will be worked out in the preliminary stages of studios collaborating with the author.

How long does it take for a book to become a movie?

As we mentioned, books don’t always become movies–even if a studio options it and shows interest in making it a film. If a book makes it into the production stage and sees the whole process through, the timeline can vary greatly. As an estimate, we can look at the average length of time Hollywood movies typically take to make.

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As the blog stephenfollows.com says, in their database of 782 films, they found that “pre-production took 146 days, principal photography took 106 days and post-production began 301 days before the movie hit the big screen.”

What are famous movies that started as books?

Harry Potter: The Complete 8-Film Collection [DVD]

The most famous series that began as the brainchildren of popular authors include the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia. On a more adult note, the Fifty Shades of Grey series started out in print before it hit the theatres. 

Series aren’t the only types of books that lend themselves well to film adaptations. Popular romantic flicks like The Notebook and fun family movies such as James and the Giant Peach were novels before they were screenplays. Sometimes, memoirs also find their way from the written page to the big screen.