Episode 108 – Film Rights, KU Recruiting, and Writing Sprints (with Monica Leonelle)

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Question of the Week: If you had the opportunity to sell your film rights tomorrow for a small sum, would you sell them or would you hold on to them in hopes of actually getting your film made?

With Jim on a boat somewhere, Bryan invited fiction and nonfiction author Monica Leonelle to the show! After thanking patron Emma Alisyn (and her book Character Sketch & Color http://bit.ly/emcolor ), Monica & Bryan focused their energy on tips about BookBub, indie pressure, and writing sprints. News stories included the Pulitzer Prize push, Kindle Scout naysayers, Google Play, Amazon’s publisher recruitment for KU, who loses most when scammers win, and indie film rights. This week’s Question of the Week: “If you had the opportunity to sell your film rights tomorrow for a small sum, would you sell them or would you hold on to them in hopes of actually getting your film made?”
What You’ll Learn:
  • How to get more followers on BookBub
  • How to deal with the pressure of being an author
  • How much you can get accomplished with short, timed writing sprints
  • How many sales winning a Pulitzer Prize can get you
  • Whether or not the Kindle Scout program is worth it
  • Why Nate Hoffelder thinks the Google Play Partner Center will never re-open
  • What Amazon is doing to try to boost KU’s participants
  • Who really loses when scammers win on KU
  • Whether or not indies should sell their film rights
Question of the Week: If you had the opportunity to sell your film rights tomorrow for a small sum, would you sell them or would you hold on to them in hopes of actually getting your film made?

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  • C.Steven Manley

    Like most things, I think it depends on what you really want. For me, right now, my writing business is in the overall red, so a cash injection from a rights sale would be very attractive. If my business was more in the black, though, and the project was one that was near and dear to my heart, I’d be more inclined to wait. There’s always a new project in the pipeline for me, so I don’t think being too precious about rights/film options is always the best decision.

    • Bryan

      That makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

  • Daniel Martone

    First, I’d get a good entertainment lawyer. Then, while I might be willing to take a small fee up front, I’d have to have some back end deal in case the film / tv series does well. I’d also have the independent audit clause written in because Hollywood is notorious for burying profits.

    • Bryan

      Lawyer over agent for sure!

  • Daniel Martone

    ALSO, there is another possibility with this Pub Crawl story. It is possible that he already knew the Production Company (maybe an old school buddy) and they actually only optioned (say for a $1) the novel and then put out a press release announcing the deal. This would get the attention of Trad Pubs. This kind of tactic is done all the time in Hollywood. Usually a couple of small production companies release details that they are in a bidding war over some script. Both are companies only on paper (easy to set up). Other companies read the story and start to inquire about the script as well. Creating false buzz has been a part of the publicity game since the beginning of time.

    • Bryan

      Wow, that makes complete sense. Also, happy birthday :).

  • I would likely take a real film deal now as opposed to waiting for some future imaginary deal. A bird in the hand and all… I’m more interested in writing books than hoarding my rights in hopes of some future project that may or may not happen. And good options are generally only for 18 months to 2 years. Then the rights revert back to me anyway, so there’s no harm done. I wouldn’t sign a 10 year option or anything like that—it would totally depend on the deal.

    • I agree that if it’s for 18-24 months, it would be hard to turn down. Small risk for some immediate cash.

    • Bryan

      Short term would be good, for sure.

  • jamiearpinricci

    Something occurred to me while listening to the show today: If a publisher throws some back list titles onto KU, how would those profits be defined with respect to most contracts with respect to digital rights, etc.?

    • Bryan

      Great question. Publishers seem to usually classify discounts along with the part of the contract that gives authors a lower percentage of royalties.

  • It’s a tough question because there are so many variables. How many books do I have out that might be optioned? Is this for a book I’ve been shopping around to sell the rights, or is it an outlier? What are the terms of the option? All this said, my instinct would be to take the money now, use the deal for publicity, and keep writing more books.

    • Bryan

      Take the money and run!

  • Maybe it’s my writer’s brain at work here but I’d be suspicious of an offer like that. To offer someone a paltry amount of money with no guarantees? Why? Part of the appeal of self-publishing is not signing my rights over to someone/a corporation who offers no guarantees. Why would I want to sign away 18-24 months of rights for peanuts – and no guarantees? Of course, without more details, it would be hard to say. “Small sum” means different things to different people. Bill Gates might consider $50k a small sum but it would be a life changing amount to less affluent people. Then you have to consider the income tax situation. Would the small sum put you into the next higher tax bracket? Once you pay the higher rate on your regular income, and then the self-employment taxes, would it be worth having your manuscript collecting dust on a shelf somewhere in Hollywood on the slim chance it might be made into a movie?

    Believe it or not, I’m a ‘glass is half full’ kind of girl. But in this industry, I’ve learned that not everyone can be trusted.

    • Bryan

      Great point, Kristy. Yeah, I think that the film rights side of authorship is a whole other layer of Mahogany Desk Syndrome we haven’t gone into much.

  • Believe it or not, but I wouldn’t jump on the first movie offer given. I’d like to know how much involvement (if any) I would have in the film-making process, exactly what the contract entails, and also the history of the person offering to buy my rights. We’ve invested WAY too much of our time to just hand our treasures off to someone just because they start tossing around numbers we’ve never imagined being given. This is ESPECIALLY if the our story being eyed is a series of books. We’re not just giving away a possible film, but a freak’n franchise!

    • Bryan

      Thinkin’ big! Stallone took less money for his script to star in the movie and that turned out pretty well for him.

  • Lavie Margolin

    Winning Answers to 500 Interview Questions as a film? If someone wanted to make that, I’d pay them 🙂

    • Bryan

      It’ll be a horror movie. “Winning: The Interview From Hell!”

  • Spider McGee

    It’s a matter of how many rights we’re talking. While I only have a couple of short books out there, I have dozens of things I’m working on (on and off). I’d sell one or two so I could give more time to the rest. Let’s say someone wanted to buy the rights to Mort Mann, Zombie Detective (please please please). I’d sell that in a minute, and use the money to quit my job and write full time. I have many other series characters I could develop if I wasn’t flipping burgers 40 hours a week, and wasting the rest of my time looking up porn.

    Is that an overshare? I keeps it real, yo.

    • Bryan

      Not at all. 🙂

  • Spider McGee

    Apropos of nothing, but David W. Wright should sell The Walking Dave as a movie, or at least a reality series. I’d watch the hell out of that.

    • Bryan


  • I’m on record as saying I don’t like the idea of selling my dream to someone who will by necessity walk all over it to fit the format of a movie or TV series.

    To complicate matters more with a short vs long term view on movie rights, I do know an indie who has sold a movie option to her first book. This option did attract a named producer and is in pre-production last I heard. The result? Sales of her books have dropped as potential readers opt to wait for the movie to come out. This with no guarantee her book sales will surge once it has.

    On another subject, will publishers attracted to KU be forced to go exclusive and thus become little more than a subsiderary of Amazon? If not, what can we indies do to achieve publisher status and take advantage of KU while staying wide?

    • Bryan

      Interesting. Hadn’t thought of book sales dropping while folks wait for the movie. Yeah, I wonder if Amazon will force them all to go exclusive. Tough to know for sure!

  • Another aspect of rights sales you didn’t touch upon in the SP to movie rights to book deal segment is what the author did with their ebook rights. Selling print only rights to get dead trees into stores is different than selling all rights.

    • Bryan

      Great point. I’m assuming the author gave up all rights, but I don’t know for sure.

  • If it were a B list or above film company, offering less than a two-year deal, I would. It’s great bragging rights for marketing. If another company wanted to do the film, I assume they can buy the other contract out. Any deal I did, I’d want to have a percentage on box office or DVD sales and retain rights on selling a mass market version.

    • Bryan

      If it’s a short-term deal, then that’s a major difference for sure. Along with additional rights.

  • I don’t really know how the movie industry works, so maybe this doesn’t make sense, but I would be interested in “selling” rights not for cash, but for a producer role. In other words, I would want to try to make sure that the contract specifies that I get to be involved in the movie.

    Alternatively, like Leslye, I would potentially sell rights now on a short contract term. I would never want to sell the rights into perpetuity, but a 2 year contract seems reasonable.

    In the end, it all comes down to the contract offered. I know there are boilerplates and standards, but people tend to forget that all of that can be modified…it’s just a matter of how willing you are to lose the deal if they other side takes a firm stand. It’s a matter of holding out for the right deal, not just any deal.

    • Bryan

      Yup. Getting a hell of a lawyer can definitely help out on the contract side :).

  • They say adult coloring books are relaxing. Know what’s NOT relaxing? Waiting until the day of the contest deadline to color and upload your submission! Hope you like it, guys!

    • Wow, nicely done!

    • Bryan

      That’s awesome!

    • Aw, guess the likenesses weren’t strong enough:(

      • Bryan

        These are always tough choices. Might have to gift you something else since these are so good though :).

  • Chris Shumate

    My answer may be nit-picky but a small amount is a relative sum. I’d sell film right to a company for $50,000, unless someone much smarter than me told me that is too low.

    My question to the question of the week is what is considered a small amount?

    I would want a clause in the contract, however, that if the movie hasn’t moved past the initial stages within five to seven year (if that’s a decent time frame) that’s I get the rights back.

    I don’t know much about the film rights process.

    • Bryan

      I think $50k would be high for an “option.” I believe it’s less than $10k for the option, normally. If the film actually gets put into production, I believe the rights seller gets more.

      • Chris Shumate

        That’s good to know. Thanks, @bryandavidcohen:disqus. I’d likely do it for $5-10k. That’s more than I started with, plus it could get my name out there. Maybe even a shout out from you or Jim, especially being a part of the SMBS patreon club. 🙂

        We’ve got to aim at something, right.

  • Crissy Moss

    QOTD – Depends on the deal. If I’m going to sell the film rights and they might not actually make it then I would probably want a limit on how long they can keep those rights, and a bonus if they actually do make it. I honestly think it might be better to have a small production of a short story done and released on youtube, or other social platforms, than to just sell for a small profit that goes no where.

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