...Bestselling self-published authors attract producers because they have a proven track record if they stay on Amazon sales charts over time, Howey said. “Hollywood is always looking for a built-in audience. They want to know they’ll recoup their investment,” he says. “Modern films easily cost $100m to make, usually more. There isn't much room for risk here.”I've reached the end of the manuscript for my novel, though I can't call it finished yet; as a story, it's coherent, but there's more I can do to make it stronger, like streamlining the characters, removing excess detail, researching certain legal and medical plot points. I won't start until next month, though. After living with these characters for four years, I could use a break.
At some point, though, I'll have to make a serious decision about this novel's fate: will I get it professionally published, or will I do it myself? Neither option will guarantee success, but from what I've read, self-publishing sounds like a more sensible option, even if it's also the harder one.
No matter which way I go, I definitely don't expect Hollywood to notice. I wouldn't have thought self-published books were high on their radar, but if the article at the top is any indication, a tiny handful have beaten the odds and gotten made into films.
The 50 Shades franchise is the reigning champ so far. E.L. James created a website to publish her disguised Twilight fanfic, which got some notice and took off in a big way. Andy Weir took the same approach for The Martian. I don't know if that approach would work with me; besides, it's not considered a good idea to use outliers like these as a model.
Self-publishing has become easier than ever thanks to the rise of e-books, but it's certainly not new, and Tinseltown has taken chances on self-published novels before, as you can see in the following examples:
- Peter Rabbit. The manuscript for Beatrix Potter's turn-of-the-century children's book The Tale of Peter Rabbit drew more interest for her illustrations than the story itself, so in 1901, she made 250 copies for family and friends (including Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle). One friend took it upon himself to revise it and send it to a publisher, Warne, and after some debate over the pictures, among other things, Potter signed a contract the next year. In 1938, Potter turned down a Disney adaptation over marketing issues, but Warner Bros. made a short film inspired by the book called Country Boy Rabbit. In later years, the book led to a ballet film and several animated series, and next year, it'll become a CGI movie.
- Spartacus. When Howard Fast got thrown in the slammer by Congress for not ratting on his Communist pals, he wrote this sword-and-sandal book in 1951 in response and got a bunch of supporters to fund the printing. When Kirk Douglas got a hold of a copy, he bought an option on the book with his own money, and set up the film adaptation at Universal. (Little-known fact: Yul Brynner also wanted to make a Spartacus movie, at United Artists.) Fast struggled with the screenplay, so Douglas got blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo instead, who finished it in two weeks.
- Eragon. Christopher Paolini wrote the first book in his fantasy saga as a teenager, if you can believe that. His parents happened to run a small publishing company of their own, so maybe it's not entirely accurate to say this was self-published. While touring the country to promote the book, in which Paolini would dress up in a medieval costume, the stepson of author Carl Hiaasen bought a copy. Hiaasen showed it to Knopf, and they republished it in 2003. A year later, Fox bought the film rights, but the movie bombed big time.
- Still Alice. Neuroscientist Lisa Genova self-published this women's fiction story in 2007 through iUniverse, one of a number of websites that offer publishing services. In 2009, Simon & Schuster republished it. Before it became an Oscar-winning film, it was a play. Christine Mary Dunford of Chicago's Lookingglass Theater Company adapted the story for the stage; it lasted a little over a month. British producers Lex Lutzus & James Brown bought the rights for co-directors Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland. Glatzer had recently been diagnosed with ALS, and his experience factored into the development of the film, in which the main character has Alzheimer's disease.
- The Shack. William Young wasn't going to publish his Christian fantasy novel, a Christmas gift for his kids, until he was talked into it, working with two ex-pastors and a filmmaker to self-publish the book in 2007. Word of mouth, through churches and blogs, plus a website, pumped it up to the top of the New York Times best-seller list for paperback fiction in its debut week. Some religious critics didn't like the book, calling it heretical (the main character encounters three avatars of the Holy Trinity, in non-traditional forms). Summit Entertainment made a film version that came out earlier this year. It made $96.4 million on a $20 million budget.
Writing a novel and getting it published is one thing; having that novel turned into a movie is something else altogether. The thought of the latter is mighty enticing, but I think I'll worry about the former first. It's a hard enough goal on its own.
Five books I read after seeing the movie