How to Turn a Book Into a Movie

I’m often asked what I look for when I evaluate books for the movie biz.

First and foremost, I look for the elements that are important to my employers–things that they are specifically looking for in terms of genre, execution, etcetera. I read for a couple of different places, and each has a slightly different mandate.

In general, in order for a book to become a movie it has to have a strong, forward-moving plot line, and a premise that you can easily picture on a poster or in a TV ad campaign. Deal killers are:

1) The story has been done before
2) The concept is “soft”–takes too long to explain because it has a lot of nuance. This is also called “execution dependent.” The Hours is a prime example of this. Generally speaking, you can only get away with a soft concept when the book is a bestseller.
3) The story is small, meaning the stakes don’t feel like they matter very much or that the obstacles seem easily surmountable.

If you have read a book and think you have what it takes to turn it into a movie–

DO NOT START WRITING.

It is imperative that you obtain the film rights to the book before you begin the adaptation.

“But Superfast Reader, what if I write it so good that the movie people just have to have it?”

The answer to that is litigation.

If the rights have already been taken, not only will no one read your script, they might actually take legal action against you to stop you from writing (and the law would be on their side). In the case of Writers’ Guild credit arbitration, which determines, in the case of multiple writers, who contributed what elements to a screenplay, only writers hired by the rights-holder will be considered. So if you think one of your ideas ended up in the movie, you’re basically out of luck–unless you know for sure that someone at that company read your script and stole your idea. These kinds of lawsuits do happen, but they are very costly to bring to court. And because of high-profile story-stealing cases like Coming to America, studios, financiers, and production companies are on their guard. Nobody, and I mean nobody, in their right mind will touch your script for their with a 10-foot pole.

If the rights aren’t available, you might think that you should write the screenplay to prove that the book would make a great movie, enticing a moneybags to option the book for you. Here, you run the risk of losing the book to someone else, which would take you back into the nightmare of the 1st situation. You’re just setting yourself up for heartbreak.

To find out rights availability for a book, the official route is to call the publisher and ask to speak to “Subsidiary Rights.” More than likely, you will get a recording requesting that you fax or email a request. Some publishers have this information on their websites as well. You are inquiring about the film rights, and in your letter you must also establish why they should give you this information. If they don’t deem you a legitimate candidate, they might never, ever respond to you.

The good news is that many writers have websites and allow you to contact them directly. Your best bet, if you really fall in love with a book, is to make your case directly to the author, and get him on your side. If you’re lucky, you’ll hit it off and she’ll option her book to you. Now you have the legal right to shop the book around, write the screenplay, and make the movie.

Last night’s work read was the new book by a best-selling author who I just really don’t get at all. His books are way too weird for me, and this was no exception.

522 thoughts on “How to Turn a Book Into a Movie”

  1. I just read this book called Leah start’s revenge. Wow this book is soo action packed from start to finish. I can see this book being on film. I can’t wait until the next book. The author is Montice Harmon. You can find it on amazon as well as different other sites. This is a true page turner.

  2. I wrote a fictional book, A DEADLY GAME, that had 3 offers on it but for various reasons each offer was never completed. So, I turned the screenplay into a book. It’s online with FriesenPress/Kindle-Amazon.com It’s an action/adventure story about a youth soccer team that gets kidnapped down in Mexico during an international soccer tournament. THIS WOULD MAKE A GREAT MOVIE! NOW WHAT DO I DO? copy right 2012 dennis charles sacco Registered with The Writer’s Guild of America REG#903059

  3. Question for you readers. Have you read “The Opportunist”?
    Would you want to see it in a movie?

  4. I am looking for a producer to help in making my books into a movie. I need a professional opinion about the matter, waiting for the working compensation to settle the case. I do not have no income and getting one book publish would help me get on my feet. Can anyone help me I would even sell my book to someone who is interested.

  5. I have written and self published my book Heart of a Lamb, Courage of a Lion. It has cost me everything, including my marriage and my house. I believe in my autobiography, it is everything to me and has helped in the appeasement of P.T.S.D. It has some amazing reviews on Amazon/Google Books/Barnes and Noble, yet has made me no money, only debt. IT DESERVES BETTER.

  6. I would like to recommend some books that I have read and I think would make great movies (though I am being a bit bias in my opinion)
    1. Shapeshifter by Ali Sparkes – it’s a book series that kept my hooked until the end and still wanting more, it’s very original in its genre so I think it would make a great hit.
    2. Dragon orb by Mark Robson – it’s not exactly original however it’s not a copy either so it’s a bit of both but it’s still very entertaining in my opinion. Although their are four books in this series it could probably only amount to one film, two if it go’s with the part 1, part 2 craze, a TV series would probably be better.

    Please consider this and pass it on if can.
    Sincerely, a young book lover.

  7. A book by Robert Jackall, called Wild Cowboys. Every piece of information in this book is true. Movies just like American Ganster and Scar Face fall in to this category. Where in the early 1980′ and throughout the 90’s crack cocaine were literally running the streets of New York. Young innocent lives taken amongst those who were actually ‘In The Game’ There was poverty everywhere in the Bronx.It’s a book about two brothers Lenny and Nelson Sepulveda who ran Washington Heights, they called themselves the “Red Top” and eventually were known as Wild Cowboys. I promise you this film will make millions, hell I’ll play a role if needed. I myself grew up in New York. this is the life style I once lived, and by the grace of God got out. This is a Must See Film. The book is great, Im sure the movie would be better.. No offense Mr. Jackall.

  8. I am an author. My latest novel MAYU (in English) is expected to be published within weeks. I have full copyright and I can legally sell the book for a movie. MAYU is the story of an exceptionally brilliant daughter of a Railroad clerk father and a simpleminded mother. She goes to college and her class friend Benito, one class senior music composer Aaron fall for her. After graduation, Benito disappears from the scene. MAYU lives together with Aaron in the university campus, she doing Economics and Aaron doing Music. Aaron goes to the US for further studies in music. Left alone MAYU appears in the civil Service Exam. She is selected and joins administrative service. Terrorism breaks out and she has to encounter many challenging situations. Army arrests ten terrorists and produces before Mayu as the District Magistrate. Mayu is shocked to find Benito as the first terrorist. In the US Aaron lives with Lisa. Guess what could be the end of an box office hit. The plot is best on a archipelago, a former Spanish colony, adjacent to a country under rule by an Army junta.

  9. Read Feudlings. It was amazing and packed with action. It is kind of a survival romance. Loosely based off of Romeo and Juliet. I’m just saying, it was an awesome book and anyone who’s read it will say the same.

  10. I just finished reading the book Glass by Ellen Hopkins. This is a wonderful book filled with so much drama and action. This is the sequel to Crank they are just so interesting the books always have you on your feet wondering what’s going to happen. I would love to see this become a movie I would go see it over and over. One other book by Ellen Hopkins I would LOVE to see as a movie is burned. This book is even better then Glass because there’s more drama and action. I think people would love it! Burned is about a girl who gets abused by her dad, and she gets in trouble at school so she go’s to her aunts then she meets this boy and they fall in love and lots of stuff happens between them but the girl gets pregnant, but she has to go back home after she finds out. Wall she is home she calls the boy like every day well try’s to. She is also getting abused to so she calls to boy and he picks her up after school and this boy see her who is jealous of the boy and calls the cops. Wall they were on the high way the cops pulled up behind them and the boy was going to fast and tried stopping but it was ice and the truck flipped over and killed to boy and unborn baby. There is a sequel to it but I am currently reading that.

  11. I wrote a historical novel, Heddy’s Miracles ~ A True Story ~ Lilo’s Family Defies Hitler and All Natural Laws ~ There is Light at Albrechstrasse 9,” about my mother growing up under Hitler in Berlin, Germany. Her mother prayed them through many miracles including no bombs exploding when they fell on their block during 3 years of allied bombing and surviving in a tunnel of fire. As I wrote it, I could tell the pictures were of a film and not the pictures you see when reading. This will be a major film. Just a matter of when.

  12. I would like to get my manuscript/book turned into a movie. How can you help me?

    Tyrone Hughes
    561-502-0048

  13. I was sexually, mentally, emotionally and verbally abused by my grandfather as far back as I can remember. He did many terrible things, some of which are too distasteful for me to talk about publicly. I want to share my testimony, because so many people have been hurt, and they need to realize that someone has made it through their struggles so they can have hope. More than anything, I want you to know and really understand that anyone who has been abused can fully recover if they will give their life completely to the Lord…It may seem impossible, but God’s truth has set me free from a life of pretense and lies and has restored my soul. I am living proof that nothing is too hard for God. No matter what you’ve been through or how bad you’ve been hurt, there is hope!
    My book is available at Amazon and I would love for each person who has liked this page to order a copy. Each copy sold will go toward the prevention of child abuse across the country and world. To order a copy of, The Little Girl Inside, go to Diane Waltman.com. God Bless you

  14. Has anyone ever heard of ‘Horatio Lyle’ by Catherine Webb? It is an incredible work of literature, and it makes me sad that no one has ever really, well, HEARD about it. Catherine Webb published her first book at age 14, and has a true gift for writing. It has an intense and absorbing storyline, with a serious, sinister feeling that pervades the whole book, but at the same time is tinted with humor and heart-warming cheerines. It is filled with many different elements, to please the science nuts, magic geeks, and general reading populas. Considering the success of Harry Potter, it’s obvious that with the right push British literature can become a booming business in the states. It seems so odd to me that this book a has not exploded as much as Harry Potter did. Therefore, I IMPLORE you, if you are in the movie-making business, PLEASE check it out. I truly believe the rest of the world is missing out on this witty, intelligent series, and, in all honesty, I think it would be much better than A TON of the movies out there. In conclusion, I just want to say what was on the back of the book, which originally endeared me to read this:
    Welcome to the world of Horatio Lyle; when mystery beckons, he gathers his courage, sharpens his wits, and fills his pockets with things that explode.
    Yours Sincerely,
    A Faithful Reader

  15. I have written a novel which is currently in the quarter finals of the ABNA Awards 2014 “Fall from Grace – The Lost Goddess Asherah” The story always seemed as though it would have been better as a film due to the war scenes, carnage and special effects that could be used and I am really interested in how to pursue this route for it.

    Please could you contact me if you are interested in reading this or pursuing an adaptation. I really am unsure as to where to start for this.

    Karen

  16. I’m working on the screenplay to my book, Always a River. Check it out on Amazon (the book, that is. The movie? Well, we’ll see.).

  17. IF YOU WRITE A BOOK AND HAVE IT PUBLISHED, WE ALL KNOW THAT COST DEARLY! WE ARE THE AUTHOR/OWNER OF THE BOOK! MY QUESTION IS HOW MUCH DOES THE PUBLISHER GET?, IN TERMS OF “DO THEY OWN ANY PART OF YOU OR YOUR BOOK, SINCE ALLTHEY DID IS PUBLISH IT. I UNDERSTAND THEY MAKE ALMOST ALL MONEY WHEN THEY SELL COPIES EXCEPT THE TINY ROYALTY FEE THEY SEND YOU, BUT I AM TALKING ABOUT OTHERWISE, THE WRITER IS STILL OWNER! RIGHT??? PLEASE, IF ANYONE CAN COMMENT CORRECTLY PLEASE DO SO AND THANK YOU.

  18. IF YOU WRITE A BOOK AND HAVE IT PUBLISHED, WE ALL KNOW THAT COST DEARLY! WE ARE THE AUTHOR/OWNER OF THE BOOK! MY QUESTION IS HOW MUCH DOES THE PUBLISHER GET?, IN TERMS OF “DO THEY OWN ANY PART OF YOU OR YOUR BOOK, SINCE ALLTHEY DID IS PUBLISH IT. I UNDERSTAND THEY MAKE ALMOST ALL MONEY WHEN THEY SELL COPIES EXCEPT THE TINY ROYALTY FEE THEY SEND YOU, BUT I AM TALKING ABOUT OTHERWISE, THE WRITER IS STILL OWNER! RIGHT???

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