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.

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

  1. The Perfect Chemistry triology by Simone Elkeles would be as big as twilight if it were a movie. I just hope someone reads these books and decides to make them a movie.

  2. I think the “king of the fading lands” and the whole series of five would make a great movie. It moves well and keeps you drawn into the plot. Anyone who is into the magic and fantasy genre along with romance would love this.

  3. I would like to make a book into a film possibly perfect chemistry.
    Any ideas on how I would be able to do this?

  4. Razor’s Edge – A Memoir was recently published in the US. I wrote the book simply to tell my story! It’s also all about the will to survive, no matter what the cost ! If there is anyone out there that can assist me with getting a movie script done, I would greatly appreciate hearing back from you. Many thanks.

  5. I’m always fascinated with how some books make it to movies and others don’t. For example there are so many extremely popular YA books that haven’t even been optioned and I’m honestly surprised because the movie would already have such a huge following from the fans. Although it seems like Twilight sort of opened the doors for a lot of YA books like Hunger Games and more which are being optioned and made at the moment. It will be exciting to see them come to life — providing they do them justice! Hunger Games did great though in my opinion, stayed pretty close to the book.

  6. Well i have been published my book in 6 countries and just recenlty sign contract in another country , still waiting for someone to noticed my book and maybe make to movies,i hope
    Someone told me that true life story books not make such as much thats why no one interested in my book. Is it true???
    Well i m still hopping :)

  7. I am a first time writer that recently published Balance of Power Shifted on Amazon for Kindle. I beleive and have been told by the few readers who have read it, that it would make a fantastic movie. Original idea, good characters allowing for sequels and a positive, root for the good guy story.

  8. I am a self published author of 3 books. “The Price to be Seen” and the “Love Her” saga which the second book I just published this month. I have been told by many fans that they hope to see these made into films (even so far as to call me on the phone!) and if there was anyone out there interested in them, I would very much like to speak to you. Thank you.

  9. I am in the beginning of researching the possibility of having my book published or into a movie. It is autobiographical, fast moving, personal, and addressing many of the issues dealing with domestic abuse, suicide, alcoholism and depression. My rough draft has been read by a signifinate number of people with an overwhelming positive response. They encourage book or movie. “Just get it out for people to experience and it will change their lives as it changed mine”. I took that as a positive feedback, and would like to continue to pursue it’s hope to help people along with educating those in need.

  10. ” Boyhoods Fire ” Title of a book about an Irish youth and his refusal to become a man. Available on Amazon. It is better than Angela’s Ashes. Author living on
    Finnbar Owens.
    Rue Basse
    Lacoste 84480
    Provence
    France.
    Available for movie contract.

  11. I have a new exciting new book out @ Amazonbooks- HELLBENDER is a pro-military anti-political docu-drama, a highly-referenced mixture of little-known Vietnam War facts, glued together by very interesting fictional characters. The two Army Ranger officers are fighting battles on two fronts- there in Vietnam and also back home domestically with their women. How do I move this five year’s worth of work and move it forward toward becoming a movie? Thanks Ron T. Shaw

  12. I have recently published on Amazon.com/.co.uk. The book, a fast moving thriller, is called ‘When the Gods Answer’. Initial feedback is very positive with a common comment that the book is great film material. How can I expose it to the people that make these decisions.
    I look forward to your comments.

  13. My book, WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME is based on true events that happen when I took a trip to Spain and was wrongly arrested for arson and manslaughter, even though I saved two lifes, risking my own from a hotel fire. The book has been published since June 2012 and is currently in the top 200 bestsellers in the UK and top 3 in its own true account, also top 10 in non fiction.

    The reviews have been excellent in the UK as well as in the States and many people feel the story would make a great movie as it is fast paced, gripping and true.

    The links to Amazon are as follows:

    US: http://www.amazon.com/Wrong-Pl.....f_gw_p_t_1

    UK: http://www.amazon.com/Wrong-Pl.....f_gw_p_t_1

    Thank you,

    David P Perlmutter

  14. I have a published book over a year now selling quite wellwith out an agent or publisher . Sold a lot on a creuise around Monte carlo a month agao. No w want it made into a movie.. So amny ahve said it would make a great film mostly in Suffolk England.It is on amazon
    SO I am dreaming ,,, and need your help.
    Thank you ,helen waddington .

  15. My mother has written a novel titled, ‘Cruel Town’ published by Chipmunkapublishing.co.uk. She uses a characters name, Beverley, and it tells the story of a young girl’s fight for justice. I have just finished reading it, as she would not let me until i was 18, as it has strong crime, suspense, love and a twist that leaves the reader hanging on for more. i feel that it is more of a film than a book. Beverley is not only violated but later beaten when she decides the time is right for her attackers to pay for what they did to her as a teenager. Her family have deep secrets and when Beverley finds her voice, she makes sure that they listen. Along her way, she encounters love, and whatever pathway she follows she knows only too well what a cruel town this can be. could be a powerful film that keeps the viewer wondering, waiting and wanting more!! now free to download, and does not disappoint.

  16. recently left a message about my mother’s book – sorry, forgot to say that her author’s name is Debra Louise Reynolds. The book extract that is on the website just gives a reasoning to the subject matter. The book opens with: she could smell the change in the air during the late 1970′s. A new era of music had reared its head by the name of punk rock. The political world evolved around Thatcherism and the cold war with documentaries on the television delivering the catastrophic effects of nuclear war. She lay in bed frozen by fear praying that this would never happen. She had just begun to see what can and sometimes does happen.
    The first two chapters are set in the 1970′s, and gives the reader a feel for the characters and their personalities. Someone needs to change the pathway for a new generation, and rid itself of hardness, stubborness and controlling ways. However, Beverley did not realise that she would have to suffer so much…

  17. I think the books jessica’s guide to dating on the darkside needs fo turned into a movie its by beth fantaseky or any of christin feehan dark series books need to be turned into movies they are both great at writing books

  18. I won a scholarship for writing but I have been writing loans for 25 years and then I was forced to do what I was born to do and that’s write novels. My imagination is genuine, creative and sellable because no one can write as good as I can. Please be advised that this is an attempt to sell all material not yet published.

  19. I have written a book entitled “Unfinished Business”. Almost everyone who reads it says it is perfect for a movie. It is about a single mother who through a lot of pain and trauma, over a 20 year period, turns a small $65,000 annual income business into a thirty million business. However, in the end, because of a government enforced policy she lost it all. The story is how she survived and began again. The single mother is me. I published the first edition myself and sold one thousand copies. Recently a publisher picked it up and the second edition is just being released. How do I go about seeing if my story is movie material.

  20. I’m not even sure if these comments get read, but I am hoping that I will find some assistance. As I was scrolling through the many, many comments, I realized that the majority of them are from people that have published books and want them turned into movies. Obviously, they all can’t get that at once, and the book needs to have certain criteria, but what if an aspiring individual has a desire to turn books into movies as a job, a profession? Indeed, college courses would most likely be needed, but what kind of courses? The majority of individuals dream or kid about having a job as someone that produces or directs, but what happens if someone who could truly have the potential for having a job like that in the future wants to know where to start? I am this person, and I am looking for answers. I don’t know if I am going to get any help, but I am finally throwing my dream out on the line — for the rest of the world to see.

  21. I hope my book, Valley of the Shadows: Kingdom of Hillael, becomes a movie! Who doesn’t hope that for their book? ha! Actually, since I”ve begun work on the second book in the series, my son has begun working on the screenplay. God willing, coming to a theatre near you… :)

  22. I am currently finishing up publishing a novella entitled “McAlester.” It’s a young-adult and teen book about a boy at a fictional boarding school/boyscout troop, and how he stands up to a brutal bully and his father.

    The idea of the story was inspired by the wonderful work, Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

    I have actually imagined it as a movie, starring Freddie Highmore as the main character, Kurt. Leonardo Dicaprio as the bully’s father, and Russel Crowe as the headmaster.

  23. hey,

    great stuff, i have a book, “Seventy-7 Moves of a Sexy Woman”. Kindly connect me with someone who can make this work…i have watched Think Like a Man, and I love it, and I know my book will do well, but I need a professional opinion, i may just be over-confident as an author. But the reception in the local market is great…East Africa… I will offer a commission for the connection…!!!

  24. The immortal series by Alison noel has to be made into a movie …it will be as big as twilight if not bigger … as a person who loves the twilight books these just might be better

  25. I think a great book to turn into a movie would be Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. Why I think this would be a great seller in the theaters is it would be enjoyed by both women and men. It could be seen as great movie to women for the young ambitious lady the main character that fights for her beliefs. Then for the men they would enjoy the many great battle seens. Also more of the past time movies are coming back into the theaters and becoming a great seller. Hopefully you will read this book and feel the same way. Taylor Baldwin

  26. I am doing a port folio project on ‘the process from a book to film’ and was wondering what are the most important aspects you have to think about when creating a film from the book?

  27. Hi, I am charity I have wrote a story…..Its on line of a of nikita category………please its brilliant action intense I want explode with joy it so brilliant,and from people they said wow that would be a unreal series.please consider a look. Thank you……

  28. I have written several books. The first book I would like to see as a movie is called “TRAPPED IN A DREAM” Based on The True Story of Boston Blacky. This is a book about a boy who grew up to only become somewhat bad, did things that he shouldn’t have done and paid the price. Grew up knowing gangsters, movie stars, and became a pro pool player. It shows all the prisons he’s been too, and what he is doing now. My second book called “Jonick the Alien” which is a cartoon book. This book is in the series of four and I am starting another book in “The Return of Jonick the Alien” This will make a great saturday cartoons. My books can be seen at my site. lulu.com/spotlight/joanneaugello or check my Facebook out at facebook.com/Author.Joanne.Augello. I may have written a lot of books but I am not well known as I can tell.

  29. I really enjoyed the books: Alice in Zombieland (white rabbit chronicles) & Splintered. They are really good books. I wasn’t myself when I read them. The books hypnotized me into spending all and I mean ALL my spare time reading it. Please read these books…you don’t know what you’re missing out on. The giver would be a very good movie too.

  30. Would like to know how to turn my recent published fiction book, entitled You Don’t Know My Name A Story Of Redemption, into a movie. I have started writing the sequel, as the saga of this awesome book continues.

  31. Question …after spending $200 to release me from my contact, my former publisher returned my copyright back to me. After two years, they continue to sell my book on over 100 vendors. Had a script writer interested into turn it into a movie. Since I can’t afford a lawyer…If we go ahead and make a movie will my publisher also own the rights to that too? The publisher has killed my desire to ever write again……               “Trust Me” by John Fisher

    My story is a simple tale about a 49 year old man who goes over to his friend’s house and touched his latest
    invention and suddenly finds himself in the year 1969. Invisible to everyone around him except for one person.
    His 11 year old self. He remembers how shy and bullied he was as a child and convinces his younger self to let him navigate him though his rough times. Teaching how to dress, talk and walk. Greatly Improving his relationship with his mother and father.  Then it on to his 4th grade mean teacher. Making small leaps through time, he’s in middle school completely rocking the school with his knowledge of sex, dealing in a positive way with four bullies. PE coaches and their paddles.  In high school, he advises his younger self how to connect with his first crush. Saves his girlfriend and other girls from an evil boy. Though out my book, my character grow more confident and helps more of his classmates.
       Several opportunities to laugh and cry. My character returns to a world much nicer and more just

  32. I have written three books and looking for a producer who can help me make them into movies. They are already written, and being that I have not work so money is not there. Can anyone in the writing books can help me towards my dreams. Here is some of the first book and its call the “ROSE THAT WAS LEFT OUT”, the flower is deformed and the other flowers looks at it as if it has a decease and make fun of it. The LORD takes the rose away for a year and comes back to see that the weed master has taken over the garden. The rose had to fight and they both get kill, the children of the rose takes over and begins to have problems with the queen and they end it all. Working on part two of this book and its call the “RISE OF THE VENUS FLY TRAP” plus PANTHER BY NIGHT, a seven years old girl becomes a woman after a gang of silver hawks kills her parents in front of her, and she becomes the most undefeated weapon. Will anyone help me.

  33. Can anyone help me with the information to do that making my books into movies.

  34. My husband has written a book that many people have read.
    And they all say it would make a grate movie.
    Can some one tell me how to contact?
    Thank you

  35. I think that Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist series should be made into a movie, it is about an orphaned 12 year old boy in 1888 and he writes about his time with his master, Dr. Warthrop, a scientist who hunts and studies monsters. In the first book they are out to destroy the anthrpophagi and it has lasting affects on Will, the apprentice to the Dr., it has many twists and turns that would leave an auidience anticipating more if it were a movie.

  36. I think the wolves of the beyond series by Kathryn Lasky would make an AMAZING film series. The series follows the life of Faolan a wolf born with a splayed paw and is left to die due to the law of the clan. He is saved by a bear. Sadly the bear dies later on and Faolan makes it back to his clan and is in the lowest rank of wolves and the series continues his story. It is an AMAZING book series that deserves a film series

  37. I have fallen in love with the “I Am Wolf (The Children of Nox)” series by Joann H. Buchanan – (http://amzn.com/B006WU8PBI) and I think it would make an AMAZING movie series! The story is far from ordinary, and the characters are wonderful.

  38. I must concur with Jodi Shaw. The Children of Nox series has a rich mythology that would entrance a movie going audience. That is as long as Michael Bey doesn’t do it.

  39. I have finished my short story and now im looking to turn it into a movie! anyone know how to go about doing a project like that?

  40. I have written a book titled: The Tests and Testimonies of Modupeh, it is about my life story. those that who have read my book said they just can’t put it down , because the story is so good. And the I should let it be made to movie.

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