Don’t Sign Your Rights Away. A Movie Deal Could Be Just Around The Corner.

No, we haven’t signed some major deal with some Hollywood mogul. But it’s part of the writing dream, right? Along with the coveted place on the plinth in the bookstore, the red carpet at the movie premiere is one of those little fantasies all writers indulge in.
     As wannabe writers penning those first few lines it’s not so much a dream as a future event waiting to happen. Not if, but when. We plan out future careers around the book tours and the TV chat shows. We idle away our spare moments looking at private jets and yachts.
     Later reality sets in.
* * *
It’s Sunday, so once again I’m over at WG2E, and have been desperately searching for someone foolish enough to stand in for me here at MWi.
     Today Lee Chambers drew the short straw.
     In fact Lee first submitted this post to me some months back, but it got lost in the mire of technical issues that bedevilled my summer, and has only now resurfaced. Lee has now updated the post with the latest developments, and it makes for fascinating reading.
     Lee says,

Your eBook is a creative property that may have multiple purposes. I believe most indie authors without a traditional publisher or not represented by an agent have no idea of the value of their work over the long term. While the majority of books don’t turn up as movies in your local cinema, be careful about signing away your rights.

Regulars will know Saffi and I have sent rejection letters to several high-flying agents who came knocking on our door. Why? Because when these agents came with their name-dropping contacts list and their swanky New York addresses we looked beyond the glitz, glamour and improbable promises, and asked awkward questions.
     You would not believe the kind of demands they made. As for the small print in the contracts… Sorry. Not for us.
     I’ll be coming back to the issue of rights, contracts and agencts’ deals in a future post. Here just to reiterate Lee’s words: You have no idea what your work may be worth in the future. Be very careful about signing away all your rights now. Especially to desperate agents staring oblivion in the face as their former job-for-life becomes daily more precarious.
     If an agent comes knocking at your door, ask just why they are turning received wisdom on its head and querying you! That’s not how it works, remember? Forget who they may have repped in the past. the past is history.
     Think about the future. If these agents are such hot-shots why the hell are they they trawling the Kindle charts, searching for new clients? You’ve done all the work. Don’t go handing over a future percentage just for the kudos of saying you “have an agent” if all they can do for you is waht you can do yourself.
* * *

David Wisehart

David Wisehart was over at WG2E yesterday, and in a fine example of serendipity at work David began his post by talking about his childhood dream of being a writer. He went on to work in film instead.

     I knew nothing about David’s post on WG2E until I belatedly saw it yesterday evening.  Well worth checking out.
     Today’s MWi guest, Lee Chambers, wrote this post for me back in the summer, and finally we caught up with it mid-week and scheduled it for today. Lee began his post by talking about his childhood dream of being a writer. He went on to work in film instead.
     As said, I had no idea David was guesting over at WG2E with such a similar opening. Pure and utter coincidence.
     The similarities with David’s post on WG2E are striking. So are the differences. Be sure to read both!
     Here’s Lee:
Years ago I tried doing something that most people dream about but only a few truly succeed. The goal: To write a novel.
     I made an honest effort and put pen to paper to write my book, but in the end I failed. To be honest, it was a long shot. Why? Because I was only ten years old.
     My book was a mystery about a Sheriff investigating a string of murders in Oklahoma. I didn’t have a lot of experience with crime scenes and had never even been to Oklahoma. I just had a story I wanted to tell but the practical issues of research, solid format and the way publishing worked seemed minor at the time.
     Everyone has a story in them. Good or bad, but a story nonetheless. Getting that first rough draft on paper is hurdle number one. Then comes the countless re-writes and re-working of the material to make sure it passes muster. Most aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to go through this process.
    I believe I was about 40 pages in with my first attempt. Then the playground and my friends were calling. I still had stories inside me but I decided to take a different route.  
     For me, I fell in love with making movies as a writer and director. I shifted to telling celluloid stories on film, with actors, props and unique shooting locations.

Lee Chambers In Action!

After more than a dozen short films under my belt, some made with support from Academy Award winners, I decided it was time I tackled the feature length script.

     Oddly enough I hate writing. I like collaboration and have a strong sense of story and character but to write for a solid eight hours doesn’t interest me. So I co-write with people that truly enjoy the process. I learned to respect my weaknesses, embrace them and work towards the positive. For me, I write because I want to direct.
     So three years ago I created another Sheriff tale and enlisted my trusted friend Todd Gordon to help me draft up the screenplay. Based on my premise and characters we drafted it up and cycled through numerous script and story consultants and editors to help us plug plot holes and strengthen up the drama and characters. The result was an engaging thriller that won us a Grand Prize for screenwriting at the 2011 Canada International Film Festival and attracted one of the stars of the Twilight saga for the leading role.
     All very exciting, but it was here that I realized that in the movie world, this was only the first battle. The war now shifted to finding the millions of dollars to make the movie. And this can take years – even with a good script. Finding the right players, supporters and funders can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
     So what do with myself while the script does the rounds?  The light bulb flashed on – I’ll turn the screenplay into novel format. Not the normal pattern for an independent filmmaker but as I planned to also direct the material, it made perfect sense. A screenplay is purely a “show” and “tell” blueprint. There’s no room or place to show emotions or back story.
     What better way to explore the deeper sides of the story than by writing it all out in more detail. It started as a simple document I could hand to my actors as research into their characters and motivations. Then as I moved along, the idea of sharing it with book readers became an obvious evolution.
     The first hurdle was my perception over self-publishing and the whole e-publishing idea. There is still something lovely about paper. To have something tangible in your hands. This expense and the distribution hassles make the traditional method of publishing almost impossible without solid backing. Then came the eBook wave.
     As recent as 3 months ago, I wasn’t sold. Then I did my research and found that this wave of publishing is rocking the big boys and outselling paper. Suddenly anyone, and I mean anyone could have a book for sale around the world with virtually no costs. That’s the good side of the market. The bad side is that, while everyone has a story inside them, most self-published books are not original or are poorly developed.
     So this past July, after an eight-month conversion process, I unleashed The Pineville Heist upon the eBook world.

Lee and Booboo

It is amazing that within only a few weeks I even had fans making their own YouTube videos on their dream cast for the movie version. Facebook and Twitter messages from teenage Booboo Stewart fans started pouring in (Booboo plays Seth Clearwater in the Twilight saga and he’s interested in lead role in the film).

     That’s a powerful display of communication. No longer did I need the approval of a publishing house to find room in their catalog for my story.  One publisher was interested but claimed it would be 2014 before they could even consider publishing it at the earliest. Wow! 2014. Really? Three years from now? Well that didn’t work for me.
     This new revolution of ePublishing is pretty spectacular. But I caution once again that time needs to be spent on ensuring the work writers launch into the eWorld is as top notch as can be. This influx of content also makes it harder for the good stuff to be noticed.  I spent three years developing my screenplay and book and believe it’s a solid book for the young adult market.
     It’s not perfect but it’s my voice. Written in my style, my way without a publisher forcing me to play it safe or conform to ideals that work for a larger demographic.
     As it stands my book has commercial appeal. Proof of this comes from me recently signing an international agreement to make the movie version in 2012.
     Your eBook is a creative property that may have multiple purposes. I believe most indie authors without a traditional publisher or not represented by an agent have no idea of the value of their work over the long term. While the majority of books don’t turn up as movies in your local cinema, be careful about signing away your rights.
     I am not limiting myself to just selling the eBook for The Pineville Heist. My marketing plan includes the paperback (even if only a limited release), a movie, an iPhone game, etc. I believe in my work so much, I even created a 30 second teaser trailer with special effects firm RennerVFX that took two months to create using the same computer programs that James Cameron used to make Avatar. The result is absolutely stunning.
     Of course I designed my story to be commercial from the get-go. I had the book cover and movie poster designed early. Reverse engineering. I was writing for an audience, not just for myself or family and friends. I took advice from many people smarter than me and then stuck to my guns and told my story.
     Along the way people try to force their creative will on your work. You need to decide if their views have merit. Does their view represent the audience for your book?  How valid is their point of view? You need thick skin to take the good reviews with the bad. Understand that you can’t please them all. Not even people in your target market. There are going to be readers that hate your story or the way you have captured it in words. It’s natural and the way of life. Take all reviews with a grain of salt and look for the patterns. Overall do people like it?
     The Pineville Heist is my first novel so I am moving into a new world. My only experience of exposing my creativity to the world comes through writing and directing short films over the years.  My last short film, When Life Gives You Lemons gained Executive Producer support from legendary producer Roger Corman and was selected by 45 film festivals in 9 countries around the world. It has won numerous awards and nominations. That same film was rejected by over 60 festivals, including one in Florida that thought it was dreadful. Oh my.
     At first I was rather annoyed, then I realized that, this little festival in Florida wasn’t really the demographic for my movie anyway.  So I moved on and accepted it.  Lesson learned, thick skin developed. It’s a numbers game.
     If you seriously have something good and you focus on finding your audience then you’ll make it in the long run. Tenacity and re-evaluating your work and marketing plan will get you there.  To date, not one film festival in Oklahoma has accepted my short film. Then again, I don’t think I ever applied to one. Maybe it’s time I did. I think they’d love it!

 Lee, thanks so much for sharing.

You can check out Lee in person at and find out more about The Pineville Heist at

The ebook can be found on and

* * *

Over the coming weeks I’ll be looking at how e-readers are changing the way we read and therefore changing the way we might want to write. As tablets become the norm we no longer have to consider film, TV, books, magazines, etc, as separate media. They can all be available on one device, and increasingly they can all become interactive.

Film changed the way books were written. Television in turn changed the way films were made and books were written. E-readers and tablets will change the way film, television and books are written and created.

For the elite few blessed with technical skills to take full advantage, the opportunies are endless. But for us – Saffi and I included – who prefer to simply write stories, still we cannot afford to ignore the changes happening around us. As indie writers we need to stay ahead of the game: to proact, not react.

As I’ve said before, the trad publishers think that by throwing money into ebooks they can somehow regain their stranglehold on the industry. They think that they can just convert a book to digital and that’s it.

Partly, they’re right. Indie authors cannot begin compete with the bribery and bullying that typifies traditional book marketing. Nor should we want to.

Our future success or failure will be determined by our ability to evolve as the reading experience evolves.

How do you see the reading experience evolving?

Hopefully not like this!








    • Miriam Joy
    • October 9th, 2011

    I love the smell of books, though.
    I have a small group of friends who’ve read my book and adore it, and one of them happens to have a brother who is studying film. In the past, he’s made all sorts of stop-motion films, and short live-action ones too. She insists that if – actually, her words are ‘when’ – my book is a famous bestseller, I must ask James to turn it into a film. Apparently, he will work with me, and I will approve any changes before they happen, and I can help choose the cast.
    Well, it’s very flattering, and if I actually thought that book had potential to be a bestseller I’d be SQUEEEEE-ing a lot of the time, but even though I don’t I like the thought that there’s someone already there who could turn my book into a film.

    • You;re right, Captain Mim. the smell of books is something we’re all going to miss.

      I’ve got some paper books i shipped over from Europe and I keep them i sealed bags here and occasionally indulge the olfactory senses.

      As for your own book. I’m stil waiting to see it!

  1. Intriguing post!

  2. I’m so going to steal that spray picture!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!!!
    I don’t want to ever publish my books with a true publisher again!! BUT my dream and ultimate goal is to have one of my books made into a movie, either Hallmark or Lifetime! It’s a dream I can see vividly in my head.
    Recently my agent, DH, and I have started to look around and see what’s out there with screenplays. It’s been very interesting.

    • Tonya, with a high-concept book like you might just be lucky and reach a major Hollwyood player!

      But as with books, the future of film is in niche markets, not blockbusters. As technology brings down production costs and sfx remove the need for expensive studios and location shoots indie films will take off big time and with the KindleFire and iPad already able to play films it;s just a matter of time before we see Kindle film store and iFilms flooded with indie productions.

      And of course these indie film-makers wil all need scripts and books to take scripts from.

  3. Here’s a caveat (or maybe just a dose of tough love) based on experience. Not just with my own books but with the books of lots of writer friends stretching over many years: getting a book published is an absolute cinch compared to getting a movie made. Why? Less people involved, less money involved, less time involved.

    If you get your movie deal along with a shitload of money, great. If the movie actually turns out well, even better. Odds against, though, are astronomical.

    Other than that keep your feet on the ground and just write your next book. And the one after that.

    But none of that means you shouldn’t hang on to your movie right. In this business, you just never know.

    • Absolutely right, Ruth. The comparative costs are huge. But as per my response to Tonya, above, things are changing.

      I suspect more and more indie film-makers will get together, pool resources and work on percentage returns rather than upfront payments to get new films produced.

      While the big TV companies and film studios retain a stranglehold on distribution things will be slow to develop, but I suspect the tech guys at Amazon and Apple are already working on ways round that.

  4. I’m with Tonya–I so much want to steal the book-spray can picture.

    Lots of wisdom here. Who writes a book thinking it might become an iPhone app? But that’s where things might go. Yes, getting a book made into a film probably has the odds of winning the lottery on Alpha Centuri. But selling the option to a film company is more common and can actually be quite lucrative, so don’t rule it out. I actually got a few hundred bucks for the option on a piece that ran in a local paper. A director who was in town making a commercial loved the premise and paid me for a 2-year option. Never got made, but who cares? I made more on the option than I got for the printed piece.

    I also like that you could publish a book, ‘Written in my style, my way without a publisher forcing me to play it safe or conform to ideals that work for a larger demographic.” Aiming for a niche and being unique is what’s going to work in today’s market, not being bland and trying to please all of the people all of the time. We’re not a homogenized culture–all watching the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday nights–any more. Niche sells. Especially for iPhone apps.

    • Spot on, Anne. Niche sells, and as indies are showing, niche markets can be seriously large and seriously lucrative.

      I suspect the old film-option idea will slowly fade as we progress, with producers signing up books in return for future returns.

      Just like with books, the visual media pie is about to get much bigger!

  5. Isn’t a book just a movie in reverse anyway? 😉

    Great post Mark. And it’s why we’re where we are now. When we published ‘Sugar & Spice’ we knew it wasn’t commercial. We knew it would make a great film, but as a book, we were taking a risk. Who knew? 100,000 copies later, that risk paid off.

    When we were planning our next book, we wrote for the market, we wrote for tv. Mark told me to ‘see the movie script in your head’. I told him, a book in a drawer isn’t a book. 🙂

    The rest is history…

    • Thanks, Saffi!

      One of the things we chose to do with the Rose Red series, apart from the obvious bit of being a series, is to opt for shorter length, while keeping the high-visuals and dialogue driven elements of Sugar & Spice.

      We also opted for very short chapters which from the start we called scenes rather than chapters, and used the best of TV drama-making to keep action fast-paced, constantly swapping scenes between characters rather than having thirty pages with one scenario, then thirty with another.

      This adds pace and punch to the story, and while perhaps not suited to all genres wroks well for most, and is ideal for the new e-reading generation who read on the move, not just in bed last thing.

  6. Ah yes, the movies. I know quite a few people who work in that industry and my father works in it as well.

    Getting a film made (or your book made into a film) is tough. Movies cost quite a bit of money, even if it’s a low budget one. So many end up not happening, even if they sign on for a deal at a major studio. Even if it does get made, it might take ten years. Like some of my family friends say, “it’s feast or famine”.

    On the other hand, when it’s a feast, it’s a big feast (at least for the writer, producer, and director on a major motion picture). Screenwriters can easily net a hundred grand for a major film. And that’s just for the first draft, not counting other rewrites and royalties. Plus, your idea has allowed hundreds of families to have food on their plates. It can go wrong and be a bad film. It could also never get made. But for some people, they aren’t as bothered by it because they felt they did their jobs and got paid for it.

    However, if we’re simply talking about financial matters, then TV writing (or book options) is where it’s at. TV writers on a major network show can make sixty grand per episode (and that’s not even close to how high it can go). This isn’t factoring in royalties and money made from syndication. Of course, it’s not that much of a stretch to say that you may be working fourteen hours of day when the season is shooting. Plus, this is all assuming that your show is made and has survived past three episodes.

    All writing mediums though have their major pros and cons, both personal and financial. I guess it comes down to what is right for you (though not to say someone has to choose just one).

    But I digress. Anyways, congrats on your book’s success Mr. Chambers and best of luck with your movie making.

    • Thanks, Andrew.

      I started out many years ago in TV, and no question for the successful writer in the right place at the right time it can be very lucrative. Of course when I was involved there was no DVD and no lucrative spin-off rewards.

      he problem as ever was the competitive market. here ae only so many TV / fil m producers and limited resources. As per responses above, that wll change, just as books are changing.

  7. Lee’s post was fascinating… there is a quote I would paste on the office wall. “There are going to be readers that hate your story or the way you have captured it in words. It’s natural and the way of life. Take all reviews with a grain of salt and look for the patterns. Overall do people like it?” And the idea that he writes as if it IS a movie. I love visual writing!

    Then there were Anne’s comments:
    “Aiming for a niche and being unique is what’s going to work in today’s market, not being bland and trying to please all of the people all of the time. We’re not a homogenized culture–all watching the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday nights–any more. Niche sells. ”

    Anne, I love you. I write niche literature… if that means I have a smaller audience/readership should I really care? What I find is that people react really well to niche writing. Their responses are stronger, their desire to let you know personally how much they appreciated your novel… it makes for a super good feeling.

    But all that aside, of course I want the movie made of my writing. A Thousand Glass Flowers was written for brooding English male actors and exotic female actors. It was written to be filmed in exotic locales as different as a NZ rainforest is to a middle-eastern souk. It was written to make people cry at the end and fall in love with the stars. I don’t want to walk along any red carpet… I just want to see how a movie-man interprets my written images… that’s all!

    • Regulars to Mesmered will all know which brooding male actors you have in mind, Prue!

      I’m sure your time will come with the film. As per responses above, technology ia removing the need for location shoots and expensive studios. The backdrop to ATGF could easily be recreated nowadays and as production costs continue to plummet and the distribution network for indie film producers widens anything is possible.

      Add a good story and fair to say anything is probable!

    • gerrymccullough
    • October 10th, 2011

    I found this blog post fascinating. Yes. all writers begin by dreaming of success, including the acclaim of the movie. But then, so many writers have seen their brain child taken and changed out of all recognition, and have found that if/when a movie is eventually made, the last thing any of its audience notices or remembers is the name of the writer. The fame they expected just doesn’t happen. The money – well, maybe.
    Personally, although several people have expressed an interest in making a movie of Belfast Girls (no, not the major studios, so far!) I don’t really care. In fact, I think it’s quite a frightening idea. What would they do to my characters? or my plot? (Although I wouldn’t mind so much about the plot, okay.) At the present, I’m only too happy to go on writing books, just as long as there are readers out there who enjoy them.
    But, yes, this is good advice. I certainly won’t sign my movie rights away just yet – who knows what the future may hold?

    • As per my email, Gerry, the future looks bright for Belfast Girls.

      My concern is for those writers who sign away their rights to everything jus to “have an agent” who has contributed nothing but will be forever taking a slice of the author’s future rewards.

      I’ve seen a few contracts recently and while apparently legal they are so unethical as to be unbelievable.

  1. October 11th, 2011
  2. August 10th, 2012

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