by Libby Sternberg
E-publishing is rocking the book world, opening up new markets for authors and publishers, shaking up traditional publishing's approach to readers. Much cyber-ink has been spilled on this topic, so I want to briefly touch on a subject that I haven't yet seen addressed.
That is, how to sell film or TV rights to e-books.
And the answer is: dunno yet. It's evolving. But I firmly believe there's a new business model here waiting to be shaped into a successful venture. I'd enjoy a discussion of this topic, so weigh in, fellow book lovers.
First, let's review how film and TV rights are usually handled in the DTB (dead tree book) world.
An author sells her Novel That Will Last Through the Ages (NTWLTA for short -- oh heck, let's just say, "Novel") to Publisher A through Literary Agent Z.
Publisher A does all its publishing stuff--editing and proofreading the book, choosing a cover, typesetting, laying out the pages, alerting bookstores to its imminent release, and even, on rare occasions, trying to actually sell the book to consumers.
Agent Z, meanwhile, sends out word to her agency's subsidiary agents that the Novel is available. Agent Z will often find herself pitching the Novel to these subsidiary agents as if she were pitching to a publisher. The subsidiary agents in the film/TV side of the biz aren't necessarily interested in every project that Agent Z's firm has to offer. They want "high concept" or "action-packed" or whatever Hollywood thinks is hot at the moment. Nonetheless, let's assume that Agent Z is a whiz at elevator pitches and manages to get film/TV agency interest from Big Agent H (for Hollywood).
Big Agent H (BAH, for short) manages to get a film option for the Novel.
Much rejoicing occurs in Author's home. Much champagne-cork popping (inexpensive champagne). Huzzah!
Back at the offices of BAH and Z, smiles abound, but few Snoopy Dances of Joy. The reason--a film option doesn't involve a lot of money unless the property's a bestseller. The big money's in the actual sale. So this means BAH and Z are splitting down the middle enough money for a nice dinner out in a five-star restaurant. And they both know that while many books might be optioned, few make it into film. (Which is the origin of the old saying, "Many are caught, but few are frozen." No, wait, that's fishing industry wisdom.)
But in our scenario, Novel does make it into film! A Big Star and Studio pick up the option, buy the film rights, and before you know it, the Author is remodeling her kitchen, planning beach vacations for her family, and going to the spa twice a week with the proceeds, as well as photo-shopping her online author pictures on her website.
BAH and Z now pop their own bottles of champagne, do the victory dance, and use their proceeds to put down payments on new cars.
Let's take this little story template and place it over the e-publishing model. We have to skip over the first few steps, though, because in the e-book world, some authors go directly to self-publishing on their own or to e-publishers (such as Istoria) that don't require agent-submitted works.
There is no Agent Z, in other words, in the e-publishing model. Without Agent Z, it becomes difficult to snag BAH. Many BAHs will actually say "bah" to authors approaching them out of the blue with a book not published traditionally or not a megaseller or not represented by a variation on Agent Z.
But what if that were different? What if film/TV agents started trolling the e-publishing world for good stories that matched the talents and goals of their other Hollywood clients (directors, writers, producers, actors)?
What if these BAHs decided that traditional publishing isn't the only place to find great stories, and instead of relying on the Agent Zs of the world to "screen" out the undesirables, BAHs will find other ways to mine the rich motherload of great storytelling that has opened up in e-publishing.
Sure, it will be challenging for BAHs to figure out how not to waste too much time sifting through material that's not suitable. Currently, as pointed out, they rely on Agent Zs to do that for them, for the most part. Instead of relying on others' judgment of material, they'll have to start relying more on their own.
But the payoffs could be higher since they won't be splitting a commission any longer. They're handling the film/TV rights as a completely separate entity.
I hope some film/TV agents start considering a new model. Like a lot of other aspects in e-publishing, it will require a more pro-active approach -- going way beyond what might ordinarily land on their desks through the efforts of Agent Zs.