You oughta be in pictures

Many would be authors dream of selling a book to a publisher and selling the movie rights to a big Hollywood producer. Of course, people dream of winning the lottery as well and have about as much chance, because it is almost impossible for a first time author to sell the book and the movie rights separately.  When a publisher does nibble, a first time author might be shocked to find the contract will usually reserve all movie rights to the publisher.Well, maybe you can negotiate, you say. Maybe you can talk the publisher into giving you the movie rights. Not bloody likely.

Almost every contract for a first time author, particularly of fiction, has no wiggle room. It is strictly take it or leave  it. There are plenty more eager writers waiting in the wings for a shot at your slot if you get picky. The contract they give you is the one they will expect you to sign. Unless the publisher is absolutely desperate to get your book, you are playing with a very weak bargaining hand.
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Proven gold mine authors like Steven King have the clout to dictate terms, but you probably can’t. A publisher loses money on most books and will not willingly give up a possible revenue stream. Once you have signed a standard contract, you have no right to shop the movie rights elsewhere because you no longer own them.
So what if you think the publisher isn’t really pushing the movie angle properly? What if you have contacts of your own and think you can do a better job? What if you know a guy who knows a guy who works for a big producer. Can you take over and sell the work yourself? Well, maybe.
Look through the contract for an item called “Reversion of Rights”. That gives the circumstances under which the publisher will give you back the rights to your work, including the movie rights. This is usually after the book is out of print or after a certain number of years have passed since publication. If you can get the rights back, you can shop your book to any movie producer you want and you can make any deal to sell options on your work, but don’t expect Steven Spielberg to be pounding on your door.
If you think getting a book published is a long shot, try a movie! If you have a choice of a book contract or a possible movie, jump at the book. You can always get the move rights later.
Whether  you ever get an actual movie, of course, is another matter entirely.
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About johnreisinger

retired engineer and author of historical fiction and non fiction. My current book is Master Detective, the story of America's Sherlock Holmes and his involvement in the Lindbergh kidnapping investigation.
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