One of the most common questions that I receive about screenwriting is from novelists who want to turn their novel into a screenplay. If that’s you, this article is for you! If you’re not a novelist trying to get your novel turned into a screenplay, then you can probably skip this post altogether.
One word of warning: I have never written a novel, so take my advice with a healthy grain of salt.
You basically have three choices and the choice you make depends on your own situation. You can either shop the book around to producers (or agents, directors, and actors), you can hire a screenwriter to turn your novel into a screenplay, or you can try and write the screenplay yourself.
Unless you really want to pursue screenwriting as a full time occupation, I recommend NOT trying to write the screenplay yourself. I assume since you wrote the novel first, novel writing is your true passion and probably what you’re best at, not screenwriting. So stick to novel writing unless you really want to dig in and learn the craft of screenwriting.
Further, hiring a screenwriter at this time is also probably not such a good idea. Unless you can pay WGA wages and hire a reputable writer there’s a good chance you’re going to end up with a poorly written screenplay. Some of the same things that I talked about in my post ‘How to hire a screenwriter to write your life story or great movie idea’ apply here so you might want to read that post.
A good book with a poorly written screenplay isn’t going to do you a lot of good when trying to shop your story around. Nobody will read the novel if there’s a screenplay already written, so if you have it turned into a screenplay make sure it’s good.
In general, I think my basic strategy of sending out lots of query letters can work for novel writers. It’s probably going to be a little harder than pitching a screenplay if your novel isn’t successful yet, but it’s probably going to be a little easier if you can show the producers that your novel has had some success. Producers are looking for high quality material so if you write a really good query letter I think there is a chance that they would agree to read your novel with an eye towards turning it into a screenplay.
If you’ve had even a little bit of success with the book I think you’ve got to try and use that heat as your springboard to getting a producer to read your material. I’ve worked for agents and production companies and they quite often will read a book if they think it would make a good movie. Producers love to adapt material from other sources. There’s an assumption that since it’s from another medium it is already a proven commodity and probably better than a lot of scripts that are floating around. There’s some truth to this as getting your book published by a reputable publisher (as I’m sure you know) takes quite a bit of effort so a vetting process has already occurred.
I’m not sure pitching agents and managers who represent screenwriters is going to do a lot of good in this case, so I would stick to pitching producers. Most agents and managers who represent screenwriters are looking to get their clients work as a screenwriters, so I’m not sure they would be interested in a novelist who’s trying to get his novel turned into a screenplay. But you never know.
So if you have a novel and you want to try to find a producer who will produce it for you, just follow my basic guide with a few modifications. The process will be basically the same.
- Write a short, tight, highly dramatic log line.
- Write a professional query letter.
- Build a database of producers to pitch to.
- Send out your query letter.
- Follow up with the responses you get.
You can find links to all the steps and a quick overview of this strategy here: Selling Your Screenplay (in a nutshell).
Make sure it’s clear in your query letter that you have a novel and not a screenplay but that you think your novel has a lot of potential as a film. Make sure you mention any awards or recognition that your novel has received. Mention your publisher. It shows that your novel has been chosen, not just self-published.
Now if your novel is self-published and hasn’t received any awards or sold many copies, I would urge you to take a step back and perhaps spend some time trying to make your novel a success before you embark on another long journey that may or may not ever pay any dividends. I often feel like many of the novelists who write me can’t seem to get any traction with their novel so they think that turning it into a screenplay will help them sell their novel. While having your novel turned into a hit movie would help you sell more novels, selling a screenplay isn’t going to be any easier than selling your novel, so don’t get distracted and stay focused on your original goal of being a successful novelist. Regroup and concentrate your efforts on trying to sell your novel don’t dilute your efforts by taking on another almost impossible task.
Also, if you’re pitching a self-published novel that hasn’t sold many copies and hasn’t received any awards or recognition what-so-ever you’re just pitching an idea. There isn’t a big market in Hollywood for ideas from outsiders. I’ve written several posts on this subject, check them out if you’re in this situation: Selling an Idea to Hollywood.