I got this question recently:

“For the sake of discussion. Let’s say that the book I am almost done with ( short one – maybe 200 pgs ) is truly good.
Let’s say it is so timely – super timely – that it should really be in screenplay format because it should really be made into a movie in the next 12 months given its topic – let’s say all of that was really true and agreed upon by those in the business and not just those in my head –

Who would I be sending my query letters to – since I am incapable of writing a screenplay and it is going to be in book format?”

Take a look at these two posts. They may help.

Are there any agents out there that will look at a treatment?

Turning Your Novel Into A Screenplay

First, you need to finish and polish your book. You must have something polished, clean and professional to submit.

Then, I would read my Selling Your Screenplay (in a nutshell) post, if you haven’t already done so, and start submitting using those guidelines. You’re going to submit exactly the way I describe. Buy The Hollywood Creative Directory (HCD), write a nice query letter and synopsis, and start submitting (hundreds of submissions is what’s going to be needed – literally!). You’re going to be submitting to all the same production companies that every other screenwriter is submitting to, which is to say all of them. I don’t see any difference here. Just open up the HCD and start submitting. Make sure your query letter and synopsis are concise, well written, and compelling. The only alteration you’ll make is in your query letter. You’ll make it absolutely 100% crystal clear that you do NOT have a screenplay written and want to submit your story in book format. You’ll want to make it clear that you are not a screenwriter and that you’re looking for a producer to hire a screenwriter to turn it into a screenplay.

I’ve never tried this but if your story really is very compelling and timely I think it could work. I know that there are lot of producers out there looking for compelling stories and hiring a competent screenwriter to turn a book into a screenplay isn’t hard for a good producer. But I’ve personally never tried this so I’m not really sure what sort of overall response rate you’ll get.

One big worry I would have is the 12 months you mention as the time frame that it needs to get made. There’s virtually no chance that it’ll get made within the next 12 months (I’m sorry to say) so if your story has a firm expiration date of 12 months from now you may want to rethink your strategy. By the time you send your query letters, get a few responses back, send the book to a producer, he reads it, loves it, and gets back to you you’ll be lucky if three months haven’t elapsed. Then the producer has to hire a screenwriter, get a script written and polished, (probably at least 6 months) and then they’ve got to get the script to market or raise funds independently – all in less than 3 months! No producer is going to spend their time and money on a project if the story really does expire in 12 months. Things move far too slowly and any seasoned producer is going to realize that. I know nothing about your story so I have no idea if the 12 months is firm, but think about this before you spend a lot of time making lots of submissions.

Also, I want to be clear that I’m not recommending this as a course of action. I’m simply answering your question. My general advice is if you want to be a novelist spend your time writing great novels and worry about selling the movie rights later on once you’re an established writer. You’re going to spend a lot of time trying to market your book as a movie idea and it’s doubtful that it’ll ever pay off. So I think you’d be much better off finishing your book and trying to sell it to a publisher as a book. And of course continuing to write more novels, if that’s your real passion and interest.

Now it’s possible that you’ve hit upon a really truly novel and great idea, and anyone who hears it will jump at the chance to be involved…

But I’m taking you at your word that your story really is that compelling. Again, you’ve given me no clues about what your story is about so I can’t even begin to judge it, but as a rule I’m very skeptical when someone tells me they have the greatest idea in the world for a movie.

One thing people new to the business typically do is overvalue their idea. I believe that everyone has at least one or two great ideas for movies. Literally. So think about what I’m saying… if every single person on the planet has at least one or two good ideas for movies, that’s like close to 10 billion ideas floating around out there. That’s billion with a “B”! However, there’s only a handful of people who can actually take those great ideas and turn them into a compelling movie script.

One thing I always like to do with projects is try to assess both best case scenario and worst cast scenario. I think trying to get your book made into a movie doesn’t offer you much up side.

Best case scenario here is you sell your movie idea and make maybe $50K. That really isn’t that much money and no one has a career in Hollywood as an “idea” person just making their living coming up with great ideas. The “idea” people in Hollywood are usually producers or screenwriters, and coming up with the seed of an idea is only a small part of their jobs. So there’s no real long term benefit, just a one time cash payment.

Of course worst case scenario is you waste some time and money and you get no where. But in this case you really get no where because most of what you’ve learned is about screenplays and movies which isn’t even anything you want to do long term.

On the other hand… if you want to be a novelist and you spend your time writing and re-writing your novel until it’s the best that it can be and then start submitting it to publishers you’ve got a lot more upside.

Best case scenario is you sell your novel and launch your career as a novelist. That’s a career with long term implications.

But even worst case scenario isn’t all that bad; you polish your novel, you send it out but you don’t find a publisher. But through this process you most likely will interact with some publishers (i.e. learn something about the business) and maybe even get some feedback on your story. So when you start on your next novel you’ll be a littler wiser because of this experience. The process of submitting and being rejected will help you as a novelist as you pursue that goal with future projects.

I don’t see this subtle upside for you while trying to sell your idea as a movie because it’s not what you ultimately want to do. It sounds like this is just a one off thing for you. Now if you do want to be a screenwriter that changes everything.

Bottom line: I get a lot of emails from people who want to sell their one “great” idea to Hollywood but don’t really want to purse it as a career and this just isn’t realistic. There’s easier ways to make a few bucks and a half hearted effort is really a waste of time. Sure you occasionally hear stories of people who have done it but anyone can win the lottery.

No matter how much talent you have, you’re not going to be able to go out for a few weeks and practice your curve ball and then talk the Yankees into letting you start in just one game. No, the Yankees are looking for prospects that have the potential of helping their team out for a season or maybe even an entire career. They’re not interested in spending time with a pitcher who offers them so little upside.

If you want to pursue something, pursue it. But do it with energy and passion and do it for the long haul.

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