What Are the Chances of a Book Becoming a Movie?


theatre

Confession: I have imagined my novel as a movie.

Now, don’t leave me standing here all alone, kiddos… This is pretty much a prerequisite for writers, right? Don’t blush or try to deny it. I’ve seen your Tweets. And your Pinterest boards. We’ve had conversations. You’re as guilty as I am.

I’m an extremely visual dude. When I write, the scenes play in my mind like a movie. I direct the characters in a sense, but the buggers improv A LOT.

Okay, eff it, I’ll even admit this: my friends and I sit around dream-casting my Phreak Show characters. And a few of you have even volunteered [okay…demanded] to help out on the casting call for Niko. Your amorous intentions are duly noted. [And he’s flashing his crooked smile at you right now.]

Yesterday, a non-writer friend I haven’t spoken to in a while checked in. Curious about where Phreak Show is in the process, the convo went something like this:

Dude: So what’s going on with your book deal?
Me: Not to that part of the process yet. Finishing edits with my agent and then we’ll move to the next stage.
Dude: Awesome! When do you get the book tour and 3 movie deal?
Me: [internal cackling] It’s super rare for books to actually become movies.
Dude: Then how are all these books becoming movies all of a sudden?
Me: [internal sigh] The % of books being made into movies is probably, like, 2%. Max.
Dude: Well those 2% are really getting lucky these days.
Me: [reminds self dude is a rube] No more than usual, I don’t think. And that still leaves 98% of authors dreaming about their books becoming movies, but it never happens.
Dude: Ahhhh, I see.

This kind of conversation happens all the time. So, obviously, we writers aren’t alone. It seems most folks naturally have this ingrained perception that book = movie. So I started wondering how close my random estimate of 2% really is. Enter: THE MAGIC OF GOOGLE

I submit for your enjoyment and education, the interesting [and perhaps sobering] info I stumbled upon.

First off, some hard-awesome checkpoints we can all keep in mind when writing our next novel or assessing existing ones. John Robert Marlow offers this list of:

10 things Hollywood looks for in any story:

  1. Cinematic concept that can be communicated in ten seconds
  2. Hero that a large segment of the movie-going public can relate to
  3. Strong visual potential
  4. Three-act structure
  5. Two-hour limit
  6. Reasonable budget
  7. Low fat (no unnecessary scenes)
  8. Franchise potential
  9. Four-quadrant (young and old, male and female) appeal
  10. Merchandising potential.

http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/books-into-movies-everything-you-need-to-know-almost-part-1/

This first stat sounds really promising. It’s estimated that:

85% of all movies are adapted from books

http://www.kgbanswers.com/what-percentage-of-all-movies-made-in-the-usa-are-based-on-books/22949183

But how many books does that translate to? This poster doesn’t cite a source, so the accuracy is suspect, but states:

In 2006, over 50 books were made into movies

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_percentage_of_movies_are_made_from_books?#slide=2

I have no idea how accurate this stat for 2014 is either. I found numbers ranging from 10 to 35, but CNN reports these as “all the books becoming movies in 2014”:

2014 [estimate #1]: 12 book to film adaptions for 2014

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/31/showbiz/movies/books-to-movies/

2014 [estimate #2]: 35 book to film adaptations for 2014

http://www.buzzsugar.com/2014-Movies-Based-Books-30889382#photo-33260882

So how does a book ascend to the coveted heights of filmdom? This great behind-the-scenes mechanics post explains:

Books are almost always optioned, not bought outright

http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/books-into-movies-everything-you-need-to-know-part-2/

But even if a book is optioned, there’s still no promise our friends, family, and fans can check out our stories on the big screen. Author Joseph Finder says:

Maybe as many as 90% of optioned/sold movies never get made.

http://www.josephfinder.com/blog/201101/26/how-a-book-becomes-a-movie-revisiting-high-crimes

And if you scroll down to Lesson 28 in this post, you’ll find this statement putting that estimated percentage even higher:

Thousands of books are optioned every year, but 98% will never be made into films

http://www.ian-irvine.com/publishing.html

Using IMDB & U.S. Census Bureau stats, this random gent [quite non-scientifically] calculates:

Only 1.77343% of books become movies or TV series

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100818233541AA29WXH

Feels like a snowball’s chance, right? But, hey, we can’t resist hoping. Perhaps the most important thing in this entire post is something you already know:

Writers are dreamers.

That’s part of the how and the why we create characters, build worlds, and invent delicious plots in the first place. Our dreams refuse to die.

I guess, at our core, writers are optimists. And, for those of us who are really optimistic, we don’t stop at just dreaming. We finish manuscripts. We revise the hell out of them. We send query after query until an agent falls madly in love with our words. We revise again. Even when it hurts. We suffer with impatience during the submission process. We revise those words again with an editor. We do all these things because we are ridiculously optimistic.

We hope. And we dream.

So, honestly, we can’t stop dreaming about our books becoming movies. Even if we try uber-hard. It’s just not who we are as a species. And as long as our expectations are realistic, it doesn’t hurt a thing.

Besides, being dreamers, we always have that 2% or 1.77343% to hang on to. Even if the true number is only .00001% of books becoming movies, that’s more than enough to birth a dream inside us.

Q: What are the chances of your book becoming a movie?
A: Are you a dreamer or aren’t you?

[FTR, my answer to the question-posing-as-an-answer is: Incurably so.]

This vid inserted thanks to the genius inspiration from @EsherHogan

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6 thoughts on “What Are the Chances of a Book Becoming a Movie?

  1. I hear ya. I’ve casted and re-casted my villains, even ones that show up in Book 3, which I haven’t written yet. It’s something about the villains that gets me. Main character? Eh. They’ll find someone. But my villains?? THEY MUST BE PEEEERFEEEEECT.

    Like

    • Interesting. So you’re all hardcore on the bad guys.

      I kinda think like this: By the time a book is published, optioned, bought, developed & finally cast, there will be some hot, young talent around that isn’t even on the radar yet.

      Like

      • Absolutely. Villains are always my favorite in any story. Hannibal Lector, that guy Nathan Fillion played in a Buffy episode, or Khan in the latest Star Trek. They all have a special place in my heart.

        And good point about the hot, new talent.

        Like

  2. If I ever finish my novel I think it’d be a great candidate for a movie. Heck, I’m a dreamer and a part time imaginary director. What you wrote about seeing the scenes of your novel as scenes in a film holds true for me while I’m writing too. I even go one step further by drawing out the characters’ faces as soon as I can get a satisfactory idea of what their physical traits will be (though I keep most of these portraits a secret). But boy that’s quite a list of perfection Hollywood requires to consider a book! No wonder so many books that make it to the big screen are butchered in translation. That actually makes me wonder, if I was ever offered to have my words turned into a movie, would I be more nervous than excited?

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    • As I understand it, once the rights are sold, there’s a good chance you won’t have any further input/control.

      That depends on the projects of course & there are exceptions. But pretty much, you’re turning the story over to become what it will.

      That’s scary, but also exciting, I feel. No matter how the movie turns out, it doesn’t change the book itself.

      Like

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