READER QUESTION: Should I Shop Both a Script and a Novel Version of my Story?

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Today's reader question comes from avid reader Chris, who has a very interesting question...

"I was thinking about using a screenplay I’d written as a pseudo-outline for a book, and even adding back in some of the scenes that I cut to make the script tighter. My question is, if by a miracle I feel that both products are really good, can I shop the screenplay and the book around at the same time?

Thanks, Chris"

Hey, Chris—

As I said, this is a really intriguing question… in fact, I have a story idea I’ve wanted to write for a few months (okay, who am I kidding? It’s been a few years, to be honest…), and I’ve tried it as both a movie and a novel, but I haven’t been able to crack it in either form. Which is neither here nor there in regards to your question, I’m just saying—I’ve been (kind of) in your shoes.

But in terms of shopping your two versions, here’s the thing…

I see no reason why you can’t shop them both around at the same time. HOWEVER…

The two versions don’t necessarily “help” each other; in other words, having a novel version of your story doesn’t make your screenplay more sellable, and having a screenplay version doesn’t make your novel more sellable.

Basically, because both pieces are written on spec, neither has any real value to buyers, outside of its own quality.

Now, if one of them were to sell, the other MIGHT suddenly become more valuable. I.e., if a publisher snatches up your novel, especially if it’s a high-profile publisher or a big sale, film companies or studios may suddenly be interested in the movie rights. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll care at all about the script you’ve written—they might not even want to read it—but their interest may at least be a bit more piqued. (And if they DO want to make a movie, they’ll probably want to develop it from scratch, with their own input and guidance, rather than use your pre-written script.) A few years ago, for instance, first-time novelist Michael Reisman sold his children’s sci-fi novel, SIMON BLOOM, THE GRAVITY KEEPER, to Penguin. The book wasn’t scheduled to be published till 2007, but his manager slipped a copy of the manuscript to director Gary Ross, who loved it so much he acquired the film rights months before the book actually came out. Although the manuscript had to be good enough to stand up on its own, the fact that it had already been vetted and accepted by another buyer gave it added value.

Of course, simply selling one of the pieces does not, in any way, guarantee buyers will want the other version. In fact, for unpublished authors, a sale itself rarely does much to raise the cachet of its project or author. Michael Weisman’s story—while inspirational—is a definite anomaly. Whether writing in film or print, you probably need your project to actually get made or published and then turn into a bona fide HIT. Once the story is a genuine success in one medium, buyers will be more likely to see its potential in another. Movie producer Scott Rudin, for example, bought the movie rights to Marisha Pessi’s first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics… but only after it had been published and received stellar reviews.

Anyway, Chris—all of this is to say that I don’t think it can hurt you to shop both your book version and your screenplay version… but it also doesn’t really help you. So if you want to put in the time and energy to write both versions… go for it.

Personally, I think your time and energy are probably better spent writing two original pieces, regardless of the medium. Like an athlete exercising different muscles, writing new/different pieces will not only help you get stronger as a writer, it’ll illuminate different sides of your skills.

Either way, I can’t wait to read your book AND see the movie… whichever comes first!

Good luck… hope this helps!