Hey, Sly Stallone did it, why not me?

I've heard that novelists often don't make good screenwriters and vice versa, but what if I wanted to try, rather than just try to get the novel published and sell the rights?

Would that be something to bring up *if* an agent expresses interest in my novel (and I know that's a big if, given how competitive publishing is)? Or would I try sending out the novel to literary agents and the screenplay to agents for screenwriters?

If someone expressed interest in one, would that help the other (e.g., if a literary agent expressed interest in the novel, then would that help in selling a screenplay or vice versa)?

Do you want to do the cover art too? Design the jacket?
Focus on writing a good novel. Then secure a literary agent.
Trying to secure an agent for a screenplay is next to impossible for someone not in the business.

You also don't want to just send your screenplay out to agents unsolicited. The rules on content control are much MUCH different in the film world than they are in publishing. You start sending your stuff out you're likely to see it at the local cineplex with no mention that you came up with that nifty idea of cowboys in space and shapeshifting.

One thing at a time.

And don't tell a literary agent you want to do the screenplay. It pegs you as a total amateur.
Film agents acquire rights to novels, they don't buy screenplays. They acquire rights, then attach people to the project. If you want to write the screenplay, you can certainly say so if the film rights are sold, but don't hold your breath.


Sonarbabe said...

Miss Snark, great agent guru, I have a question that's similar to this, but involves novels only. I'm in the process of trying to acquire an agent. The book the agent has is part of a series, but CAN stand alone. (I made darn skippy of that when I wrote it) Now, if this agent agrees to take me on, when would be a good time to mention the other 3 books in the series, the second of which is finished and ready to go as well? Thanks in advance for any words of wisdom you may bestow upon me. (I'm sure you've answered this before, but I ask you not sick KillerYap on me if you have)

~A Faithful Snarkling~

Saundra Mitchell said...

Firstly, whether novelists are good screenwriters or no, he's not talking about *just* a screenplay. He's talking about an adaptation, which is twice as hard to do well as "just" a screenplay, and unlike Charlie Kaufman, you will not be rewarded for fsking it up.

Nearly everything that makes a good book a good book has to be removed for a screenplay. The audience can't see cadence, assonance, a beautiful, lyrical narrative, metaphor, hyperbole, internal motion, the beautiful linguistic shifts and hints that flesh out a story. If you can't see it, it has no place in a screenplay (and don't even try to cheat with voice overs; VOs are so far out of style they make butterfly collars look current.)

Screenwriting is a highly-structured, quirky form- learning the mechanics is a serious challenge, let alone getting good enough at the mechanics to start mastering the art. It's not something you do on a lark- at least, not well.

Secondly, screenwriting queries don't work like literary queries. The script you send to agents in H'wood functions as a portfolio and a business card- period. You are auditioning your *talent*, not a specific work.

When you get signed, an LA agent will use that script to get you other jobs- they too, will use it as a portfolio (and probably ask you to write a couple more specs in different genres- scripts that you will never be paid for, and that likewise, will never see the screen, small or large- to show your range.)

Occasionally, *rarely*, if you can get an attachment (somebody with a big name who wants to play ball) you can sell a spec script, but unless you're already working in-house for a production company or network, it's unlikely your original idea will ever get off the page.

So yeah, what Miss Snark said, and extra reasons for believing her when she says don't hold your breath.

Mark Pritchard said...

At a writers conference I went to this summer, I met a participant who said he always writes both a novel and a screenplay for a single story. He has a whole technique, which he explained at length, for turning a novel into a screenplay and vice versa, depending on which one he does first.

Why? For the same reason Woody Allen said bisexuals are happy: to have double the chances.

I don't think he's sold either a novel or a screenplay using this strategy.

Carter said...

It's the old idea about doing several things at once: you will do none of them well. I really agree with Miss Snark on this one. Decide on a novel or a screenplay, then do that one thing so well that it sells.

Unknown said...

I agree and ... disagree.

When I was a screenwriter, I was with CAA and ICM. But when I send out my novel - I will still send it not to them, but to a New York literary agency. I will also not be pitching upfront the fact that a screenplay also exists. I only want to be seen as a novelist and not as a screenwrier who also does novels.

On the other hand, if you want to try screenwriting, writing your own adaptation on spec is a good way of both learning the craft and seeing if you are any good at it. Then even if novel does not sell, you still have a completed script that - assuming it is good enough - can help you get a screenwriting agent.

And, yes, it is hard to get an agent without credits, but many agencies do read spec scripts and sign clients based on that. Plus there are numerous competitions and film festival to which you can submit your script.

K said...

As to your comment about sending out a script and then seeing it at a local cineplex, I actually know a guy that happened to. Disney ripped off his script for the '90s movie Heavyweights with Ben Stiller.