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Publishing Rights: How We Got a Film Deal for our Self-published Books

Headshot of Amira Makansi

Indie author Amira Makansi

American indie author Amira Makansi provides an entertaining case study on how she and her co-authors came to be offered an option on film rights for two self-published novels. Over to Amira…

Major Major Major Major’s Mediocre Guide To Getting A Film Deal

One of my favorite quotes is a twist on a famous phrase that has stuck with me for almost two decades. It goes like this:

“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major Major Major, it had been all three.”

Recognize that? It’s from Joseph Heller’s iconic World War II novel Catch-22. If you substitute the word “great” for the word “mediocre”, you arrive at the far more famous line, spoken by Malvolio in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. But while men and women like Julius Caesar, Barack Obama, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg might identify more with Shakespeare’s version on greatness, I often feel I have far more in common with Heller’s distinctly undistinctive Major.

cover of The Prelude

Optioned for film rights

Take, for instance, the fact that the film rights to our books The Sowing and The Prelude were recently optioned by an independent film studio in Ojai, California. I confess that we (my co-authors Elena and Kristy, and I) did very little to deserve this. We merely wrote some books and put them out into the world.

And then somehow, by a very great lightning bolt of luck, we were approached by filmmakers who were interested in turning our books into an A/V production. We never sought producers. We never queried or marketed or shopped the book around. Like Major Major Major Major, we had this thrust into our laps.

And yet, here we are.

So, without further ado, here is Major Major Major Major’s Mediocre Guide To Getting A Film Deal:

1) “Be Born Mediocre”

For a long time, Josh and Rebecca Tickell of Big Picture Ranch had been looking for an environmentally-conscious young adult book with a strong female protagonist to develop into a screenplay. And we had purposefully written The Sowing as a young adult dystopian story with themes of environmental devastation and a driving female lead. When they stumbled onto our books via Amazon’s recommendation system, our story was perfectly positioned to meet their needs.

Of course, we couldn’t have known this before we started writing. But we did know that there were highly marketable themes that we were already passionate about (ethnic diversity and environmentalism, for instance) that we could capitalize on in our writing to achieve a story that was both near and dear to our hearts and capable of hitting a broad target market.

2) “Achieve Mediocrity”

Cover of The SowingEven after writing a book with marketable qualities and solid content, there was no guarantee it was going to sell well enough to catch a fish’s attention, let alone a Hollywood producer’s. So in order to get our book in the hands of those who matter, we had to enlist all sorts of marketing techniques:

  • We cast a wide net, using a variety of platforms from blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and of course, our invaluable author newsletter.
  • We did four Bookbub promotions, coordinated several blog tours, and gave out tons of free books.
  • And of course, we kept writing. We released a novella, The Prelude, and a sequel, The Reaping. By the time Big Picture Ranch found us, we had sold over 15,000 books.

3) “Have Mediocrity Thrust Upon You”

A lot of authors I’ve found don’t give their email addresses away, or don’t make it easy for others to contact them. That makes perfect sense if you’re Stephen King or J K Rowling and don’t want to be inundated with requests for blurbs or fan mail, but as indie authors, I’ve found it much more rewarding to make it easy for others to contact me. By doing so, I have been approached for an author interview with Kirkus Reviews, with Writer’s Digest, and of course, for the possibility of optioning our film rights to Big Picture Ranch.

As indie authors, it is important to be open to new possibilities, especially given the demise of traditional gatekeepers and the development of new avenues for publication, production, and communication.

Photo of famous Hollywood sign

Next stop, Hollywood?

To increase your odds of getting struck by lightning, go stand on top of a bald hill with your hands in the air during a thunderstorm. To increase your odds of selling your film rights without actually trying, write great stories with charismatic characters and marketable themes, design eye-catching covers, and position your books correctly in the marketplace.

Then, when you strike gold, you can look back with confidence in the knowledge that it wasn’t just a lucky strike – it was years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance that made the magic happen.

OVER TO YOU If you’ve had a book optioned for film rights, whether or not it’s been turned into a movie yet, we’d love to hear about your experience.

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8 Responses to Publishing Rights: How We Got a Film Deal for our Self-published Books

  1. Charles Frankhauser May 31, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

    Good news re the film deal, congrats. I published a novel on Amazon & Kindle with premise based on a strong female leading a naive protagonist into ruin, (Atlantic City Nazi). Then, always wanting to write a screenplay, I wrote one; a kind Linkedin member gave me a ref. re writing feature-length films. I adapted the novel to a feature-length screenplay and published it on Amazon & Kindle (RC and RUBY Screenplay). It makes a great party-game if host reads scene descriptions and aspiring actors (guests) read the characters’ dialogue. BTW my novella, Last Pirate at Fort Matanzas, is a freebie on Kindle 31May to 3 June 2016.

  2. michael n marcus May 22, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

    I’ve been told that two of my books would make great movies. I’ll see.

  3. France Rivet May 21, 2016 at 7:26 pm #

    Hello and congratulations Amira! That is indeed exciting! Back in 2013, I ran a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to allow me to travel to Europe to continue the research for my book about the true story of eight Labrador Inuit who were taken to Europe in 1880 to be exhibited in zoos. An article was published about their tragic story in a local paper, and a local film producer saw it. He didn’t option the book since the book didn’t exist yet, but he hired me as the film’s researcher, and my research is featured in the film called “Trapped in a Human Zoo”. The film’s world premiere was here in Ottawa in late January. Over 250 people came. We had to do two showings. It has since been aired in Canada nationwide (both in English and in French). In English, it aired on The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, and Mr. Suzuki is the film’s narrator. I could never have imagined such an outcome. The book was published one year before the film came out. The film and the book complement each other. Those of you who are in Canada can watch the film here: http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/trapped-in-a-human-zoo.
    The same producer is investigating the possibility of doing a feature film, but he hasn’t optioned the book for the film rights yet. Let’s hope the feature film comes a reality as well!

  4. Orna Ross May 19, 2016 at 7:52 pm #

    It was great to hear about this from Kristy at BEA! And to meet her there. Way to go, Makansi Team!

    • Amira Makansi May 19, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

      Thanks, Orna! I’m so glad you were able to meet her. Here’s to many more!

  5. Diana McCollum May 19, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your journey! and congrats on the movie deal!

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