What "Optioned" Means

Like with movies and books and stuff

Hi friends,

Everyone wants their book to get turned into a movie. And lots (so it seems) of books get turned into movies, and/or they get “optioned,” which is a word you’ve probably heard if you spend anytime around publishing news/writers on twitter. But $5 says you don’t know what it means. I really didn’t understand what it meant until I actually went through the process with one of my clients! But let me demystify this for you here.

Today, we’re going to go over the basics of what this means and how it may or may not lead to your book getting made into a movie or TV show. One thing is for sure: getting optioned isn’t a guarantee your book will hit the big screen. But it’s the first step.

What’s an Option?

An option is an agreement where author gives a producer/production company/screenwriter/someone the rights to try and get the movie “set up.” There’s a time period involved, usually a year with provisions for another year extension, and an amount paid to the author for each of those years. That’s it. That’s all it is. It is not a promise it will get made. It does not guarantee a big-name actor to star. It is not a guarantee it’ll be on Netflix. It’s just a start, something to get the ball rolling.

Many books, articles, essays, COMMERCIALS, are optioned. Many things are optioned year after year after year and sometimes no progress is made on getting closer to production or distribution. That’s ok! It’s free money! Authors don’t usually have do too much with an option, save worry about it and “jump on” a bunch of calls with “LA.” Get those options!

Why are so few books actually made into movies, even after they’ve been optioned? Because it takes A LOT of things falling into place for a movie/TV show to get made. In this case let’s say the person who optioned your books is a big name producer who already has a deal at Netflix (that means Netflix gets first dibs on the things she wants to do). That is LITERALLY half the battle, because a movie needs: a producer, stars, financing, a script, and a distributor—at least. If you’ve got a producer and a distributor (if Netflix likes it) then WOOO! you’re ahead of the game.

But did you see all those other things? Someone needs to write a screenplay, and it is rarely the author, unless you are already an established screenwriter. And someone has to star in the movie, which often depends on the script/producer/money. Someone has to be on board to PAY for everything, which often depends on the script/produce/stars. Then someone has to distribute the movie or show, which either means send it out to movie theaters (in the After Times) or stream it online or broadcast it over the air. And you’re not going to get that before you have a producer/script/star/money. These things come together like a complicated puzzle—it’s impossible until you get one part and then sometimes it all falls into place. This is all what getting “set up” means.

Sometimes you get optioned and a producer but then the screenplay falls flat. Sometimes you get a big star but then it take a long time to get financing and they have another movie booked and can’t do yours. Sometimes, with TV, you shoot a pilot and then none of the networks buy it. This is why I am not a film/TV agent. The upshot (i.e. money) is great, but whoooo boy there is a lot of disappointment.

Speaking of money, how much?

I don’t often like to state dollar amounts in regards to book deals or options, because every book is different and I don’t have a crystal ball. I will say that options making a book into TV show are much lower than ones for movie. A $5,000 TV option is not unheard of. And movie options are not automatically six figures or whatever. Maybe you get $10,000 or $20,000 for a movie option—or a lot more. A lot of the BIG money comes when something actually gets made, because, well, that’s where the money comes from—from ticket sales or streaming righs or ads or whatever. I’m not going to go in to all the deals points of an option or purchase agreement (that when the REAL stuff starts to happen) because it’s highly variable and every book is different. Just don’t spend all your option money and expect the checks to start rolling in. It can take YEARS, if it happens at all.

I hope this demystifies the process for you a little and helps you put this kind of news into perspective, for yourself or when you are seething with jealousy over an author-friend getting an option when you haven’t. Don’t plan to hate watch their movie just yet.

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