“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.
Dear Editor – What does it mean to have a book optioned?
—Ivy, Los Angeles
Dear Ivy – We’ve all watched movies based on children’s books: the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Captain Underpants, Hugo, Wonderstruck, most anything by Roald Dahl or Dr. Seuss, and, of course the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Even picture books are made into movies: Boss Baby, The Polar Express, Jumanji, Zathura, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
A book sometimes becomes a movie when a writer has their book optioned. The word “option” when used in this context means “to acquire the exclusive right to use (an author’s work) as the basis for a motion picture” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged). Therefore, having a book “optioned” means that a studio buys the rights for a set amount of time to develop the project into a film. If that window expires, the studio can option it again, buy the rights outright to develop the project and move forward with the film, or return the film rights to the author. Having your book optioned is an exciting step, but not a guarantee that it will become a movie. Many optioned books are never filmed.
A writer’s compensation varies greatly. Studios can be frugal and many steps are necessary, therefore, the process is often a slow (and sometimes frustrating) one. Consider the cost of making a movie. Does your story have box-office draw to generate revenue? Can the book be successfully translated to the screen?
The takeaway: First and foremost, write an excellent book that will resonate with readers. Keep your expectations realistic and your hopes high. However, if your goal is to write a piece for the screen, then try writing a screenplay — a process which differs in some ways from that of writing a novel. You never know, screenwriting may be your passion!
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Answers by Christine Van Zandt, professional freelance editor and owner of Write for Success Editing Services.
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