Making Movies from Books

There’s a question I’m asked at pretty much every school and library I visit, as well as online via Twitter, Tumblr, the contact form, what-have-you. So I figured maybe it was time to write something up that I can point to from now on.

The latest iteration of this question came via email the other day:

hello Mr. Lyga i was just wondering and if you think this is stupid you don’t have to respond but why don’t you make a movie out of some of your books (ex the fanboy and goth girl series) they all seem to have the potential to become a movie just saying oh and just for the hell of it i’m adding peer pressure here it comes all the cool authors are doing it =)

It’s not a stupid question, but it does point to a basic point of information that apparently has not filtered into the public consciousness. I get this question from kids as young as ten and adults much, much older.

It is, of course, enormously flattering that someone loves a book of mine enough to want to see it translated into a medium (film) with a much wider audience. But there’s a problem with this question.

To wit: I don’t get to decide to make a movie out of my books.

I’m not trying to pick on the asker — I get asked this exact same question in this exact same fashion dozens and dozens of times a year. The question seems to assume that there would be movies of my books at a cineplex near you right now if only I weren’t so recalcitrant.

Ain’t so.

Movies happen because movie studios make them. Not authors. I can’t look at, say, Boy Toy, and say, “Gee, that would make a great movie! Let’s make that happen!”

A book becomes a movie when someone in Hollywood — an actor, a producer, a director, a studio executive — says, “Gee, that would make a great movie! Let’s make that happen!”

At that point, they get in touch with me and say, “We’d like to make a movie out of your book!”

And yes, I’ve gotten that phone call. Every single time, I’ve said, “Okay, sounds cool. Do it.” And they give me some money and they go off to make a movie.

Also every single time, the movie hasn’t been made. Why? I don’t know, exactly. Making movies is a tough, expensive, complex business. With a book, it’s basically me and my editor. With a movie, you have to wrangle hundreds or thousands of working parts. Someone once told me the rule of books made into movies. It is:

Of the books published, only a few are actually optioned. Of the ones optioned, only a few are actually set up to be filmed. Of the ones filmed, only a few are actually released. Of the ones released, only a few are actually good.

Sounds about right to me.

So, people in Hollywood have to be willing to do what’s necessary to make a movie out of one of my books. I can’t just pick up the phone and call Spielberg and say, “Stevie! I’ve got a new book coming out. Get on the movie-making, will ya?” It doesn’t work like that.

Now, it seems that once you get something on the screen and it does well, it’s easier to get more of your books turned into movies. Stephen King probably sells his movie rights at the same time he turns in his manuscripts. And if The Fault in Our Stars does well at the box office, I’m willing to bet a decent sum of money that you’ll see Looking for Alaska in theaters within a couple of years.1

There are no movies of my books because as of yet, no one has managed to clear all of the various hurdles to get one made. Not for lack of trying. The movie screenplay to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl was drop-dead hilarious and — believe it or not — even geekier than the novel.  WBTV has been working for a couple of years now to try to bring I Hunt Killers to the small screen.

Movies (and TV) are tough. And expensive. And complicated. Tens of thousands of books are published each year in the U.S. Mere hundreds of movies are made.

Do the math. Not all of those books are going to become movies. Thus far, mine are among those not to be anointed by Hollywood.

The good news is this: If someone wants to make a movie out of my book, great, but I don’t attach any sort of self-worth to it. I’m happy to keep writing books, and fortunate enough to have readers like you who care enough to keep reading them.

  1. Probably John’s other books, too. Although how much do you want to bet they rename An Abundance of Katherines to simply Katherines or The Katherines?


  1. […] it’s not a guarantee that any other gate will be opened–much like selling a book.  Barry Lyga has an excellent post about that very thing.  I will tell the world about any Developments as soon as any Developments are made […]

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