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Can you sell your story to Hollywood?

When a friend told me she heard from a producer who wanted to turn her book into a Hallmark Channel movie, I went looking for information on how to sell your story to Hollywood.

I found Ken Atchity, a producer who is totally in tune with both authors and movie production. With nearly 50 years experience in the publishing world and 25 years in entertainment, Ken is a self-defined “story merchant”—writer, producer, career coach, teacher, and literary manager responsible for launching dozens of books and films. His life’s passion is finding great storytellers and turning them into bestselling authors and screenwriters.

In fact, Ken has produced more than 30 films, including “Angels in the Snow” (Kristy Swanson), “Hysteria” (Maggie Gyllenhaal), “Expatriate” (Aaron Eckhart), the Emmy-nominated “The Kennedy Detail” (Discovery), “The Lost Valentine” (Betty White; Hallmark Hall of Fame), “Joe Somebody” (Tim Allen; Fox), “Life or Something Like It” (Angelina Jolie; Fox), “The Amityville Horror” (NBC), “Shadow of Obsession” (NBC), “The Madam’s Family” (Ellen Burstyn; CBS), “Gospel Hill” (Danny Glover; Fox), and “14 Days with Alzheimer’s” (with Story Merchant client Lisa Cerasoli).

I asked Ken a few questions to help you decide if your dream of seeing your story on the big screen is even feasible. Here’s what he had to say.

Hollywood producer Q&A

book to Hollywood[BBB] How would you describe the potential for books to film today, especially when compared to, say, 10 years ago?

[KJA] The potential for books to film has never dimmed since the beginning of Hollywood. Studios and indie producers like to buy a story that has depth to it, to allow a screenwriter to develop characters and action based on the kind of deep thought that goes into a book. It’s true that studios today tend to focus on high-profile books, but the proliferation of indie films means that outstanding books that have not yet gained household name status are being optioned in greater number than before the contraction of studio production of the last 5 to 10 years.

[BBB] Is book-to-movie an option for self-published authors, or is it really only for traditionally published authors who have agents trying to sell movie rights?

[KJA] I’ve sold direct (self) published books in the last few years based on my pitch to a buyer, and then handing him or her the book to read. Especially if direct-published authors achieve visibility with their books. Marketing is more important today than ever before.

[BBB] Is this opportunity limited to certain book genres or categories and if yes, which ones?

[KJA] Thrillers, dramatic romance, action adventure are always movie favorites, but there is no limitation other than books that have too little drama in them.

[BBB] How long does the book-to-movie process typically take?

[KJA] It can take anywhere from an optimistic year to a pessimistic 20 years-plus. I’ve recently seen two of our films go into production after a 20-year development period.

[BBB] I recently read a Wall Street Journal article about how Reese Witherspoon brings books to movies. How does what you do for authors differ from what she does?

[KJA] I’m not Reese Witherspoon, so that is the main difference. She is smart to take advantage of her star power to move stories along that she loves. Nonetheless, I’ve made nearly 200 film deals, and seen more than 30 go into production.

[BBB] Finally, who’s the author’s best friend in this process? Who is that key player for the author in terms of book-to-movie success or failure?

[KJA] A producer or manager who knows what she or he is doing, and who has the Hollywood contacts and experience to be taken seriously.

Ken explains how it’s done in his “Real Fast Hollywood Deal” training. You’ll learn what elements you can add to your story now to make it much easier to sell, how to craft the short sales document that actually does the selling, and lots more. (I sat in on one of his training sessions already and was blown away!)

Got a question for Ken? Ask it here! He’ll stop by to answer them. 

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  1. It takes 20 years for a book to become a movie?
    I’ll be 80 or dead by then.

    I would be interested in what would help make the story successful since I’m still in the middle of writing it.

    A Cinderella tale that escapes into space and finds Tamaroon (alias Earth) recovered from destruction 9,000 years in the future. Dark knights battle for power against Guardians of the young royal heirs and who will discover much more than a way to defeat their enemy.

  2. For those readers who I encounter after they’ve had the opportunity to read the first two novels of my “Christmasville Trilogy,” the majority of them suggest that the novels would make a very good movie. Some even go so far as top recommend a director (though Ron Howard may be a tad busy though). The first novel – “Christmasville” – is the story of Mary Jane Higgins who suspects that the town in which she lives may be little more than a Christmas village on a model train platform. As the reader follows Mary Jane in her adventures and discoveries…Oh, but it’s a surprise ending

    1. Michael, I think there was a Hallmark movie with Christmasville in the title at the end of last year — or the lead character got stuck in a town called Christmasville. Great minds think alike, right?


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