Literary adaptations are becoming increasingly profitable – for both studios and publisher’s alike

Thanks to on-hold filming schedules, tv and film executives have had plenty of time to catch up on their reading. And due to the insatiable content demands of streaming services, they also have an ever-growing need for new storylines, 

Which might explain why this past year Hollywood studio execs began buying up book rights at an astounding rate. (internal link to our blog here)

“It’s really been a gold rush,” said Kassie Evashevski, a producer and manager at Anonymous Content, who helped establish its literary rights division. “I imagine it may slow down a little, because it’s been a really frantic pace.”

Literary adaptations have proven to be quite fruitful. Some, like the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale, virtually put their streaming service on the map, while others, like HBO’s adaptation of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True have gone on to Emmy fame. Hollywood has taken notice, and gone hunting for fresh material that they can package into future productions. 

And while the competition for subscribers becomes more intense as new streamers step on the stage, author’s are finding that their work is becoming increasingly valuable. According to former Lionsgate film executive Erik Feig, “streaming services are offering writers $1-million-plus deals with increasing frequency.”

“Thank God these authors have found the market that really values them,” said Feig to the LA Times. “What I actually love is the authors are having more agency in the deals as well.”

Publishers Step It Up

In response to the continued demand, publishing houses have begun to step up their game, some even going so far as to hire a rights management executive to negotiate deals with studios that come courting. These executives help internally to package in-house authors and content that are potentially salable to networks, studios and streamers, as well as push the publisher’s own agenda.

“We’re not just thinking about the film and TV deals, we’re thinking about the holistic careers of the authors,” said Jill Gillett  co-head WME’s literary packaging department in an interview with the LA Times.

In house executives ensure that rights deals are set to boost an author’s career via various marketing commitments, such as “including “based on the novel by” in advertisements for shows and movies, releasing the book ahead of a film premiere with matching cover art,” or adding the author to the writing team that takes the story from book to screenplay. 

According to Gillett, “all of the deals they’ve done in the last six months have given the authors some involvement in the projects, either as producers or writers.” Which she says definitely wasn’t the case pre-pandemic. 

This increased interest in both fiction and non-fiction books doesn’t just point to the continued relevance of contemporary writing – it’s a signal for publishing houses to prepare themselves to become heavy hitters in the future of content making. Streaming’s insatiable appetite isn’t going to calm down anytime soon.