I've been trying to blog about my experience about the adaptation process in a way that could be helpful to other writers, and I've been stumped. What do you say when it was easy and went very quickly? I know. I’m lucky. I keep hearing stories from people whose books have been optioned for years and nothing has happened. I can’t explain it, but it is a valuable lesson in how the book business works. Luck is a huge part of it and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
Work your ass off. Yes. Write well. Definitely. Be prepared when opportunity knocks. Absolutely. All those things play a factor. But luck is something you can’t control or ensure. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. Some will be luckier than others. For more on luck, read J.A. Konrath’s blog A Newbies Guide to Publishing. He breaks down the biz side of publishing better than almost anybody.
Now on to the adaptation process.
My book was published in trade paperback by One World/Ballantine in February 2008. It did well. Made some lists. Won some awards. But it wasn’t a huge national best-seller. So how did it get sold to Lifetime?
My agent works with an editorial director. The ED is the one who works with clients to get their manuscripts in shape. She didn’t have me do much rewriting with Orange Mint and Honey (they got it after I had rewritten it from beginning to end four times!), but throughout the process she would tell me how excited she was to have her sister read it. I would always think How lovely to have someone so excited about my work she’s telling her family!
It turns out her sister is also an agent and had worked in the movie business. Her sister was actually a producer on the movie “Waiting to Exhale.” When the book came out, the sister read it, loved it, and asked to co-represent it with my literary agent. She shopped it around and it was rejected as a feature (movies on the big screen), but Lifetime snatched it up.
This was around May 2008. BEA was in L.A. that year. So I went (paying for the trip myself) chatted up booksellers and readers, and got to meet with the executive from Lifetime who was interested in the book. He (yes, he!) told me that one of the reasons he liked the story was that he found it to be universal. He also told me that one of the benefits of working with television is that there was a 50/50 shot they would make the movie. I’ve heard that with feature films, only about 5% of the books that get optioned ever get made. Fifty-fifty sounded pretty good. He also told me they worked quick, which also sounded pretty good. And was the truth!
So, the book pubs in February. We sell it to Lifetime that summer. By the fall a producer is involved (Damon Lee, “Obsessed”) and they’ve hired a screenwriter. Everything rides on the script. If the script is good, odds are much better it will go into production. If the script isn’t so good, you could be in trouble.
This was the longest part of the process. The teleplay writer was Elizabeth Hunter (“The Fighting Temptations”). I’m not sure exactly how much time passed, but it seemed like hiring a writer and getting an approved script took about a year. Anyway, the option time elapsed and Lifetime renewed the option right before they had an approved script.
A note about optioning: when a book is optioned, the network, studio, producer or whoever is buying the rights basically pays a rental fee to lease the rights for a period of time (usually six months or a year, I believe) while they try to get a team and a script together. The author of the book gets the full purchase price when the movie actually gets made. Literally. The author gets a check on the first day of shooting.
So Ms. Hunter did a great job and we had an approved script (which I had no part of and didn’t even read) in late summer of 2009. Then things went into warp speed. The director Paul Kaufman ("Little Girl Lost") was hired and they began casting. They started shooting WEEKS after the script was approved! It was a short, intense production and was filmed in less than a month in October 2009. Scheduled for airing just three months later!
The only even slightly negative thing about the entire experience was that Lifetime changed the title. The movie is called "Sins of the Mother" so I've been working my behind off trying to let people know that movie is based on my book. I guess they prefer high-concept titles. I recently watched Lying to Be Perfect (which was excellent!) on Lifetime, based on the book The Cinderella Pact. Personally, I prefer Orange Mint and Honey and The Cinderella Pact, but what do I know?
I went to visit the set in Vancouver and got to appear as an extra. So if you watch, look for me during the church scene! I wrote an essay about what it was like emotionally to have my work adapted. If you’re interested in that check out The Defenders Online.
If you have any questions about the optioning/adapting process, feel free to email me!