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This blog was featured on 05/08/2018
How to Get Your Book Optioned for TV or Film Starting with the Writing
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
May 2018
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
May 2018

Just about every author dreams of seeing their books on the big screen. Who wouldn’t want that? The more mysterious part is how to get it there. When you’re starting a new manuscript or tweaking the one in front of you, that dream can feel so distant.

Bestselling authors Jenny Han and Celeste Ng are already set on the path to this apex of an author’s writing career. But just like so many of you, they started out unsure and dreaming of this day.

As two prominent Asian American authors who write about culture and a unique experience, they had doubts about ever seeing their stories reach a wide viewing audience. And yet, here they are. Jenny Han with a Netflix movie releasing this summer and Celeste Ng with her first novel in the hands of The Social Network producer Michael De Luca and her second in the hands of Reese Witherspoon appear to have reached a level of celebrity beyond reach.  

Their experience can help drive any writer with her head in the (Hollywood) stars forward. Here’s what any author can learn from their journeys.   

Dare to Dream

In a recent conversation with Entertainment Weekly, Celeste Ng shared her dream turned reality. While watching the HBO series Big Little Lies, she had a moment most authors could relate to:

“Halfway through the series I turned to [my husband] and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if somehow, in some crazy universe, Reese Witherspoon read my book, optioned it, and then starred in it?’ ”

Though Ng posed it as some “crazy universe” she had to have believed it was possible in some way and go write that book.

Write, and then Write Some More

There’s no way to gauge when you’ll be propositioned for a movie or series deal. Some writers, like Celeste Ng, appear to have success right out the gate. Both of Ng’s books have received accolades across the industry. Her first book, Everything I Never Told You has been optioned for film and her sophomore work, Little Fires Everywhere will soon be seen on Hulu. Alternatively, Jenny Han has written close to a dozen books over the last 10 years and has only recently had To All the Boys I Loved Before optioned for Netflix.

The point is, nothing is going to happen unless you write and then write some more. You could get lucky and have your first book optioned and produced. Or it could be your seventh novel, or your thirteenth.

Prepare Yourself for Change

Authors who cling to every character, scene and plot twist could miss the opportunity to make a book “on-screen ready.” Though having your story broadcast to the world sounds like a dream come true, authors need to be ready for the inevitable change.

When a book is optioned for film or TV, there’s no guarantee it will ever make it to the screen. However, if your book moves into the production phase, there’s a real possibility you will be removed from the equation entirely. Are you okay with this possible reality? Does the story lend itself to visual representation?

If you’re considering getting in touch with a film agent or optioning your book, know that there is an element of “letting go” you have to embrace. In an interview with BookRiot, Celeste Ng seems not only accepting, but excited about the possible changes to her novel:

“I think it will be weird, but I’m looking forward to it. With the film adaptation, it’s going to be its own thing. I actually love adaptations, and what I like about them is that they tell the same story but they do it in their own way. It’s film, so it has its own strengths. From having talked to the producers, and having talked to Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington and the screenwriter, I feel like they get the heart of the book. So I trust them to adapt it and give it little twists as they feel makes sense for TV.”

Stay True to Your Purpose

The most important thing when writing is to stay true to your book and your characters. If you are writing a story specifically for mainstream media or around characters or circumstances that you feel will appeal to a broader audience, you may want to rethink your approach. Write about what you know, what you care about deeply and the emotion and sincerity will come across.

Jenny Han has crafted many of her books around Asian American characters, this comes from her personal heritage and a desire to bring attention to the intricacies of family life and relationships. The uniqueness of her story lines and character details are what interested producers. Had she written a more mainstream version, it's likely that it would not have gotten optioned.

Her resolve to stay true to her purpose has resulted in continued success and inspiration for her readers and those who will soon be watching the adaptation of her book:

“The most important thing me as the author is seeing an Asian American in the starring role, and with this movie, we get to see not one but three! That is truly groundbreaking. I haven’t seen Asian American women centered on the screen since Joy Luck Club, which was nearly 25 years ago. Representation is so important, and this means the world to me. More than anything, I hope that the success of this movie will lead to more opportunities for Asian American actors and writers down the line.”

Agents, contracts, options, production, casting, all of that comes far down the road. Where you and most writers are at right now is writing a story that you hope will end up on screen and that boils down to believing in your craft, writing with intention and not letting Hollywood fog your ability to produce the best story you have inside of you.

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