After the success of self-published authors like Andy Weir and EL James, Hollywood is scooping up the rights to books as fast as it can. But why and is it always good for the author?
After watching Quentin Tarantinos Kill Bill, self-published author Mark Dawson was inspired to create his own answer to the films heroine Beatrix Black Mamba Kiddo. And now Dawson and his character government-employed assassin Beatrix Rose are set to take on Hollywood, with his series on the verge of a major television deal, complete with a triple A producer.
Admitting he had a holy shit moment when he was told who the producer was, the Salisbury-based former lawyer said he had initially signed a shopping agreement after an approach through his website. They have attached a writer and an extremely well-known Hollywood figure and director to it, Dawson says. The people linked are all serious players household names and they have pitched it to half a dozen studios and from that they have got an agreement [to develop it] for television.
Dawson wasnt always Hollywood fodder. Sales of his first self-published novel, 2012s Black Mile, only trickled in until he took Amazons advice and offered it to readers for free. In one weekend, his novel was downloaded 50,000 times. Dawson built his audience from there, spending hundreds of pounds a day on Facebook advertising and writing on his commute. After writing 23 books in four years, he says his annual income is now in the high six figures.
Details of Dawsons TV deal are under wraps, and he says it is expected to be finalised in the next few days. But his is just the latest in a line of deals between studios and self-published authors, including AG Riddle and Hugh Howey, who have been targeted by studios after the successes of Andy Weirs The Martian and EL Jamess Fifty Shades franchise. AG Riddles Departure series was scooped up by Fox-based producer Steve Tzirlin in a six-figure deal, while Howeys dystopian sci-fi novel Wool was signed up by Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox.
Bestselling self-published authors attract producers because they have a proven track record if they stay on Amazon sales charts over time, Howey said. Hollywood is always looking for a built-in audience. They want to know theyll recoup their investment, he says. Modern films easily cost $100m to make, usually more. There isnt much room for risk here.
Another attraction in the litigious world of film, according to producer Doreen Spicer, is that these self-published books provide insurance. Theres a level of security that the story is original and not based on a pitch or idea from a writer in the room, said Spicer, whose credits include US sitcom The Wannabes and animated series The Proud Family. A producer can safeguard themselves from lawsuits by purchasing or licensing copyrights.
One of the most high-profile successes is Andy Weirs The Martian: a sci-fi thriller set on the red planet that the author self-published as a Kindle ebook for 99 cents. The 2015 film adaptation, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon as Weirs leading astronaut Mark Watney, made $630m worldwide.