After the unprecedented success of yesterday’s column, I decided I would flip it around and provide you the converse list of things screenwriters should know as they switch from Final Draft to MS word to scratch that prose itch.
1. Publishers Want To Sell Books. It’s a common misperception that screenwriting is for commercial aspirations while novel writing is a place to pen esoteric ideas and ramblings. The truth is: publishers want commercial books. They want to reach a wide audience. The same forces that drive a spec script sale drive a spec novel sale. Will this book attract a large number of readers? You have to write a novel the same way you would write a movie: with compelling characters, surprising plot twists, strong dialogue, and a unifying theme that encompasses all. Sure, you don’t have to worry about set pieces and budgets and casting, but you’re going to have a hard time if you write for a very narrow niche.
2. The Money Is Not The Same (At First). When I received my first book contract, I called a novelist friend of mine in London. “How do novelists make a living?” I asked. Her reply: “They don’t! They all want to be screenwriters!” Unless you are one of those amazingly successful novelists: King or Connelly or Grisham or Clancy, the money just isn’t the same as you would get for writing and selling a screenplay. So don’t write a novel thinking you can quickly switch careers and won’t have to deal with studios and producers anymore but will make the same money. Unless you write THE FIRM… then you can.
3. Publishers are Your Friends. You know how, as a screenwriter, you’re constantly wary of your status on your own project? Like at any moment, you can be fired for seemingly no reason? How every word you write can be changed at the whim of a junior executive fresh out of film school? It takes a little while to get used to, but your publisher actually likes your opinions on your work. They treat you deferentially as they suggest… key word “suggest”… edits. They consult you on everything from chapter breaks to the book covers. And they are pulling for you and your book to do well. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but so far, it hasn’t. Not one word gets changed without your permission. Somebody slap me.