Authors and Writers

The Book Option Deal

In a book option deal, a producer (or similar party) acquires the option to purchase the rights (rather than buying them outright, for a more considerable sum) for a period of time in order to turn a book into a movie (or TV show, or DVD, etc.). The producer wants to get the most rights for the least money, because at the front end he has no idea whether he’ll even get the project green lit – there’s a long journey ahead before a film sees the silver screen, if ever. Of course, as the author, you want to maximize the option fee income, the purchase price and royalty rates and give up as few of the rights in your “bundle of rights” as possible. The balance of power will typically favor the party with the most negotiating leverage.

While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the major deal points of an option agreement that merit negotiation:

  • Duration of the option and how much is paid for the option.
  • Additional option periods, including the length and cost of each period.
  • Scope of rights granted upon exercise of the option to purchase the book rights -typically, but negotiable: the right to make a motion picture, television (free, pay, cable, etc.), video/DVD, internet production, as well as the allied and ancillary rights to the book including, but not limited to, remake, sequel, and television series rights, and merchandising and commercial tie-in rights. The ancillary rights can be especially valuable.
  • The rights reserved to the author (typically, book publishing, radio readings or productions of the book, live theatre and author-written sequel).
  • Purchase price if option is exercised, and when it gets paid.
  • Author’s royalty participation in the net profits (and how is “net profits” defined)? Rule of thumb: 5-10% of overall net profit.
  • Royalties for remakes, sequels and series. The rights granted to the producer will include the rights to make remakes, sequels and series based on the film, but the producer must pay additional royalties upon producing one. Fairly standard royalty rates are typically: theatrical remakes, 1/3 of the purchase price plus 1/3 of the net profit participation for the original picture; theatrical sequels, ½ of the purchase price and ½ of the net profit participation for the original picture; and TV motion pictures or mini-series, fee is negotiable based upon an hour’s running time
  • Reversion of rights – what happens if the option is exercised, but the film doesn’t get made? The author wants the rights to revert back to him, because he can no longer exploit the rights to the work he created, yet the producer (who now owns the rights) is unable to make the film; the producer argues that author has already been compensated for this loss when he got paid. Areas of compromise include requiring commencement of principal photography within 5 years from the exercise of the option, or the rights revert and producer is granted a lien for his purchase price payment against any future production of the book

Writers write. And while you want the best deal possible, you don’t want to be distracted with legal matters that interfere with your calling. Whether you’ve been offered a film option on one of your books, or you’ve been asked to ghost write a memoir, or you’ve got a book deal for your manuscript, or your script has been accepted for a film production – get fast, solid and affordable legal help securing the best deal available for your effort.

Do I Need to Work With a Lawyer? Some points to consider:

  • Can I protect my script submission from “idea” theft?
  • What can I do if I find my rejected “script” submission later reworked and then used?
  • Do I retain any rights when I create a “work-made-for-hire?

Mark A. Baker works with novelists, journalists, corporate scribes – drafting and negotiating agreements that give the artist the best possible outcome in the transaction.

Representative services include:

  • Preparation and negotiation of various agreements, including publishing agreements
  • Literary agency agreements
  • Ghostwriter agreements
  • Literary option agreements
  • Screenplay writing agreements
  • Copyright registration
  • Copyright assignment
  • Commissioned works agreements
  • Work-for-hire agreements
  • Collaboration agreements
  • Photograph release
  • Editor agreements
  • Counseling and representing writers in all phases of their career
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