Friday, July 25, 2008

Interview with Steve Fisher

by Paige Wheeler

I’ve been doing a couple of film deals recently and that always intrigues authors. The thought of having an author’s work optioned is very sexy and exciting, but it’s a tough industry to get into. I’ve asked industry veteran Steve Fisher from APA to answer a few questions for me and thought I’d share them here with all of you.

1. PW: At what point do you like to see projects from agents/writers? Before the book has been sold; right after; or once it has published?

SF: I generally like to see projects immediately after they’ve sold to a publisher. That sale gives the project the “value added” that studios and networks like to see. It’s not necessary to wait until a book is published, though often that is when the sale happens. Since a sale to the film business is less about polished prose and more about a concept and characters, its expected that books will be shown around town in it’s early manuscript form.

2. PW: What is the market like for Film? TV movies? TV series? Is there a current trend that's selling well or being produced at the moment?

SF: the marketplace for books at the moment is reasonably good, but cautious. Increasingly over the last half dozen years or so, I’ve seen books sell after publication, on the heels of a great review in the NY Times, or with some packaging involved. Studios very often want to know who would adapt the book, who will star, etc. If there is a current trend, it is the appetite for graphic novels and comic books. Everyone wants to be, needs to be, in that business.

3. PW: What is the "average" range in option money? Has this changed in the past 10 years?

SF: “Average” money for an option is hard to say, because prices are really all over the map. What a book can demand for an option price is dictated by so many factors, not the least of which is interest/competitive bids from other buyers. In the absence of that feature options tend to be in the $20K to $50K arena typically. Obviously if the author has real name value, or the book is a big seller those numbers increase exponentially. The price for books has generally decreased over the last 6-8 years unfortunately. There are fewer 6 figure option deals around town, and studios have gotten more conservative with what they’ll spend on books.

4. PW: What's the likelihood that an option project will go into production? How about that the production actually gets distributed or aired?

SF: it’s really challenging to say how likely a project will go forward into production. There are, again, so many factors that come into play here. I’d say odds are generally in the 1 out of 10 or 15 range.

5. PW: Can you give me some examples of great projects you've worked on?

SF: one of the projects I’m most proud of was Patrick O’Brian’s MASTER AND COMMANDER, a project I sold 3 times before it got made. A real labor of love. More recently I’m happy about the Jim Sallis project DRIVE at Universal, which I set up with Hugh Jackman attached to star. Screenwriter Hossein Amini is currently adapting, and Neal Marshall has signed to direct. We’re hoping for an early ’09 start date (fingers crossed).

Thanks, Steve!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Divas Need Not Apply: Why Revision Is Important

by Laney Katz Becker

Yesterday a manuscript landed on my desk and it was perfect. I signed the client, created a cover page for the novel that included all the Folio contact info, started calling editors to talk about the amazing project and began emailing it their way.

Then I woke up! (1)

Yes, it’s a dream of mine that a perfect manuscript gets handed to me. I’ve heard such a thing is possible, that it’s even happened, but never to me.(2) So until my fantasy comes true, I choose the projects that I find interesting/appealing, the writers I see the most potential in, and those are the clients I sign (3). Then, I push up my sleeves and get to work. And, you, dear author, must do so, too.

Here’s the deal: By the time a project lands on my desk, it’s likely that the author has been eating/sleeping/breathing that project for quite some time and feels it’s perfect, which is exactly the way the author must feel. (Never, ever send out what you know is less than your very best!) But, because of this complete immersion in their project, the author has lost much, if not all, of his/her perspective. Agents – good agents – bring fresh eyes and new ideas to the party, so we’re often able to see things that our authors miss. (4) My requests for revisions are typically to enhance characters, improve pacing or to get to the story faster. Sometimes I’ll find something confusing and ask for clarification, and other times I’ll suggest whole passages be deleted. Sometimes the plotting is too simple and other times, new threads need to be developed. But whatever my request, I make sure the author knows that my thoughts are only suggestions (5). Ultimately, it’s the author’s project and they must be happy with it. (6)

HOWEVER (yup, it’s a BIG however), good agents are much more than gatekeepers to the editors; we’re professionals who see thousands of projects from authors and wanna-be authors each year. We pay attention to what editors are buying, what they’re turning down – and why. And guess what? We want to share all our wonderful knowledge and experiences with you because our know-how can help make your projects stronger, more likely to sell, and to sell for larger advances. So when I talk to my authors about revisions, I don’t do it to create more work for them, (honest!) but to help elevate their already good work to an even higher level. But don’t think just because you and your agent are thrilled with your work it means the revision process is over. (7) Editors, too, will have their own ideas about how to further enhance the project. So, (you guessed it) you’ll be asked to revise still again. That’s just the process, ladies and gents. And it results in better books.

(1) Funny. I like this!
(2) "to me" repetitive
(3) delete "sign" insert "take on"
(4) Smooth this transition:
(5) Italicize "suggestions"
(6) Can this be tightened a bit more?
(7) explain this a bit better, please