99% of books optioned for film die in development hell

29 March 2022

It must be the dream of every author: to have their book made into a film. But with so many novels and manuscripts in circulation, what are the chances of this happening? Remote, to say the least, I would think. Not that long odds dissuade some writers, particularly first time, or aspiring authors.

I’ve heard literary agents say some budding novelists, when submitting a manuscript, have gone so far as to append a list of actors they’d like to see play the characters in their story, when their novel is inevitably — you understand — adapted for the big screen. This before the manuscript has even found a publisher, let alone anything else.

The exuberant hopes of first time authors aside though, even a genuine, bona fida, movie option on a novel is still no guarantee an author will one day be proudly striding the red carpet at the premiere of their book turned film. In fact, according to American steampunk fiction author Gail Carriger, there’s a mere one percent chance any optioned book will become a film.

Sobering or what? Only one in one hundred novels that have been optioned will end up as a big screen production. One way of looking at an option is to see it as a film producer taking a temporary hold on the film rights of a novel, while they try to find interest, and funding, for a potential movie. In the end — and the process may be protracted — they might not succeed.

While their novel may languish in development hell, there is one small consolation, the author will receive an option payment of some sort, hopefully one that’s relatively generous.


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