This latest Trios offering looks at Diary of an On-call Girl: True Stories from the Front Line, the memoirs of an anonymous police officer, P. C. Bloggs. This week Dan Collins, Bloggs’ publisher at Monday Books, discusses how TV rights to her book were sold; the next piece in the series looks at the importance of title and cover design; and the final article, written by P. C. Bloggs herself, considers the problems of writing her book while still working full-time as a police officer.
P. C. Bloggs will be interviewed by Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio Four on June 15 (the program begins at 10am), and her book is then going to be serialised on Woman’s Hour every day that week. You can listen at 10.45am and again at 7.45pm each day, but I bet there’s a listen again option if you miss it. Which, of course, you won’t!
I’d hate to give the impression that I know a great deal about the alchemy involved in selling book rights to TV, because I don’t. It’s not like we’re experts—we’ve sold the rights to just two books, and been approached for the rights to three others (details below). But based on our own experiences and those of friends in the industry, this is what we know—or what we think we know, anyway.
Just selling the rights doesn’t mean your book will make it to TV. Usually, you (meaning the publisher) will have been approached by an independent production company looking to buy an option to the rights to a given title. They then hawk the idea round the broadcasters and hope for a bite. No bites means no TV show, and that’s pretty much where it ends. I don’t know how many books get optioned and never make it to the screen, but I think the answer is probably ‘a lot’. This means that there’s not much money to be made out of this unless your book actually gets made. The option fee, which gives the purchaser the exclusive right to look at ways of adapting the book, is typically quite small.
We turned down an approach for Wasting Police Time by a company approaching us on behalf of the ‘Pub Landlord’ Al Murray because they were only offering £1,500 for the option. We thought that was derisory. Turns out it’s quite normal. Well, you live and (hopefully) learn.
If they get their ‘bite’, the TV company will usually then pay you a rights fee—a one-off payment of perhaps double or treble the option fee (this is either ‘on account of’ or ‘not on account of’ the option fee; one of these phrases means that the option fee comes off the rights fee, but I’m not sure which one it is. The former, I think). Then you ought to get an additional fee ‘per half hour of TV’—say £5,000.
Thus, if you sell the rights to your book and it gets made into an eight-part series of 30 minute episodes you can expect to clear £1,500 for the option, £3,000 for the rights and £40,000 for the show itself. I say ‘clear’, but obviously you have to pay the author (and the taxman).
How such income is split between the publisher and author varies. Some publishing contracts pay royalties on a 90/10 split in favour of the author. Ours are 50/50. We justify this in two ways. As with most small, independent publishers, our authors tend not to have the sort of following which makes them hot properties before they even put pen to paper (compared with—say—Ross Kemp, whose book about gangs was nailed-on as a TV series from the moment it was conceived). Additionally, the books themselves tend to need quite a lot of editing work. Thus, we argue, if TV are interested it will be in some (possibly quite large) part down to the work we do. If we involve lawyers—which we do—then we pay their fees. The legal bill for reading and amending the contract for the rights to Diary Of An On Call Girl cost more than we have made out of selling the rights, so far. Given that there is no guarantee it will ever get made (and thus that we will ever recoup the difference), I don’t think it’s unfair that we defray those costs out of the upfront fee. We could, of course, not use lawyers—but with all the additional stuff to think about, like repeat fees, DVD rights, internet rights, other broadcast rights, what credit the author and the book get if the darn thing makes it to telly and so on, it’s a brave publisher who simply trusts his own judgment. We have sold the rights to two of our titles—Frank Chalk’s teacher’s lament It’s Your Time You’re Wasting (to SMG, who own Chris Evans’ Ginger Productions and make Taggart, Goodbye Mr Chips and lots of other stuff), and the aforementioned Diary Of An On Call Girl. We’re currently in negotiations with Alison ‘Lily Allen’s Mum’ Owen’s company to sell the rights to Wasting Police Time and Perverting the Course of Justice, and a writer has just started work on Curse of the Al Dulaimi Hotel (And Other Half-truths from Baghdad) in the hope of being commissioned directly by one of the major broadcasters.
My thanks to Dan Collins, publisher of Monday Books, for this piece.