MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

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Script Lit Turns Unused Screenplays Into e-Novellas







Looking to transform Hollywood’s pile of unproduced scripts into publishable e-books, James West, a motion-picture industry entrepreneur, has launched Script Lit. The company licenses optioned, but never produced, scripts, to turn them into commercial fiction. At the end of April, Script Lit released its first e-book novella—Mom of the Year by screenwriter Denise Pischinger—and plans to offer three more titles later this year. It’s no secret that Hollywood studios option a lot of scripts that never become movies—scripts that may be quite good but are victimized by bad timing or arbitrary decisions of the studio, West said. West has been making his pitch to Hollywood studios since last fall, asking them to give him access to their scripts and hoping to sell the studios on the potential for finding bestsellers in an otherwise inert mound of content. “There are compelling stories in these scripts. The studios love the idea,” he said, though he acknowledged that some have been slow to act, adding, “there’s a lot of legal stuff to go through.”

Mom of the Year is the story of a 30-something woman who gets into a battle with another mother in her school volunteer group. The book is available for sale at all major e-tailers, and right now, Script Lit is offering a free download of the title. The company is also publishing Ambrose Fountain by Brian Sieve, due out in June, the story of an ordinary guy who comes to believe that a fountain on his property can grant wishes; and The Enders by Rich Farrell, slated for August, about five people in different countries and their reaction to the news that the world is ending.

West said he has been looking to partner with traditional book publishers. His original plan was to get access to the scripts through a studio, pick the best unproduced content, and act as a kind of “producer,” while working with a New York publisher to secure a ghostwriter, edit, and publish the book. West met with “most of the Big Six,” who he said have been “overwhelmingly positive” but also reluctant to act. (Although he said one publisher wanted to get involved but only if the script was also being produced as a movie—of course, if that were the case, West was quick to note, publishing wouldn’t be a problem.) “It will take a visionary publisher to do it this way,” he said.

So West decided to launch Script Lit and publish the books himself as e-book original novellas, with POD paperbacks to come. West said he licenses the rights to each script directly from the writer’s agent or manager and hires a ghostwriter to create a narrative context for the story. He noted that screenwriters aren’t necessarily novelists, so he’s put together a staff with two in-house novelists who have experience writing in a variety of commercial genres. “We keep all the script’s original dialogue in the book—the dialogue is important—and take the setting and tone, and I have a staff of writers enrich the story and turn it into literary and narrative prose.” He emphasized that the original screenwriter is credited as the book’s author.

“We typically offer the original screenwriter up to 50% of royalties,” West said, noting that his terms will likely change once he’s able to get an agreement with a conventional publisher, who may want to offer an advance or split royalties differently. “I always ensure that the original writers get the best deal possible,” he said, adding that Brian Sieve will get “a 50-50 split of all future royalties.”

Zach Tann, literary manager and partner at Magnet Management, which manages the careers of screenwriters, represents Sieve. Tann said, “It’s hard to sell a screenplay to the studios these days if it isn’t a huge franchise. There’s a lot of good material that isn’t known. So here’s a script that can be turned into an e-book and read. It seemed like a good way to get more attention, and there’s not a whole lot to lose.”

“I’m surprised this hasn’t been done before,” Tann added. “So many scripts are never sold, and they may be good. Selling to the studios is about timing, you may have a great script but it may be the wrong time.” He said that Sieve worked closely with West and his staff during the novelization of the script, providing them with notes and feedback. “At the very least a lot more people will get to actually read it.”

West, who is also cofounder of TitleDoctors, a firm that researches and provides marketable titles for films, said he’s offering free downloads of Mom of the Year and the book is getting some attention on Goodreads and Facebook, as well as generating good reader reviews on Amazon. He admitted that it was never his intention to become a publisher, emphasizing that “the goal is still to get the studios and conventional publishers involved in Script Lit.”

“Once these books hit their stride,” he said, “I’d like to go back to the studios and say, ‘See, we did it. Now, open your archives and let us see which scripts are bestsellers waiting to happen.’”

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