So, Wanderers, that little 800-page pamphlet I have coming out in July? It has been optioned for television by QC Entertainment (story here at Deadline). QC Entertainment (in this case, Sean McKittrick, Ray Mansfield, with Ilene Staple) really grokked the material and, for fear of being too damn punny, serve as excellent shepherds of the series. (*eyebrow waggle*) Plus, they have a pretty great track record as of late, what with films like Get Out, BlacKKKlansman, and Us. This would be their first foray into TV, and I’m thrilled they chose Wanderers for that role. Thanks to them for nabbing it, and to my agent Stacia Decker at DCL as well as Josie Freedman at ICM, for helping making this happen.
(The Mary Sue did a nice piece about this, as well!)
I should also note that we announced audio narrators, too, for the book! Onboard are two narrators (ooh): Dominic Hoffman and Xe Sands. Hoffman is a veteran not just of voice acting, but also of film, TV and stage. Xe is herself an amazing narrator, and not one unfamiliar to audio listeners of my work: she narrated both Invasive and Interlude: Tanager. You can check it out at Audible.
You can pre-order Wanderers in print, e-book (Kindle, Nook, Apple Books, Kobo), and audio. And again, if you do pre-order? You can get some swaggy swag. A pin whose full meaning will be revealed to readers of the book…
And soon we should be revealing a small bookstore tour and some other events.
In the meantime, let’s rewind a little bit and talk more about that TV option.
Because at the end of the day, a lot of readers don’t necessarily understand what an option means. Which isn’t readers’ fault, of course — there’s a lot of silly inside baseball shit that goes on and it’s just not prudent to learn what it all adds up to. But given that a lot of people who come here are also writers and may want to be professional writers, it’s good to talk about this stuff.
Let’s say it up front: an option does not mean that they’re going to make a book into a TV or a movie. It certainly means they want to! Or they think it’s doable. People aren’t necessarily optioning shit just to option it — though I’m sure given a lot of free shopping agreements and such, that happens sometimes where people are just forming deep benches of material in case a certain trend takes off. But generally speaking, it’s safe to assume that an option is a marker of genuine intent and faith. Just the same: it is by no means a guarantee that the thing will ever make it to a screen. I’d argue, in fact, the chances of that happening are… nnnyeah, pretty low. I don’t say this to diminish the excellent news of the Wanderers option, and I think this book has a bit of a better shot than my others just because of the passionate team in place and the energy surrounding the book. And we are in a golden age of prestige television, with new streaming services and networks popping up all the time. That creates a deeper well of opportunity. More doors! More choices.
But even still, it has to pass through a whole monster-sized machine of content-delivery.
I am wont to say that in New York Publishing, everything is a no before it’s a yes. Meaning, you’ve got before you the standard path: there are a series of hurdles to overcome, and if a publisher says yes, you’re very likely to see your book on a shelf someday in the next year or so. That’s no guarantee the book will sell well, or that the publisher will support it, or that FIRE BEES won’t DESCEND FROM THE SKY and STING YOU WITH LAVA VENOM, but at least, y’know, there it is. Your book.
Good job. High-five.
In making film and television, things are a bit topsy-turvy: everything is yes before it’s no. You get lots of love for the work upfront — and that love is genuine! But each stage is a new chance to kinda… hip-bump the project off its track. If it ever even gets on track. And along that track, the book can lose its way at the option stage, the pre-development stage, it can even lose its chance after purchase, in proper development. Maybe there was a changing of the executive guard and now nobody at the studio is an advocate for the project. Maybe talent bailed. Maybe trends shifted. Maybe Mercury is in Retrograde or some other celestial misalignment. But that’s not the point of this post — no, we’re here to talk about film/TV options.
The way an option works then is that someone — maybe a writer, though more likely a studio or producer/production company or bag of money spiders — says, “We think we can make this into a movie or TV show,” and then they offer you an amount of money to essentially park themselves over the material like a hen over a nest of eggs. This is a limited period, usually 12-18 months, and it usually affords them one chance to re-up that option for a second term, sometimes for more money. (I had one recently that asked for a third term to be included, and we had to say no, as it would’ve put the book out of contention for years at too low a cost.)
With that deal, you usually also get a parcel of deal points should the film or show get picked up: a purchase price, plus percentages and decisions about whether or not you’re a consultant or a producer in some capacity. Maybe there are escalators or limiters in there (if X, then Y.) There is in my experience and in talking to writers and agents less money upfront for television than there is for film. But, TV can have long legs, too, in terms of multiple seasons, and given that you tend to get money also per episode, that can be lucrative in the long run. Film is often more upfront and often attracts some of the big gun talent, but at the same time, film is increasingly siloed into BIG BLOCKBUSTER PROPERTIES, so. In the case of something like Wanderers, it’s very, very hard to see it as a film. It’s TV. I wrote it like a TV show, with each “part” acting almost as a season of television, so.
There are also weird fiddly bits in these contracts, too — like, they often want comics or games rights scooped up in there. Or novelization rights, which sounds weird, because, what? How could there be a novelization of the novel? Well, it’s a theoretical novelization of the film/TV version of the novel. It’ll never really happen, because the novel already exists. But it’s a contract thing to be ironed out.
(By the way, authors? In your publishing contract — that is to say, for the book — do not give away your licensing opportunities. They will ask for things like foreign or film/TV, and do not give them up. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to wrest audio away from them now, though I long for the day we can scrap that one back. Also beware morality clauses, which are popping up!)
(Anyway, back to the option talk.)
Once the deal is signed, what happens?
Well, sometimes a lot… and sometimes, a lot of nothing.
Ideally, an ecosystem forms around the project. Talent comes together and they start generating the shape of the thing and the specifics and eventually they shop it around to see if there’s someone who will actually pay to make this thing. (And it’s worth noting here that if that happens, if there’s a purchase, the eventual buyer can theoretically re-negotiate those deal points. This is something I did not know until recently! A studio or network can say, “We can’t pay this purchase price, so what about 30% of it, instead?” and then the writer has to say, SURE, or FUCK THAT. Sure means it gets made, but you get less than you agreed to. Fuck That means, you’re back to square one, or maybe square two, at best.)
So, in a perfect world, people start coming together to figure out the shape and direction of the thing. But it can also just sorta sit there. In fact, a lot of times? It just sorta sits there.
The original Blackbirds is a good example in all directions of how weird this process can be. In that, we got optioned by Starz, and then entered into a long period of development — scripts and location scouting and people in offices doing work, but all that was still under the option. Meaning, it had not gone to purchase and was not officially in development. (I should note here I asked the publisher of that book not to emblazon upon the cover a big COMING TO TV sigil, because an option is not a promise, but they did it anyway ha ha oh). And then one day, as I understand it, the network had a chance to grab for another more expensive show called American Gods, and they went for it. Which meant they couldn’t really afford us, and they also didn’t want to have two “dark urban fantasy shows” on the air at the same time. (And no harm no foul to this: honestly, I would’ve bought American Gods too over Blackbirds, c’mon. I’ve been waiting for that show for like, 15 years.)
So, that was that.
And now a lot of people ask me about, when will Blackbirds be optioned again? And my answer to them is… a cagey one? Because, hey, what if it was already optioned for the last year-and-a-half? What if a company optioned it, and then re-optioned it for its second term? And nobody knew because the company never announced it? That’s sometimes a thing. I’m not saying it’s a thing here! But it certainly might be. Sometimes, books are optioned and the people who option it never announce that. Which is a mistake, of course, because one of the really nice things about an announcement is that it gives the publisher something to take to their sales teams in terms of pushing the book through to distribution channels. It may help with foreign rights sales, too. And it just in general adds to the energy of the book. It’s good for everyone to announce that stuff.
*stares into camera for no reason at all related to Blackbirds*
So, you make the deal, your agent (or manager, or lawyer, or all of the above) take their cuts, and you get paid… like, eventually. Sometimes you get paid fast? Sometimes you get paid slooooow. Sometimes they try to hold the option for far longer than they should, because they set weirdly artificial start dates for the option (“We don’t feel like we really began the option term until we felt it in our hearts, which happened yesterday”). Sometimes they want just a shopping agreement, which is a form of free option where the writer gets no money for giving exclusive rights for someone to shop the work around, usually for a reduced period of time. Sometimes this makes sense if, say, it’s a screenwriter with limited capital taking it around — but also recognize that they may have accrued shopping agreements for dozens of projects, because if they’re free, why not? It tends to be true that in all things (publishing and film/TV) the more money someone spends, the more attention they will give it, because it is an investment to them, not a throwaway.
Hopefully that’s a little bit illustrative. None of this is particularly concrete, and there exist shitloads of variable options not included in here. But it’s a good primer, I think, on how it works. It’s a very nice thing for an author to have the option — and ideally, an option with people who really get and care about the project (as I think we’ve done with Wanderers). We were fortunate to be in a position where multiple bidders were onboard, which is exciting. And all those people were really great, and had killer plans for the book, but you can only go with one person, and QC was the best for this book, I felt. Thanks to them for being invested in it, and it’d be great to see Wanderers on screen some day. Fingers, toes and tentacles crossed.
(Just don’t forget to read the book.)