Screenwriting : Hiring Someone To Adapt Your Novel Into a Screenplay by Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste

Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste

Hiring Someone To Adapt Your Novel Into a Screenplay

Most of us have heard the expression, You get what you pay for. But, of course, with proper research, you can sometimes hire someone for a reasonable price that exceeds your expectations. For example, I spent several months looking for someone to paint my SUV and had quotes as high as $20,000 to do the job. Finally, I found a one-person operation with a guy who works at his ranch with goats, chickens, cows, and horses on the property. So it was fun going down to his barn shop to conduct business. I expected him to take a minimum of two to three months to finish the work; instead, he completed it in 30 days and did a superb job. I was highly blessed.

Last week, a novelist contacted me about doing a script consultation for his book that had been converted into a screenplay. He informed me that he had paid a writing service to create the adaptation. But unfortunately, he was not so blessed when selecting a qualified source. For consultations, I always have the client pay me in advance. After receiving his payment, I read the first five pages of the screenplay and made several notes. My evaluation was the adaptation was a complete pile of useless junk. It was incorrectly formatted with screenwriting software I’m unfamiliar with and given to the client in MS Word. There were nearly 1400 writing errors, the dialogue was stiff, the narrative was poorly written, and I couldn’t see spending another moment advising this client what to do with this worthless garbage. Although it cost me a PayPal admin fee to do so, I gave this person a full refund and advised him to find a qualified screenwriter to adapt his book.

This morning I researched the well-known outfit that provided this novelist with an independent contractor to write his screenplay. This company does writing jobs in every conceivable category. I was amazed to discover that hundreds of screenwriters charge prices anywhere from 5 to 200 hundred dollars an hour. Yet, in her bio, the five-dollar an-hour writer assured prospective clients she could write a good screenplay. I suppose the folks who charge higher hourly rates could be excellent writers but I suspect you might as well use the Eeny, meeny, miny, moe method in selecting your hired gun.

Finally, the novelist offered to pay me a significant sum to read his book and adapt it into a correctly formatted screenplay. My general policy is I don’t read and evaluate novels because it takes too long, and I’m not a literary critic. However, I read the first few pages of his book and could see his writing was significantly better than whoever wrote his screenplay. I further advised this person I didn’t feel culturally or religiously qualified to adapt this material and that, in general, the storyline didn’t interest me enough to take on the job. I also gave him a few sources where he might be able to secure the talents of a decent screenwriter, who would be only too happy to take his money. I’m an older person who was raised to have honesty and integrity. But like with any other service, when you’re looking to hire a screenwriter, it’s buyer beware.

Maurice Vaughan

Terrific post, Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste. I think it will really help people who are searching for screenwriters.

I think it's smart for a person to request writing samples before hiring a screenwriter. That way, the person knows what they'll be getting when they hire the writer. I also think it's smart to discuss up front how many rewrites a person wants from a screenwriter.

"Finally, I found a one-person operation with a guy who works at his ranch with goats, chickens, cows, and horses on the property. So it was fun going down to his barn shop to conduct business." Sounds like the beginning of a storyline for a script. :)

Christiane Lange

Out of curiosity, what was the cultural/religious context of the novel?

Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste

Maurice: It's nearly insane what I paid for such a great paint job. It was about meeting the guy in person and building a relationship. I wrote a post on my FB page about this experience and how difficult it is to find a car painter in Austin who wants to deal with just paint or with minimal bodywork, which I needed on my hood. The majority of shops want to work jobs with major bodywork and through insurance companies. One guy that owns a nice shop in Round Rock says he's having to do everything himself because he can't find any qualified painters. Another reality check on the changing landscape in the US.

Thanks for your input about this thread. I was amazed at what I saw when I dug beneath the surface of this situation. Five years ago, I had a writing service want to hire but didn't like their formal agreement. It's hand being married to an attorney.

Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste

Christiane: Without being specific, I have enormous respect for all major religions and cultures and take care not to tread into that territory. Particularly when adapting other people's work.

Art Wasem

My attorney has suggested me to a couple of her literary clients and I have adapted two novels. One into a feature and another into a limited series. I have also converted one of my screenplays into a manuscript. I really hate tag lines. I did them on spec to get better at my craft. Everyone liked them but they have not really gone anywhere except I am hearing from publishers for my manuscript. I have time to make the decision.

Maurice Vaughan

You're welcome, Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste. I didn't know paint jobs could cost that much (as high as $20K). Glad you got a deal.

I agree with what you said. "But, of course, with proper research, you can sometimes hire someone for a reasonable price that exceeds your expectations." Sometimes you can find a screenwriter (or someone in another profession) who charges less and does a better job than people who charge a lot. It's kind of like finding store brand items that are better than the name brand items.

Dan MaxXx

Hardy, do you know of any movies, studio or indie, where novelists hired their own screenwriters to adapt and the screenplay was produced?

this seems backwards in the movie-making business, sorta like Cart before the Horse.

Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste

Dan M: An abundance of authors, published and self-published, believe their novel would make a great movie. I recently read a screenplay by a well-known author that adapted his own novel and it was a mess.

A lot of carts before horses.

Mark Giacomin

Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste Is that you at the typewriter? The scarf is very bohemian.

John Ellis

"It was about meeting the guy in person and building a relationship." - that's the key and will always ever be the key to having a career in this biz, no matter what department.

And I'm with Dan MaxXx: if you're a novelist and you think your book would make a great movie/series, get a hold of your publisher (they probably own the film rights, anyway). They'll handle that.

I believe writers who want to have their book adapted into a script stems from a desire to find a shortcut to success. Ultimately, it's just laziness (IMO!!! Don't hate!!!).

I always say there are no shortcuts. You're going to pay in time, effort or money to have a career/be successful; usually it's a combination. THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS.

If you disagree and think there are shortcuts, pay me 50K and give me 6 months, I'll adapt your novel into a screenplay; I can't guarantee anybody will buy it, but I will guarantee that it'll be up to industry standards for basic story and formatting.


Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste

Mark: That picture was taken a few months after I had 4-way by pass surgery.

Dan Guardino

John. You are assuming everyone who wants their book turned into a movie wants to be a screenwriter. Most of them don’t want to and that is why they are willing to pay someone else to adapt their book.

Doug Nelson

Uncle Phil - and I for one am glad your in the pink, hope you're doing well. That sellin' houses & stuff can be stressful.

Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste


Thanks very much.

John Ellis

Dan, that's so true about not every novelist wanting to be a screenwriter - everybody gets to spend their money however they see fit. :)

I just don't understand why someone would spend their own money to create, basically, a stack of paper that'll just sit on their coffee table (because, let's face it, a screenplay adapted from a novel, without any networking/marketing/business relationships, is worth its weight in paper).

The few (yes, only a few, so this is purely ancedotal) people I've talked to who have wanted their (self-published) novels turned into scripts also have an expectation that the screenwriter will get the script into the "right hands."

Not gonna happen, IMO.

Maurice Vaughan

The few (yes, only a few, so this is purely ancedotal) people I've talked to who have wanted their (self-published) novels turned into scripts also have an expectation that the screenwriter will get the script into the "right hands."

I've noticed that, John. It's not only about a screenwriter adapting the book. It's also about the movie connections that the screenwriter has, which makes sense since a screenwriter works in the film industry and most likely has some connections. I've seen some posts where novelists say screenwriters with connections get priority.

Dan Guardino

John. That is true because the screenwriter and or their agent would have no incentive to get the screenplay in the right hands. The only way for that to happen would be if they created a partnership.

Carina S. Burns

John, FYI my publisher mentioned this to me: "You retain 100% of the movie rights." My screenwriter and I did a film adaption, and we are now on the re-write. I don't expect instant success! Therefore, we're taking our time because we know that the journey is a long haul. Dan, I am one of them:D I am willing to pay what it takes for someone who "knows her craft". Regarding "partnership", this is somewhat true. In other words, is it only a business connection? Or, does it go beyond that? Regarding the latter, there can be, indeed, an incentive to get the screenplay into the right hands.

John Ellis

Carina, I think that's what Dan means when he mentions creating a partnership - not in a strictly business sense, but a relationship.

Because that's the basis of success in this biz (along with proven skill) - relationships. Of course, a real relationship with a screenwriter begs the question of why would that person ask for money to adapt? If there's a relationship, and the story has real potential, sweat equity should be the measure.

Dan MaxXx

If the book has no sales, why would an adapted spec screenplay by the author make the idea any better for a movie?

Dan Guardino

Carina. I wish you luck with your project. When I said “partnership” I meant the screenwriter will do the adaptation for a percentage if the screenplay sells. That is a better deal for the author because they aren’t risking any money. Also, a screenwriter will have more incentive to use their connections if they have a stake in the project.

Dan Guardino

Phillip. I have adapted over a dozen novels and I can't believe someone would have the guts to charge someone that didn't use Final Draft. That screenwriter doesn't belong in this business and if they work for a company they should be fired.

Phillip E. Hardy, Scénariste

Dan G: I completely agree.

CJ Walley

If a novelist is approaching a screenwriter to convert a book, the project is probably dead in the water from the start. Valuable IP generally doesn't advance like that. If it was worth making into a profitable movie, the novelist will have reps pitching the opportunity to prodcos that have their own writers ready to pen a worthwhile adaption.

I don't wish to be mean but amateur novelists going to amateur screenwriters is delusion compounding delusion. A lot of times, the ethical thing to do is to turn down the job and advise people go a different route. Sadly, there's plenty of places more than willing to take on this kind of work and actively encourage it. In fact, we only recently had a troll here who's business was partly built around it.

As ever, what you're saying "no" to can still be progress. Don't jump the gun and tie yourselves up with projects that are doomed from the start and promising jam tomorrow.

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In