Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't get screwed when signing a book deal

by Brittany Geragotelis

So, I was walking home with Deborah Gregory (author of The Cheetah Girls and the Catwalk series') and we began to talk about the entertainment industry. Surprise, surprise, as writers we tend to talk a lot about this topic, and for me, it's always insightful. As a pretty successful and well-known author, Deborah has been there, done that. She's been doing business with the publishing world and Hollywood for several years now and it's invaluable to be able to pick her brain regarding anything writing.

Anyhoo, the topic landed on book deals, royalties and optioning your stories, etc. Recently, Deborah was talking with two other pretty successful authors who had their books turned into movies as well. One of the authors was telling Deborah that her movie (based on her book) did pretty well in theaters, starred a few seriously BIG-TIME celebs and created a renewed interest in her book. Personally, I enjoyed the movie in question, and when I discovered it was based on a book, I picked it up, pronto. No surprise that the book was better than the chick flick.

But back to my point. The two authors got pretty honest with each other and it turned out, both felt they'd been screwed out of major money in regards to the optioning of their books for the creation of movies. It's no secret that Deborah's a bit miffed over the fact that she never saw any profits from the merchandise created from The Cheetah Girls movies. Part of this was that she was new to the industry; she didn't know what to ask and what to look for to make sure she was being taken care of in the deal. I'm sure she expected her lawyer to take care of that.

However, what she didn't know at the time (but certainly knows now) is that when her book was optioned to be made into a movie, they took along with it the likeness of her characters. Merchandise was made off of The Cheetah Girls' name. We're talking clothes, furniture, cookies, toys, additional books (ones that were not written by Deborah) based on The Cheetah Girls tour...pretty much anything you could think of, they slapped The Cheetah Girls logo on it and made a bundle.

And Deborah didn't see any of that money.

Apparently, this was also the case with the authors that Deborah was chatting with. They weren't happy with how they were compensated (or weren't as the case may be) when it came to the products they created. Once they sold their idea, it no longer belonged to them and the studios could do anything they wanted with it. It seems that this is pretty typical fare when dealing with big production companies.

What Deborah (and her new author friends) have learned from their experiences is that you need to know what you're getting into when you're making these kinds of deals. Or at least have a lawyer who knows what to look for when the contracts are being drawn up. So, when the time comes, and you've snagged that 3-book, 6 figure deal and studios are lining up to make your book into a movie or TV show, make sure you ask the right questions. What percentage of profit are you going to make off of any merchandise created from your original concept? Do you have any creative control at all over what's done with your product? Make sure you have a lawyer who's dealt with this sort of thing before and has a good track record in getting their clients what they deserve. Knowledge is power! And lastly, if the deal sounds shady, you don't have to say yes. You can wait around until a better deal comes along—one that will pay you what you deserve for all the hard work you put in creating your masterpiece.



DRGarrett said...

Very good information. Thank you.