The dwindling market for original screenplays in Hollywood has left aspiring screenwriters looking to the literary market to find an audience for their stories. But the process of adapting from a screenplay into a novel presents unique storytelling issues that have yet to be formally addressed.

This blog is the product of a year-long partnership between Jon James Miller, an award-winning screenwriter, and Charlotte Cook, publisher at KOMENAR Publishing, to develop one of Jon's award-winning scripts into a publishable novel.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More Opportunity? As a Novelist? Really?

Finding a publisher for a first-time novelist can seem as hard a nut to crack as the screenwriting/film business. But it isn’t. Even in today’s chaotic book industry, opportunities abound. Especially for the talented writer with the strong story and therefore engaging book. Especially for any book that will find a reading audience and make the publisher money.

Unlike the movie industry, even in hard times and with the larger houses turning into imprints of even larger conglomerates, new publishing houses of all sizes pop up and many do well. And many existing publishers know how to regroup and therefore survive any market challenge. For the first four years of KOMENAR’s life, we did well. Not great but well. Well enough to start the novelist careers for six authors. And we are what is politely referred to as a “boutique” publisher.

Agents, acquisition editors and publishers are most often passionate readers. With our passion, experience and resourcefulness, nothing deters us for long. The joke here might be the number of us who have evolved from English Literature majors into industry professionals. We weren’t trained to do anything business-wise. Therefore we’re always “reading between the lines,” finding or making our world as times and needs dictate. Many of us move among various industry professions, some of us start and run publishing enterprises, some move from editor to agent and back again. We are fluid because we know and believe in the world of Story--and are willing to support writers and books in the darkest of times.

As a result, many more opportunities exist in publishing than in film-making. And contrary to the publishing-centric world of New York City, publishing happens anywhere and everywhere. For example: Can’t find a NYC publisher for a historical novel set in Wyoming? Try regional publishers in that state and any of the other Western states. Consider university presses looking for special interest, saleable great books as well. Then consider specialty houses that love your novel because of your railroad-Civil-War-wild boar connection. Think that’s far out? Well, it is ... and it isn’t.

And novelists network.

Writers of fiction need fellow writers of fiction. We need them as supporters, first readers, writers’ group participants, leads to agents and houses, and discoverers of little known information about the best writers conferences, the best editors, and the friendliest agents. We have competitive bones in our bodies, but not when it comes to sharing information. You see, if you make it on my info, generally you’ll share back as best you can in helping me achieve my goals. And vice-versa.

Yes, writers and authors exist who hoard info and don’t repay kind acts. I know several. But they are the exception--and by being the exception, they remind us of the advantages of not being an exception. Most of us give as often and as much as we can so that good returns to us when we need it. We’re alone when we write, but not in a community of our fellow writers after the same thing.

I’m an example of this networking phenomena among writers ... and I am a fellow writer, even if I’m a publisher as well. Right now my publishing house isn’t accepting submissions because we’re not in a position to publish any new titles. But my world doesn’t end there. Nor does yours with someone such as me. I now channel my expertise into helping writers get beyond the current chaos and status of my publishing company. Why? Because that’s what fiction writers do for each other.

And best of all, as a screenwriter, you already have a story, characters and story arc from which to draw a novel. Chances are you won’t be a polished novelist out the gate. But you have an all-important track record--focused writing, putting your talent to work, and reading people. That makes your chances of success with your novel higher than most writers. That makes you and your work, when ready to go, more attractive to an agent, editor and publishing house.

So, your experience as a screenwriter in the small, insular world of film could explode you and your story into the larger, more amorphous world of novels and publishing. I think that’s going to happen for my partner in crime ... and others who know how to adapt their screenplays sideways.

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