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An Industry Interview with Manager/Producer Andy Cohen on Selling Books to Hollywood

By Howard Meibach

Andy Cohen is the President of Grade A Entertainment, a production and management company representing writers, directors and authors in feature films, episodic and long-form television. Before founding Grade A, Andy spent ten years as both an executive and a producer. In all, Andy has been involved in the development, sale and/or production of over 40 film projects, seven Movies-of-the-Week and three series. He currently has an eclectic slate of feature film, episodic and long-form television projects set up at studios, networks and production companies. Upcoming speaking engagements include: Selling To Hollywood in Los Angeles and The Maui Writers Conference.

Hollywood has a voracious appetite lately for material, especially in the form of books. In the last 30 days, 12 books have been sold or optioned. Howard Meibach, founder of Hollywood Literary Sales and publisher of the Spec Screenplay Sales Directory e-mailed producer/manager Andy Cohen and asked him about the spec book and script marketplace. Here's what he had to say:

1. What does the market look like right now for fiction books? What about for non-fiction?

In terms of publishing, while it's never easy, there's certainly a market for fresh, well-written material and interesting subject matter. Innovative and new voices carry the day in fiction. If you've got an interesting plot, dynamic characters and a new way of telling a story, I think the fiction market is wide open to you.

As the old publishing saying goes, "Fiction may be sexier but non-fiction pays the bills." In other words, it's a lot easier to get published as a non-fiction writer than as a fiction writer. In non-fiction, it's all about subject-matter selection. Find the right niche, and you're in business. [According to Bookwire, for every five non-fiction books that are published, one fiction book is published. Ed]

As far as book-to-film sales, I think the market is quite robust. There have been a number of spec and book sales this year and I think that the buyers are hungry for strong material.

[In the past 30 days, 12 book sales have been made public. Here's the genre break down: 3 true stories, 3 comedies, 1 mystery, 1 coming-of-age, 3 dramas and 1 children's book.]

Latest sales:
6/18 - Only Love Is Real written by Dr. Brian Weiss and optioned by producer Larry Kasanoff. It's a comedy about a couple who were connected in previous lives and are reunited in their current lives through the help of their mutual therapist.

6/16 - A Girl Could Stand Up written by Leslie Marshall. The feature rights went to Columbia for Laura Ziskin to produce. This one's about a young girl who loses her parents in a freak accident at an amusement park. Surrogate parents come in the form of two uncles - one a macho photographer, the other a crossdresser.

6/16 - it was also announced that Tom Hanks' company Playtone nabbed the rights to the British novel Starter For Ten by David Nicholls. It's about a working-class student during his first year at college.

2. Is selling a book the same as selling a screenplay?

Well, selling a book to Hollywood is very similar to selling a spec screenplay. Of course, if you're dealing with film rights to a bestseller or best-selling author's work, it's always easier. Selling to publishing is a similar process, but the buyers are (obviously) much different and there are many more places to sell a book than there are for a screenplay. That said, a strong pitch and clear idea of just what it is that you're selling is key for both the book-to-film and book-to-publishing sale.

3. Hollywood buys lots of spec scripts from new writers. Is it quite as open to buying books from new authors as well? Does it matter if these authors were already published or not?

I'd be lying if I said it didn't matter. Hollywood would prefer that a book or an author already be a "name brand" when they take a look at the material. It's just much more difficult to get people interested in a book that isn't either already published or well on its way to becoming published. But, unpublished books still do sell. The producers and studio execs I talk to are receiving at a minimum 40 scripts a week. When you're pouring through that type of volume, it becomes daunting when faced with a 700-page manuscript. That book better be damned good from the get go (or have an amazing buzz surrounding it) for the exec to devote attention to it. Therefore, the challenge is even greater for writers without a track record.

4. Does it help for unpublished authors with a book to come in with a screenplay already written based on their book? Does it help for an author with an unpublished book to try to attach a "name" screenwriter to their book?

I'm a big believer that the writer needs to write either the book OR the screenplay. Not both. Otherwise, you're doing twice the work for (probably)only half the payday. From the outset, try to decide which medium is best suited for your particular story and set out to write an excellent book or screenplay. When I hear that an author has attempted both without selling either, I tend to believe that they don't quite know what they've got yet.

As far as attaching name talent, whether it's actors, screenwriters or directors...if you've got connections to NAME talent that will cause an executive to sit up and take notice, do it. But make sure that you're attaching someone who's actually meaningful to the buyers.

5. Let's say an unpublished book author has purchased coverage from one of the companies with which you're familiar. The company gives the book a "consider" or a "recommend." Are you more likely to read the book this way than if it came directly from the author without coverage?

Hollywood is insecure. Use that to your advantage. In many cases, there's nothing better than good, selling coverage to help us sell your book to the buyers. Be aware, though, that if you send coverage with your book or screenplay, they may read just that [the coverage] before making their decision.

6. Are you as a manager/producer more likely to consider a published book as opposed to an unpublished one?

Again, a published book comes to me pre-vetted. Someone else has already found this work to be exceptional. It will be easier for me to sell. That said, a great, strong concept and interesting characters will catch my attention.

7. Let's say you like a book, what's the next step?

I'll talk to the author about her or his goals and plans for both publishing and film/television. EVERY project is different, but together we'll come up with a game plan to best exploit the strengths of the project and maximize the exposure to buyers. Usually, I like to try for a publishing sale and then bring it to Hollywood, but I've done it the other way around as well.

8. Is there any particular type of book that Hollywood likes best?

Hard to say. A unique true story. A compelling concept thriller. An unusual comedy with great characters...

9. Any other advice you have for authors who have books they want to sell to Hollywood?

Write a great, high-concept story (can be pitched in one to three sentences making the listener say, "That's a movie!") with strong characters and promote the hell out of your books.

Andy is always looking for great material. Send query letters (no electronic screenplay submissions and no attachments to your emails) to Andy Cohen

Meet the Author: Howard Meibach