I am now the subject of my own study.
I’ve long been fascinated by the effect that Hollywood has on book sales. Fourteen years ago, I was advised to write only stand-alone novels because it allowed each book to be an individual property for sale to the movies. If you linked the books as a series, when you sold just one of those books, the producer would own the rights to the characters — and to that whole string of novels. Feature film deals were the gold standard, and John Grisham’s career was the ideal. We all wanted to see our books on the big screen. TV deals might be nice, but they just didn’t have the same cachet. From my conversations with authors whose books did make it to the big screen, I learned that a feature film could net some pretty nice book sales. One author told me that when his book was adapted into a modestly successful feature film, it translated to an extra 750,000 paperback sales of his book.
And as authors, that’s what we really care about. Not the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, but the tangible reward of book sales.
For a few years, I followed the advice of sticking to stand-alone novels. I sold the feature film rights to HARVEST and GRAVITY, but those projects went nowhere. Then I ended up writing a series when my character from THE SURGEON, Jane Rizzoli, went on to appear in the next book and the next. I learned to ignore Hollywood and I simply wrote the books that I wanted to write.
I began to notice that feature film might not always be the best vehicle for selling books. I saw what the TV series “Bones” and “True Blood” did for the book sales of Kathy Reichs and Charlaine Harris. Their sales were going through the roof. One bookseller told me that while feature film can boost the fortunes of a relatively unknown author, it might actually undermine the sales of a novel that’s already a bestseller. He’d watched the sales of one very popular novel collapse within a few weeks of the movie version’s release because people who watched the film felt they knew the plot and didn’t need to read the book. “But a TV series is all about characters,” he said. “When viewers become engaged with characters, there’s no end of plotlines they’ll come back for. And that helps drive book sales.”
Two years ago, Hollywood came knocking again at my door. They wanted to option the TV rights to the Jane Rizzoli series. The project seemed to be sprinkled with fairy dust because the option turned into a pilot, and then into a TV series, and on July 12, the debut of “Rizzoli & Isles”on TNT was watched by nearly eight million viewers — the highest-ever ratings for a premiere on ad-supported cable.
So … what will a TV series do for book sales?
It’s a bit too early to tell, but but I’ve already noticed a few changes. During my recent book tour, at least half of the questions from the audience were about the TV show. How did I feel about the cast? (Swell!) Will the show change my future books? (No.) Did I have anything to do with writing the show? (No.)
I’ve noticed the sales of my latest hardcover ICE COLD (which went on sale two weeks before the show’s debut) haven’t dropped quite as rapidly as you’d normally see after two weeks. In fact, my USA Today ranking actually blipped up a bit between weeks two and three.
I’ve noticed a big change in Amazon index for my backlist Rizzoli series. Before the show’s debut, THE SURGEON sales index was in the tens of thousands. Now it’s in the hundreds. How many copies does that translate to? I have no idea, but the trend looks good.
I’ve always been interested in numbers and marketing and consumer behavior. If this were happening to another author, I’d be taking notes too. And I’m curious about the experiences of authors and publishers.
If you’ve had a book turned into a movie or a TV show, how did it affect your sales? How was that link marketed? How did it affect your career?