Hollywood as bookseller

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 discovered that I’m now one of those lucky authors whose books are shoplifted.  A phenomenon that may signal good things ahead.

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?

 

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Hollywood as bookseller

  1. Alafair Burke

    Congratulations on all the good news, both for the books and the TV show. We’re all so happy for you! And of course as a long-time reader of yours, I love telling new fans that I’ve followed those characters for years already 🙂

    Reply
  2. Judy Wirzberger

    I actually DVR’d the first show so I wouldn’t miss it. I’m a whimp. Had to fast forward because I was watching by myself and the tension was so intense I kept going into the kitchen. Well, it’s a thing that started when I watched Lassie and Mom would get irritated with my fear and say – of course, Lassie’s going to live; she’ll be on next week. Didn’t help then, doesn’t help now. Great villian. (I could watch him once I rewound).

    I always say "I read you when….."

    Reply
  3. Dudley Forster

    “Rizzoli and Isles” has generated a lot of comments on DorthyL. Most of the comments have been very positive. Yesterday one DLer posted that he really liked the series and had just ordered THE SURGON and THE APPRENTICE. Those of us on the list that have been long time readers (I started after THE APPRENTICE was published) have been having a discussion about the casting and differences in the series and the books. First, of course is Hollywood’s infatuation with eye candy and while most DLers like Angie Harmon, she is too stunning compared to the “real” Rizzoli. But most of the comments have been about Isles’ personality in the series. Sasha Alexander is considered a good fit for Isles, however the character is not written to match the reserved Isles of the books. The writers did nail her love of fashion and personally I like the tortoise touch as a visible representation of her quirkiness.

    Reply
  4. Shaun Jeffrey

    Interesting article that I have a vested interest in as my book, The Kult starts filming in September. I will be very interested to see if the film gets released it has an impact on book sales, especially as it’s being filmed by an independent production company with a small budget.

    Congrats on your own TV show. Hope it leads to more sales coming your way.

    Reply
  5. tess gerritsen

    Shaun, I hope you’ll keep us abreast of how your book sales are affected by the film. I saw an article about Evanovich the new movie about Stephanie Plum starring Katherine Heigl, and one source estimated that a film can net a writer extra readers in the 5-figure range. I’m not sure if he means 10,000 or 95,000.

    Reply
  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    This is really fascinating stuff, Tess. It makes me feel that much better that I let my Film/TV agent talk me into sending Boulevard and Beat to TV showrunners, when my instinct was to send it to film producers and film talent. I’m learning that TV is a better, more creative place to have a book series. Your blog makes me feel like I made the right decision here. Thanks for putting me more at ease!
    And congratulations on the series, and what it’s doing for your book sales. I’d love to get updates on this as time goes on.

    Reply
  7. Robert Gregory Browne

    Ahhh. Fairy dust. I was hoping for a little of that during the last phase of pilot process. Oh well. I’m glad one of us made it all the way to the finish line.

    But I was wondering what kind of impact the TV show would have on my career. I couldn’t imagine it would be anything but good…

    Congratulations on the show, Tess. I hear the ratings are still strong. Very cool!

    Reply
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