A screenwriter asked the other day what adapting a screenplay to a novel would cost. Here's what I told her.
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Does $100,000 sound reasonable? I didn't think so. How about $80,000? No? Okay, but here's the problem we run into for any amount of money.
Screenplays and novels are totally different creatures. Novels are far more complex and require more literary knowledge than screenplays. Infinitely more. That's both because novels have a more complex structure, more "moving parts," and because they're the end result of one writer's work (with very rare exception). Screenplays are collaborative efforts. Sure, a freelance screenwriter may write his entire 90-110-page first draft by himself, but by the time the script is made into a film, several dozen to several hundred people have contributed their expertise to the transformation. That includes five, six, eight, or even twelve different writers or more, all taking your baby out for a walk around the park.
That explains why really good novelists have very little trouble transitioning to good screenwriters, but very good screenwriters nearly never work out to be good novelists. Not only are most novels three-to-six times longer than the average feature-length script, but also they contain far more interrelated elements that must all work together. There's simply a far greater learning curve (and experience factor) in producing a well-written novel than there is in producing a top-notch screenplay.
Now, when you ask yourself what a novelist should charge in adapting your script to a book, what you're basically offering the novelist to work from is a written outline, a skeleton, a sketch, a series of ideas strung together to provide a rough guide from which that novelist must work. He still has to bear the brunt of the job and do the grunt work all by himself, creating scenes, fleshing out characters, expanding dialogue, creating intricate setting descriptions, determining the role of the narrator, and so on. A novelist must have both the knowledge and the talent—not to mention that much wider skill set—to pull off the job. It is, in effect, like writing a novel from scratch, except it's far more difficult.
Huh? Yep, that's what I said. Give me a deadline, and I'll produce a novel for you with ease. Tie my hands behind my back by giving me the same assignment but making certain that I include the prerequisites of the storyline contained within the script means I can't use my imagination to its fullest capacity. I have to create more detailed work while having less freedom to do so.
And believe me, I know what I'm talking about. In addition to conventionally publishing more than 250 books and literally tens of thousands of shorter works, I've converted scripts into novels several times in my career. I've also written more than half a hundred novels from scratch. That latter is far easier than the former. If I were to do a script-to-novel adaptation again, I'd have to charge $40,000 minimum, depending upon factors such as the overall complexity of the job, the length of the novel required, and the difficulty factor in working with (or on behalf of) the screenwriter. And that's exactly the amount I charge, flat rate, for ghostwriting a novel for someone from scratch--and without having to worry about someone else's storyline.
Sad but true.
Now, my rates include a first-class, publishing quality, finished product ready to go to press, already fine-tuned and edited multiple times. I'm an impeccable editor and a perfectionist writer. You can find someone to do the job for less—possibly even far less—but I guarantee you, you won't be happy with the results. In writing, hiring writers of publishable quality material means you get what you pay for.
For more information or to ask additional questions, feel free to contact me through my Website. I'll answer as promptly as I can. Until then ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)