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A Twitter Thread on Shopping Agreements


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SF/F author John Scalzi has thoughts on shopping agreements. He defines what they are in his Twitter thread and why he's against them in his case.
https://whatever.scalzi.com/2021/07/27/a-twitter-thread-on-shopping-agreements/

 

Quote

 

1. Team Scalzi was approached today with a query about a “shopping agreement” for one of my properties. A “shopping agreement” is basically where a film/TV producer asks permission to pitch a work in a room without having paid an option up front…

2. … with the idea being that if they get a studio/streamer/network/etc excited about it, they can quickly put together a package and then an option would follow after. And if not, well, then… not.

So, I'm not a fan of shopping agreements, and let me tell you why.

3. (Disclaimer: What follows is a disquisition about a first world problem told from the perspective of someone with a non-trivial amount of privilege, etc BUT which I still think will be useful to other writers and such. Mileage may vary, and all that. We good? Okay then.)

4. The first reason I’m not a fan of shopping agreements is — no surprise — there is no money! Someone is asking for all the benefit of a film/TV option without paying for it, basically by promising they can get the work a hearing in a room. Well, that’s what an option is FOR.

5. Now, not every producer is rolling around in cash; the mechanics of entertainment production often make the ambitious illiquid. Which I understand and can sympathize with, but regardless, options are table stakes for this game. Writers need to eat, too. And pay bills, etc.

6. There’s a downward pressure on what writers are being offered for options ANYWAY; it does none of us any good to let the bar get down to zero. And also, a producer with an option has skin in the game. They’re incentivized to get a return on the investment. That’s important.

7. Another reason I’m not a fan, related to the first, is that it sets a bad example, and people like me accepting a shopping agreement can be used as a tool against other writers who need money more than we do. If producers say “well, bestsellers give us shopping agreements…”

8. …then we make it harder for other authors who aren’t necessarily bestsellers, and who have bills to pay and mouths to feed. The authors who aren’t financially vulnerable should set a standard for those who might be vulnerable. That means payment for options as a baseline.

9. (“But what about Stephen King and his $1 options?” Those are for film students, for one, but more generally, you’ll find exceptions made for altruism/friendship/quirks. I’m talking about a general business practice. Generally: Encourage writers being paid.)

10. Here’s another reason, as it relates to me: Me offering a shopping agreement isn’t fair to the producers, etc who have paid me options for my work. *They* jumped through the financial hoop and made a financial commitment to me and my work. It would be kind of a dick move…

11. … to turn around and offer someone else for free the thing they paid cash money for. It’s not nice to burn your business partners like that, especially if you want to do equitable business with them in the future, and encourage them to do likewise with others.

12. A final reason for me personally (or the final one I’ll relate here): I don’t need a middleman. If I want a title of mine shopped around LA without being paid for it, I can just have my manager set up meetings. I’ve sold options in the room before. I know how to do it!

13. Will a producer with a more extensive track record than me have a better chance of doing that? Possibly! But honestly, if something’s pitched somewhere and the answer is “no,” that’s it for a while on that. If anyone’s gonna burn a property of mine for free, it’s gonna be me.

14. At the end of the day a shopping agreement is very-low-to-no risk for the would-be producer, and somewhat high risk for the property originator, with no immediate (and probably no later) financial benefit. You’re being offered sizzle but you probably won’t taste the steak.

15. Again, I have a privileged position, so you have to think on the cost and benefit to yourself (and, maybe, to others) when someone comes along offering a shopping agreement. I do think, however, that if an idea is good enough to be pitched, it’s good enough to be optioned.

 

 

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One of my favorite series is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The books. Definitely not the movie. (Check out the covers of the books. The author collects quirky old photos, and then made a story with them.)

 

I was excited when the movie came out, and hoped even my husband would love it. (He's not into YA.) He didn't. Neither did I. It made very little sense. Halfway through the movie it made even less sense. They crammed three books into one short movie and it showed.

 

And that's when I knew if Hollywood wants my story, it's not going to be indirect and the agreement isn't going to be that vague. I'm not a screenwriter, so I don't expect that much access, but I do expect the story to stay the same.

 

I'm fine if Hollywood never comes calling. But, nope. I won't let a stranger shop my book. Oh, it's not published and I don't have friends in Hollywood, so it would be a miracle if Hollywood did ask. 

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On 7/27/2021 at 1:30 PM, Johne said:

3. (Disclaimer: What follows is a disquisition about a first world problem told from the perspective of someone with a non-trivial amount of privilege, etc BUT which I still think will be useful to other writers and such. Mileage may vary, and all that. We good? Okay then.)

 

First, this was odd. But I digress.

 

On 7/27/2021 at 1:30 PM, Johne said:

There’s a downward pressure on what writers are being offered for options ANYWAY; it does none of us any good to let the bar get down to zero. And also, a producer with an option has skin in the game. They’re incentivized to get a return on the investment. That’s important.

 

But there's the real issue. Like it or not, the bar is going to zero because there are too many writers who wouldn't have a problem with that, and too many producers who want to have more flexibility without financial risk.

 

 

On 7/27/2021 at 1:30 PM, Johne said:

A “shopping agreement” is basically where a film/TV producer asks permission to pitch a work in a room without having paid an option up front with the idea being that if they get a studio/streamer/network/etc excited about it, they can quickly put together a package and then an option would follow after. And if not, well, then… not.

 

To be honest, I don't think I'd have an issue with a shopping agreement. Hey, if this makes it easier to get my work in front of a producer for potential development, why in the world would I object to waiving a paid option? So long as a reasonable option can be negotiated if they want to proceed, I'd be happy. And assuming my work is credited in the movie, and as an independent author (self-published), I'd likely make a lot from royalties on book sales. 

 

Let's say I low-ball my option price to further incentivize a producer to developing my work. If the movie (or TV production) does well, let's say it leads to a sale of (conservatively) 500,000 books. My royalties would be in the neighborhood of $1.75 million. If I raise my book prices a little, it would top $2 million. Not bad for a small-time author. 🤑 

 

It's kind of like what HP does with their printers. They sell them at a very low price, but they make their real money on the printer ink. 

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I think it all depends on what agreement a book might be under at the time. I'm really not sure if traditional publishers typically have clauses that cover media development or not.  

 

As a self-published author, I can free-wheel the process because I'm the publisher. Of course I wouldn't entertain any development agreement without first consulting an attorney.

 

But in the end I think this is all academic for me. I'd probably have a better chance of winning the mega-bucks lottery than attracting a producer to develop my book into a movie. 😧

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22 hours ago, Accord64 said:

I'm really not sure if traditional publishers typically have clauses that cover media development or not.  

 

To the best of my knowledge, some do and some don't.  It's a confusing point, a mixed bag at best.

Edited by suspensewriter
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