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Neubauer's Nuggets
By Joan R. Neubauer
January, 2007, 10:30

Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer answers questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her at Subject: Neubauer Nuggets, and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.

Dear Joan,

Does it really depend on the material, the timing, or the enthusiasm of the agent to market a Hollywood formatted screenplay?

Anthony Edmondson

Dear Anthony,

Never be embarrassed to ask when you donít know something. None of us knows everything, and all of us can learn something from someone else. Iím glad you asked this particular question, because itís a good way for new writers to break into the industry.

Yes. Yes. And yes again. When it comes to selling screenplays, you have a very different set of circumstances in play from selling a book. When you market a book, you and your promotional talents as the author are part of the package. However, with a screenplay, the dynamics are quite different.

First, the manuscript: Just like with a book, this manuscript must be well-written, properly formatted, with good characters and a good story. Assuming you have that, unless the author is a well-known, established writer, the author plays little part in a studioís decision to buy a screenplay or not. Studios generally have particular agents they like to deal with, so the agent has a great deal to do with the sale of a screenplay. Successful agents have direct connections to production studios; have a great deal of enthusiasm for the projects they decide to represent; and of course, the timing has to be great.

For example, if a fleet of UFOs were to hover over the White House today, and your well-known agent were to enthusiastically hand your manuscript, UFOs Are Here With Us, to a producer tomorrow, you can bet youíd be signing a film contract before the week ended. Thatís the best of all possible worlds. In lieu of that, you need to take certain steps.

First, attend conferences and events where you know you can meet signatory agents (agents who sell screenplays), producers, cinematographers, set designers, and anyone else who already has a place in the film industry. You never know which door or window will open for you, and you must be prepared to climb through when it does indeed open.

Second, continue to educate yourself about the industry. Be aware of any changes in the industry including format, needs, tone, and contracts. In short, learn about anything and everything having to do with the film industry. This knowledge will enable you to advance your own screenplay.

Third, establish relationships with people in the industry. More than publishing, the film business runs on relationships. Constantly network, even if over the Internet. Write movie reviews for your local paper or for an Internet based publication, but get your name out there so that when your screenplay shows up on someoneís desk, theyíll look at the name and say, "I've heard of this guy."

Fourth, when you present your manuscript to an agent, make sure to tell them all the things youíve been doing and all the people you have established relationships with. The agent then can use that information to sell you and your work.

In short, educate yourself, network, and get yourself known. Donít rely on your agent, but make things happen for yourself.

Good luck,

Dear Joan,

I have one doubt regarding writing. Publishers in India generally ask for transfer of full copyright before they agree to publish a book and they agree for one time payment. Should an author transfer the full copyright or not? If not, what are the advantages and disadvantages? If yes, what are advantages and disadvantages?

Yours faithfully,
Ashok Kumar

Dear Ashok,

Good question, one that many writers ask themselves. First, you must remember the meaning of a copyright. It is essentially, the legal right of someone to make copies of something, so when you "sell" a manuscript to a publisher, you're really selling the rights to that publisher to reproduce it or use it in another format, such as in a book, electronic format, or t-shirts among other merchandising ideas. You do not sell the words on the paper, only the rights to use and sell them in the marketplace.

Now, you say, "publishers in India generally ask for transfer of full copyright." From that, I assume you mean that they purchase all rights for a fee. Purchasing all rights to publish a book is commonplace. From the publisher's point of view, if they plan to use their resources to develop a book and get it into the marketplace, then they want all the rights so that they can realize the most return on their investment. Make no mistake, they see your manuscript as a commodity, no different from a widget they might manufacture in a factory.

This one time payment you refer to in the question makes me think that the contract from this particular publisher is a "Work for Hire" agreement. That means, you will get no royalties from the sale of your book. Many publishers operate in this way, particularly packagers, but they're a good way for a new writer to break into the business. Eventually, when you make a name for yourself, you can approach and sell to royalty houses that may or may not give an advance and then will pay you royalties based on sales. This is all part of "paying your dues," and nearly everyone has to go through this.

Should an author transfer full copyright? Sure. You have to figure that the book will eventually go out of print, just as most books do, within five years. Once that happens, you can always write a letter to the publisher asking for a reassignment of the rights to you, the author. At that point, they have no use for the rights and you will happily get all of them back. Iíve done this several times.

If you decide not to sell the rights, then you either have to self-publish your book or not publish at all. Personally, I never let this be a deal breaker. As a writer, you canít think like a one hit wonder. Youíve got to look to the future and all the other books and articles you want to write for publication. Keep yourself busy that way, and by the time your first works go out of print and you get the rights back, you can re-release them under a different imprint.

Good luck to you,
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Joan R. Neubauer is a publisher at as well as a published author. Check out her two latest books, A Serpentís Tooth and Shadow Dancing. email at or You can sign up for WordWright's monthly email newsletter at the site as well.

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