Today is a day of conflicting emotions. You see, my good friend Jonathan Turner, the man who wrote the best spec script I’ve ever read, is at the 2011 Screenwriting Expo in LA, and I was supposed to be there with him.
I don’t feel too bad. It wasn’t a concrete promise. In fact, it’s something we’ve promised each other to do every year since we met, rather like the Jews of the diaspora who every Passover say ‘next year in Israel’. One day we were going to go to that Expo in Hollywood, and this year looked odds on to be the year.
But then the ebook thing happened and I found myself working exclusively on publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11, so I had to tell Jonathan, ‘You know what? I don’t think I can do it this year. Maybe next time.’
It made sense that he should go because he was armed with two absolutely knockout action thrillers that were just made for Hollywood, whereas I was a novelist working so hard on ebook titles I wondered if I’d ever have time for screenwriting again. But isn’t it always the way that, as soon as you turn away from that thing you’ve been chasing all your life and say ‘Oh screw you, I’ve got better things to do,’ that thing comes running up and taps you on the shoulder and says ‘I’m here.’
What happened was that, just as I’d almost given up on screenwriting and started to think of myself as more of a novelist again, I got an email from a Hollywood producer asking to buy the rights to The Very Thought of You, my timeslip ghost story that had only been published a month and sold a couple of dozen copies.
To say it took my breath away is an understatement. My lips went blue! Because in the fifteen years I’ve been screenwriting, one of the absolute rock solid certainties I’ve learned is that Hollywood is never going to call you and ask for your script.
But here was a Hollywood producer – one who’d produced movies I really liked – and he was asking to buy my story. We’re now actually discussing the screenplay I’d already written of the story.
What’s most interesting about this is that it flies in the face of all the received wisdom about writing. Self publishing is supposed to turn every writer into a leper with a flatlined career, but that’s just not true anymore. It turns out that the opposite might now be the case.
Let’s face it, there’s no slush pile at publishing houses anymore. They pushed that mountain out to the agents years ago. And the agents refused to have anything to do with it, quite understandably.
So it looks like the self-published books on Amazon and Smashwords are the slush pile. That’s where agents and the cannier publishers are now looking for talent. And that’s obviously where Hollywood producers are looking for projects.
And it makes sense. Indie-published books are very easy to keep track of if you’re monitoring a highly specific genre (time travel ghost story romances in this case). You can pick them up cheaply and very quickly see which books might make a good movie.
Of all the routes into Hollywood, it was the one I least expected to work, so it feels quite strange exchanging emails with Jonathan today about what’s happening at the Expo, while discussing my potential Hollywood project from my desk here at home.
Oh well. Only in Hollywood.