I have submitted a book to a producer. This is my first book, but they are wanting to make it. What can I expect as far as monetary compensation for the rights to the story being that I am an unknown author?

–Alma

The short answer is, not a lot. The long answer is more complicated.

When a producer buys the rights to a short story or book, usually what is being purchased is the option on the rights. What this means is that the producer is buying the right to buy the rights at a later time. He’s saying, "I’m gonna pay you $1000 today. In exchange for that $1000, you promise you won’t sell anyone else the rights during the next twelve months. Also, any time during these twelve months, I can pay you $25,000 and you’ll sell me all the film rights to the book."

In this example, $1000 is the option price, and $25,000 is the full purchase (or buyout) price. But those are completely arbitrary numbers. Often the option price is just $1. Sometimes the full purchase price is $1 milllion. And the length of the option can vary as well, from six months up to two years or more, perhaps with a clause allowing the producer to renew the option at fixed price.

In short, the dollars and dates can be anything, but the basic structure of the deal is the same.

By why does a producer bother with an option? Why not just put down the full purchase price at the start?

Because it’s a risk. Lots of things can and will go wrong in the process of trying to make a movie, and the less a producer has to put down up front, the safer it is. And in many ways, an option protects the original writer as well. If the producer isn’t able to get the project made, the option expires and the writer gets all claim back to her work. She even gets to keep the money. She can set up the book with a different producer and do the whole thing all over again.

So how much can you, Alma, hope to make from the book this producer wants to buy? Unless there are a lot of other buyers interested in it, nothing is going to drive the price up. And since you don’t have any track record of being paid a certain amount for your work – what’s called a quote – there’s really no minimum to expect.

At this level, you should expect a low option price, with the possibility of a bigger full purchase price. I can’t see any advantage to selling out all rights to the book at this point, because you’d then be giving this producer the rights forever, and for not a lot of money.

In this situation, you’re mostly just dealing with how much faith you put in this producer to get the movie made.