Scripts vs Novels

Disclaimer: I am not a legal professional, and nothing found on this site should be taken as legal advice.  Always consult an attorney.

I’ve already written about the differences of Screenwriting vs Prose from a writer’s perspective.  Now I’d like to touch a little on the differences between the finished products: Scripts (screenplays) and Novels (books).  Physically, here you go:

The Script: Three-hole-punched 8 1/2″ x 11″ computer printed paper, bound with two brads.
A Book: Bound pages, professionally printed, in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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As for the format?  There’s plenty of nuts and bolts books written on formatting screenplays and you can google manuscript specifications for agents or publishers (or ebook format), so if you’re looking for that, keep looking.

What I’d really like to talk about in this post is what the rights a writer keeps if they sell a script versus selling a novel.

Here’s what it boils down to: when you sell a screenplay, you are (generally) selling the whole thing.  It’s no longer yours.  Other writers can (and probably will) make changes to your story without your permission.  When you sell a novel, you’re still the copyright holder and it’s still your writing, you’ve just given the publishing house the rights to print and sell it.

As a writer in the US, you have far more rights as a novelist than as a screenwriter.  In Europe, screenwriters have more rights, but for this purpose–I’m talking only about American writers making deals with American production companies.

There are ways to keep certain rights to a screenplay, such as the extremely complicated Theatrical Separated Rights.  On the flipside, there’s also terrifying loopholes like Hollywood Accounting, where you might never even get paid.  For the most part, though, screenwriters aren’t even allowed to distribute the very scripts they wrote once they’re sold.

But as a novelist, you keep your copyright.  Even if your book is getting adapted to film–in which case you only license the material to the studio, allowing them to make the film, much like you allowed a publisher to print the book.

Really, we can chase this rabbit down the hole as far as we want, but I think if we go much further we’ll need a pack of lawyers to read the map.  So… that’s it for now.

Lesson learned: write the book first.  Sell it twice, keep the rights!

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