Guest Blogger Cheryl Bago: Good Book Bad Movie?

We’ve all seen it happen:  A beloved book gets turned into a terrible, low-budget, poorly acted and poorly directed movie.  It’s so bad that we have to tell our friends (or, in my case, customers) that even if you hated the movie, you’ll still the book, because it’s amazing!

And so it begs the question—is it better to have your book turned into a bad movie, or just stay on the shelf as a good book?

I bring this up because I recently changed my mind about the answer.  And the reason I changed my mind was because of the brilliant Gail Carson Levine.

I went to meet Ms. Levine (pronounced Le-VEEN, I learned that from her…I was pronouncing it Le-VINE before, like a grapevine) when she came to the King’s English for a signing.

Now, we all know about the amazing Gail Carson Levine.  Newbery Honor winner for one of my all-time favorite books, Ella Enchanted.  We also all know about the movie that was made from this incredible book.


I should say that it isn’t the worst adaptation that I’ve ever seen.  I really enjoyed Anne Hathaway, like I always do, and I loved seeing the way someone else imagined the world.  But not everyone was quite as happy with it. Well, someone in the audience asked Ms. Levine how she felt about the movie.  Reading between the lines, you could tell there were some things that she wasn’t crazy about.  She said, “I asked them, did we really need an evil uncle and a talking snake?  Apparently we did, because they ignored me and put them in anyway.”

But then she said something that amazed me.  “I’m very grateful to them for making the movie.  Sales of my book increased in leaps and bounds.” And then she passed around a picture of herself with Anne Hathaway and added, “Yes, Anne Hathaway hugged me, so if you touch me, you’ll have touched someone who touched Anne Hathaway.”

(Um…If I touch you, I’ll have touched GAIL CARSON LEVINE!!!!  She’s so modest.)

Anyway…I always thought I would be one of those authors that would be really extra protective of my books, never letting a director touch them until I was certain he’d love them as much as I did.   But then I started watching sales.  And Ms. Levine is right.  Books do better when they’re made into movies, even bad movies.  I can’t believe that Ella Enchanted ever had trouble selling, but she would know better than me.

I tried it out as an experiment on some of my customers (yes, sorry, if you come in, I’ll probably be experimenting on you one way or the other, that’s just how it goes.)  I’d try to pitch a book (like Ramona or Beastly), something that I really loved, and see how they were taking to it.  I’d get a lot of side to side head movements, hems and haws, etc.

Then I’d say the magic words, “Oh, and it’s being made into a movie.”

Suddenly, the customer will desperately try to snatch it out of my hands, and I have to jump back for fear of being bitten by the venomous fangs they’ve just sprouted.

I don’t know what it is.  Really, I don’t.  But it even affects me.  When I heard Pretty Little Liars was being made into a TV show, I finally decided I had to read it (and I’ll say that it’s because customers will be asking about it, and I have to know what I’m talking about…though everyone knows I’m a liar.  I just want to read the books.)  I’m not the kind of girl that reads the last chapter of a book before the first, and I actually get really upset if someone spoils the ending, but I always want to have read the book before I go see the movie.  Always.  It would drive me crazy to have it the other way around.  Or I want to read the book to decide if I want to see the movie.

So my new opinion?  A bad movie will increase sales of your book.  There is absolutely no way that it will decrease sales of your book.  Movies become household words, and it’s all about the branding.  So when someone recommends your book, people will be more likely to remember it, because they knew of the movie, for better or for worse.  And they’ll be curious to see just how badly the director messed up something that was so beautiful to begin with.

For the love of jelly bellys, will someone think up a sign-off for me?  It goes right HERE!  Oh, and P.S.  Ms. Levine said that a teacher once read a story of hers and wrote that she was “pedestrian.”  It made her stop writing for years.  Listen to the squeak in my voice, right here, it’s funny: “Gail Carson Levine?  PEDESTRIAN?!?!?” So to all of you “pedestrians” out there…Keep writing.


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4 responses to “Guest Blogger Cheryl Bago: Good Book Bad Movie?

  1. I think you’ve really nailed it here. Bad movies can attract a whole new audience to the greatness of the source material. And really it isn’t surprising that so many bad movies come out of really good books. Think about how many bad movies there are that aren’t adapted from books.

    I think one of Hollywood’s biggest problems is the laundry list of complications inherent in the art form of film. Collaborative art is some of the most complicated to produce. When I see a great film I’m often not only impressed at the art itself but that it came out of a system that is counterintuitive to good stories. Could you imagine writing a novel with a team of 200 people contributing? That’s the kind of thing that Hollywood directors try to accomplish.

    I think that’s why there are so many book to movie adaptations in the first place. The novel is a focused story, a unified creative vision, that only gets diluted by so many people sticking their hands into it.

    I think I’m rambling. Anyhow, good post.

  2. I think you’re absolutely right…quite frankly, I have no idea how any movie turns out good. But there are times when I think movies come out as good, or better than, the original book. For instance, even though “Gone With the Wind” cuts out a TON of things from the book, it is a stunning movie, and I still think it’s one of the best movies ever made. I also think it’s one of the best books ever written.

    And sometimes they can take a book with TERRIBLE writing but a great storyline and turn it into a great movie, if they get good writers in to do completely new dialogue.

    Unfortunately, I think sometimes you just have to throw out most of the book in order to make something work on screen, and that’s what we have problem with as writers. The book might be fantastic, but it doesn’t work in a movie. It’s something I worry about with the Hunger Games movie. Fantastic book, but SO MUCH of it was internal dialogue, and quite frankly, I haven’t seen a ton of movies where the internal dialogue (usually as a voice-over) doesn’t come off sounding cheesy. I hope they make it work!!!

  3. Amy Finnegan

    Once again, Cheryl, great post! Thank you! So many movies slaughter the original material, then there are the few now and then that make the book look (in my opinion) better than it actually was (How to Train Your Dragon, for example. Couldn’t get into the book, but the movie – wow!!!) Then I just saw Romona and Beezus which is pretty much a conglomeration of all the Romana books rolled into one story, and I laughed my butt off, it was so true to the best of middle grade girl books.

    I think the Harry Potter films have turned out incredibly well considering the complicated and much-loved material they are based on. I’m a massive HP fan, and I have yet to be disappointed in an entire film (just the handling of a few scenes, and even those instances are rare).

    Diary of a Whimpy Kid – perfect casting, but ouch. The humor that exists in the books was totally off in the film.

    I think it’s a great challenge for screenwriters to adapt really popular or classic novels. I have yet to see an adaptation of Persuasion by Jane Austen that I like, but I think the adaptations of S&S, P&P, and Emma are only getting better (fyi, everyone, if you like Jane Austen, check out this year’s BBC adaptations of S&S and Emma. SOOO good!)

  4. Does it work the other way around? Can I call up the directors of movies like, Strange Brew, or Nacho Libre and write the book version? If not, take off – eh. Your Eagle Powers were a lie.


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