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.