For many movie lovers, Legally Blonde was Reese Witherspoon’s best work. Her epic role in the movie might have been one of her finest moments, but it was also, in many ways, an ode to self-publishing. In 2001, Amanda Brown self-published the novel of the same name, which was picked up and made into a movie…Well, four movies, to be exact, if you are counting Legally Blonde 3, which is set to be released sometime in 2022.
In the last 20 years since the first Legally Blonde movie was adapted for the silver screen, quite a few other great self-published books have also caught the eye of movie studios. For instance, The Shack was self-published by author William P. Young in 2007 and then adapted into the widely successful movie of the same name, released ten years later. The book has since gone on to sell over 12 million copies since its adaptation, proving once and for all that there is a space for indie authors in Hollywood.
The Legally Blonde film adaptation is an apt example for Rachael Eckles, a real-life lawyer-turned-author based in Manhattan. While most indie authors search for an agent and then a publisher, Eckles used the opportunity presented by the pandemic in 2020 to fast-track the release of her debut novel, Trading Secrets, a passion project she had been working on for many years. She started her own publishing business, Aphrodite Books, and released the whirlwind erotic thriller that has gone on to exceed her expectations.
Trading Secrets’ success has since inspired a sequel, the recently-released Risky Assets, with the third in the series planned for summer 2023. Self-publishing feeds Eckles’ entrepreneurial spirit and because of that, she encourages authors to take the leap of faith. “I always tell aspiring authors that everyone has at least one book in them, and the world deserves to experience what you’re destined to create.” As for film adaptations, Eckles would love to see Trading Secrets and her lead character, Celeste Donovan, a high-powered finance executive with a dark past, adapted to film, though that was not her primary goal in writing the stories.
“I wanted to tell the story of a one-percenter powerful woman and convey that she experiences the same complex emotions and trauma as a typical modern woman.” Based on feedback from readers, Eckles has found that her protagonist is more relatable than she could’ve imagined. “Countless women have thanked me for demonstrating that a woman can move on from a dark past to a life full of career success, friendship, and even love. Typically, a Hollywood studio would only take on book tips from established publishing houses. Usually, it’s the publisher that has the movie rights and the author has little or no say in the process.”
“Successful adaptations like Legally Blonde give novelists hope, especially in a world where self-publishing is beginning to take a large chunk of the market share” Eckles concludes.
Pitching To Producers, Versus Individual Success
The movies World War Z and Hidden Figures are perhaps two of the most popular book-to-movie adaptations. In both cases, the books were published after the movie rights had already been sold to prominent film studios. Advanced copies of the work were sent to movie studios, which acquired the movie rights even before the books were published.
“From what I’ve learned, there used to be a time when studios only received a deluge of scripts, but today, they also receive novels on a fairly frequent basis,” Eckles explains, “While it’s not clear how many novels pitched to studios are being adapted, there is enough evidence of success to suggest that producers and directors are on the lookout for a great story irrespective of what guise it comes in. My mantra is this; write the best story you can write, the world needs your words and the stories that only you can tell. Then the world will take notice.”
Aphrodite Books’ rapid growth from a structureless publishing house to an LLC with two novels and several more in the works is a testament to what can happen when you take a leap of faith.
On book-to-movie adaptation, Eckles opines, “I think Hollywood scripts need a refresh. There are amazing writers with unbelievably fresh ideas that need to be considered, and these authors can now release a book, or a series of books, from the comfort of their living room.”
“Self-publishing comes with its challenges, for instance, standing out. It’s difficult for a story to stand out from the floods of books that are pouring in through the various self-publishing platforms. However, in today’s social media world, all authors are competing on the same level for TikTok audiences and Instagram sponsorships, regardless of whether they are traditionally published or self-published. With social media, it has become easier to build a following and catch the attention of the right people.”
While there is evidence that some successful movies have been pitched as novels to Hollywood studios, most experts believe that producers would much rather go with familiar authors. However, the other route Eckles advocates for is making yourself hard to ignore. To do this, authors have to sell enough copies that it is practically impossible for the movie studio to ignore the interest in the book. In most cases, getting a book noticed will still require a well-thought-out and well-funded marketing campaign.
The number of book-to-movie adaptations has undoubtedly grown since Netflix came on the scene. The streaming giant has demonstrated a higher degree of confidence in indie authors. Over the last decade, Netflix has turned some great books into movies, leading to an impressive number of book adaptations and a fair bit of luck for indie filmmakers as well.
Movies like Same Kind of Different as Me, To All The Boys I Have Loved Before, Nappily Ever After, All the Bright Places, and One Day are examples of Netflix’s most successful adaptations amongst others. The Netflix story-first model certainly raises the odds for indie authors, but it doesn’t make it easy by any means. Writing a movie-worthy story is never easy. Eckles suggests that focusing on writing a movie-worthy novel might be a distraction.
“I find that authors who are obsessed about their books being made into a movie are rarely focused on writing a great story. They are distracted by the technicalities that a movie script would require. Perhaps they should be writing a script and not a novel. As authors, we owe it to ourselves to focus solely on writing the best story we can, find that spark, and bare our souls on paper. If the story is a strong one, it is easier for it to gain acceptance. At Aphrodite Books, we are constantly on the lookout for such great stories—everyone is, even the movie studios.” She said.
Another one of Eckles’ passions is her commitment to empowering women and communities. She is a board member of The Village Corporative (TVC), a non-profit organization focused on community development for women and girls in Kenya, Guatemala, and India. As part of her philanthropic commitments, she donates a portion of all her book sales to TVC. Always feeling the itch for wanderlust, she tries to travel to four new places, while also visiting at least one of the TVC projects, each year.
Eckles’ stories are inspired by these experiences in destinations, with exotic locales popping up everywhere in her novels. She believes self-publishing offers niche indie authors like herself a powerful route to recognition and, who knows, perhaps even a movie deal. In today’s world, anything is possible.
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