From The Atlantic:
If you want a preview of next year’s Emmy Awards, just take a walk past your local bookstore. According to data drawn from Publishers Marketplace, the industry’s clearinghouse for news and self-reported book deals, literary adaptations to television have been on a steady climb. The site has listed nearly 4,000 film and television deals since it launched in 2000, and both the number and proportion of TV deals have increased dramatically in that same period. Last year, reported TV adaptations exceeded film adaptations for the first time ever.
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Literary adaptations are big business. For streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, they provide a reliable source of content for limited or multiseason series; Publisher’s Weekly reported in 2019 that Netflix was on a “book-buying spree,” and the company has shown no sign of slowing. Rotten Tomatoes cites 125 literary adaptations in development right now.
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All of this has had a profound effect on the literary world. As you might expect, becoming a TV show increases a novel’s popularity enormously. Adaptations can drive book sales, as in the case of this winter’s breakout hit Bridgerton. The Regency-era bodice-ripper is not alone: A number of backlist titles, such as The Queen’s Gambit, have enjoyed a late-in-life revival thanks to Netflix’s attention.
We see evidence of the adaptation effect in other measures of literary success as well. We compiled a list of about 400 21st-century novels that met certain criteria—inclusion in top-10 best-seller lists, critics’ picks, publishers’ comp titles, and so on. Within this group, a novel that becomes a show will receive about four times as many ratings on Goodreads.com as a novel that has never been adapted to TV or film. (Film still has a bigger effect, boosting a novel’s Goodreads ratings more than 1000 percent; TV nonetheless dramatically improves the fortunes of a novel.
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Television adaptations are influencing every stage of a book’s life, including how it’s acquired in the first place. Scouts from networks and streaming services are talking more and more with publishers about big- and small-screen options at earlier stages of negotiations, in many cases before the ink on a book deal is even dry. Production companies such as Anonymous Content are bringing publishing-industry veterans on staff, and agencies and scouting firms are hiring specialists in literary development. Clare Richardson, a senior scout for film and TV at Maria B. Campbell Associates, one of the firms that works with Netflix, told us, “An important part of my job is having long-standing connections with literary agents and editors—what they’re reading, what they’re liking, what’s working. I’m trying to dive deep and find things as early as possible.” Richardson adds that simultaneous submission—that is, when a book deal and a screen option are negotiated at the same time—is common. Writers, agents, and editors have more incentive than ever to craft novels with TV in mind. The system rewards the adaptable.
So we wondered what kinds of novels were most likely to end up on screen. What qualities—of genre, structure, or style—make a novel seem most adaptable? We coded our sample of contemporary fiction not only for what has been successfully brought to TV, but also for what producers and scouts have optioned in the belief that it could be.
Reviewing that larger sample, we noticed several common features that unite texts as seemingly disparate as A Visit from the Goon Squad (which Jennifer Egan herself said she modeled on The Sopranos),N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (all of which have been optioned for television). Although not every novel under contract for potential adaptation shares all of these features, they do seem to possess a consistent set of what we call “option aesthetics”: episodic plots, ensemble casts, and intricate world-building. These are the characteristics of contemporary fiction that invite a move from the printed page to the viewing queue.
Link to the rest at The Atlantic