Non-fiction journalism is alive and well if you have a chance to follow in the footsteps of writer Joshuah Bearman who wrote the Wired Magazine article (The Great Escape) on which was based the Oscar-winning movie Argo. Based on this success I thought it would be instructive to study some of the reported business details behind his recently released Coronado High story which expands on the print-article-to-movie strategy. (Read the full story here; this is a recap and commentary on the strategy and business terms.)
Multiple Streams of Income
As mentioned, Argo was based on a magazine article which was turned into a movie script. In the case of Coronado High, a story about San Diego drug smugglers in the 1970’s, Bearman was able to get four forms of placement for the content.
- 1,000-word excerpt on GQ.com the end of June 2013.
- 25,000-word eBook available now (currently $1.99 to $2.99)
- 9,000-word print story to be published in GQ Magazine in September 2013.
- Movie rights
Putting aside connections (which Bearman clearly has) it’s important to understand the various ways contracts like these can be negotiated.
- Forgoing advances. Presumably for a larger royalty, or earlier payout, Bearman passed up a $5,000 advance from the eBook publisher (Atavist).
- Opting out of representation. Said another way, retaining your rights. GQ’s publisher, Conde Nast, has a division that develops their print stories for film and television. Bearman had the option of opting and doing so he gave up a guaranteed advance.
- Timing is critical. In Bearman’s case he was able to negotiate a delay of the longer GQ magazine print article so that the Atavist could promote and sell the longer eBook.
What can we learn from Bearman’s experiences?
- Think in terms of multiple outlets and formats for your story as you plan it out because different formats and lengths appeal to different interest levels. The short 1,000 word online teaser may be all a person with casual interest wants to know. But for those enthralled with the story there is a multimedia eBook.
- Find the compelling angle. This story has been around for years but Bearman was able to tell it in a way that captivated the interest of others.
- Select non-fiction projects with a fair amount of existing public awareness. This often helps in the marketing of the story.
- It isn’t just one story. You can carve it up, expand, and contract, as needed.
- Don’t focus entirely, or first, on print.
- Each one of Bearman’s outlets helps build greater awareness of the story.
- Spreading out the publishing helps keep the story in front of the public for a longer period.
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