At its heart, publishing is the business of telling stories. But how do they move onto new platforms for new audiences? Sam Missingham of Harper Collins chaired the event with Katie Fulford (Head of Film & TV, Harper Collins), James Baker (Managing Director, Red Arrow), Phillippa Giles (Bandit Television) and Robert Thorogood (Author and Creator, Death in Paradise).
There’s always been a huge appetite for books on TV.
You don’t need to look far to see the impact literature has on television and film, and that’s highlighted more in this perceived ‘renaissance’ of the area. So why is TV facing this uplift?
“Every couple of weeks we have a renaissance,” says James. Netflix and Amazon came with enormous amounts of money and forced themselves into an area where cable networks previously held sway. Netflix did something extraordinary – the reaction was ‘God, got to create more!’ Quality original content became a mainstream need. The value of on-demand comes in all different shapes and sizes, and it’s an exciting time for the field.
Domestically, there’s always been a huge appetite for books on TV, notes Phillippa. The pendulum swings back and forth, but books give broadcasters a certain confidence as there’s already a brand or audience. The change here hasn’t been so dramatic, but there is a feeding frenzy.
Robert notes that the biggest difference is the integrity of how you’re treated in publishing as an author. Publishers are always trying to help the author find what they’re trying to say. The hardest thing is always to find a good idea.
“There are no rules.”
What is it about potential adaptations that gets them excited? In the US, there’s a shift: they previously thrived on closed-ended hour long or so episodes, whereas Netflix has shown that there’s a hunger for great and complex serial stories. People are looking for the potential of a binge-worthy series that viewers will talk about online. Look for that potential engagement. It’s thrown the rule book out, which is good for publishers – “there are no rules, just tell a story, and breathe.”
In the UK, Bandit doesn’t look for volume so much as a voice. The story is important, but they don’t think they’d get preoccupied with something like crime, instead seeking more unique, individual short pieces.
Katie notes that publishers can act as a middle-person between TV and authors, and working on that middle ground in narrative. A great example if their Mog advert with Sainsbury’s. Judith Kerr had resisted it being brought to TV for years, but this just all worked – they made sure she was comfortable with where the character was going, and that it worked for the brand.
Children’s content is an interesting one as it’s not something someone will subscribe for, but something they’ll stick around for. Sky having Disney is a key example, and Netflix have really upped their children’s content to compete similarly.
Back to collaboration with authors, and Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It comes up. It’s just been taken up for adaptation – Louise has no experience in screenwriting but will have input in the dialogue and see how that evolves and stay involved for the process. Other authors can whip out a whole script, and some won’t want anything to do with the process. Though, Katie says that you should always consult with the author on where the narrative goes.
Scope for more collaboration.
Publishers can, however, play a larger role than they currently do. There’s scope for collaboration and to be more hands on with the TV side. Agents in the US are turning into managers and producers, knowing that there’s more scope to partner for projects, but few here really acting on that to its full potential.
The ins and outs of taking a book to visual formats is discussed, but the future remains a mystery. But, we can always speculate. You should always do something because you believe in it above all else. There’ll be a move into big and ambitious factual programmes – it’s not all about fiction. Try to think beyond the BBC and ITV – the world is limitless in a sense.
And any last tips?
Know your genre – when something’s thrown at you, it’s good to be able to define what should happen. Genre is your friend. There’s an amazing lack of great TV writers – novelists should have a go. It’s a different skill but there is a gap. A lot of great stuff is rejected, so keep your energy and courage up.