Books and movies are two different languages. To compare the two is like comparing pottery and stained glass.
Probably half the movies made in Hollywood are adaptations of stories that originally appeared as novels, nonfiction books, comic books, short stories, plays, poems, or what have you. Hollywood studios and production companies aggressively scan major magazines and the lists of New York publishers looking for books and stories that would make good feature films or television shows. If Random House or Harper Collins or some other “major” house published your book, chances are that a professional “reader” has already read your book and written a short memo (called “coverage”) assessing its movie potential. (Scott the Reader and screenwriter, John August, both have entertaining descriptions of their careers as “readers” in Hollywood.)
If your book was self-published, or published by a smaller press or University press, it’s less likely that a Hollywood “reader” has assessed its movie potential. Hollywood is usually interested in making “big,” popular, commercial movies with wide appeal, so they scan publishers’ lists looking for big, popular commercial books. If your book received unfavorable coverage, or if it was published by an obscure press, then it is unlikely that merely submitting your book to Hollywood studios or talent agents will interest them in its movie potential. Someone (usually you or a producer) will have to show them the movie hidden within the pages of your book, if it’s there.
John August has a great post on just this topic.
Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.
Until then, your book (fiction or nonfiction) is just one incarnation of a story, and really you face the same question every screenwriter faces every day at the keyboard: Will my story make a good movie? If so, what’s the best way to tell my story to the people who make movies?
In lieu of submitting your book, your options are to verbally “pitch” your story to somebody in Hollywood, to write a “treatment” or a “step outline,” or to write a screenplay. If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it IS a lot of work. You must either learn how to submit your story to Hollywood in an industry-friendly format, or hire someone to do it for you.
If you Google on “script coverage,” you will find dozens of consultants who will read your screenplay, book, treatment, or story and assess its narrative strengths and “movie potential” and, in essence, provide you with paid “coverage.” These outfits tend to be expensive and are usually not well-regarded among people who actually work in Hollywood.
It was like passing the scene of a highway accident and being relieved to learn that nobody had been seriously injured.
–Martin Cruz Smith (on being asked how he liked the movie version of his novel, Gorky Park)
If you are interested in learning more about how books and short stories are adapted into feature films, visit the Adaptation Archives of John August’s site. If you want to know more about the various formats for submitting movie ideas to people in Hollywood, look at the sample documents page of Done Deal, which features examples of treatments, step outlines, and, yes, even a sample of coverage.
For more information on screenwriting, see the Screenwriting Section of this site.