NEW YORK – Angered at the growing trend of books and book galleys being leaked to Hollywood buyers before agents are ready to begin selling them, powerhouse literary agent Mort Janklow last week blanketed book publishers and editors, book clubs and foreign scouts with a barbed four-page letter urging them to plug the leaks.
Janklow told Daily Variety the letter was meant to be more educational than confrontational, and that publishers in particular work against their own best interests when books leak and sometimes ruin screen sales.
Janklow, who with Janklow & Nesbit Associates partner Lynn Nesbit reps such blue-chip authors as Michael Crichton, Tom Wolfe, Thomas Harris and Richard Preston, argues the situation has reached crisis proportions.
“There are unwritten rules which govern the behavior of the major networks and film companies,” Janklow wrote. “If a producer or star introduces a manuscript to a film company, the general practice is for the film company … to attach the person, even if doing so requires the buyer to forgo deals with other, perhaps better-qualified candidates who submitted later.
“We are sick and tired of having unauthorized submissions made to places where we would not have wanted the film or television show made, to executives who are not our choice and by producers who essentially stole the material.”
Janklow told Daily Variety he’s already received positive feedback from a few publishers who promised to crack down. “More and more major films have their source in literary property, so movie companies think they have to get their hands on material early,” he said.
“The worst cases are those holding themselves out as representatives to foreign publishers, who get material early under that guise and leak it to movie companies. People are being slipped a $100 bill to Xerox a manuscript or repay a favor, or a scout hired to recommend a book to an Italian publisher has a contract to recommend it to a movie company. This is stolen property and the consequences are borne by the author and the agents.”
A differing view
But some Gotham-based studio execs say Janklow’s missive was a bit self-serving. “The cream always rises, and the good material gets sold to the best producers and companies,” said an exec who requested anonymity. “An agent is never obliged to sell a piece, and if some two-bit hustler brings a submission to a studio, they can turn him down and bite when the right filmmaker walks in the door with the same piece. The idea we hurt the process is insulting. Many books would never have gotten bought if they didn’t have early New York advocates.”
To illustrate Gotham’s propensity to spur sales, the exec cited Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes,” which Scott Rudin and David Brown championed until Paramount stepped up to make it; “The Fight Club,” an obscure novel championed by the late Fox 2000 exec Raymond Bongiovanni, which David Fincher will direct with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton; and Nick Hornby’s “Father Figure,” which leaked unbeknownst to the author, who, before he knew what hit him, cashed a $2.75 million check from New Line.
Janklow doesn’t deny the importance of Gotham support, but feels agents should be allowed to sell their wares unimpeded.