Writer in Residence

Agents on TV: Sam Hiyate

By Carey Toane

Sam Hiyate is president of The Rights Factory, a boutique literary agency in Toronto. In his 24-year publishing career, he has worked at literary magazines, small presses and with New York Times bestselling authors, editing, publishing and representing everything from debut fiction, memoir and narrative non-fiction to graphic novels. He has taught writing and publishing for 15 years privately and also at various universities.

I talked with Sam about TV adaptations and the stories he'd like to see on the small screen.

What is the market like for TV adaptations (vs. film) of books these days? Is it growing?
Since most movies and TV shows are based on literary works, from comics (Spider Man, Batman etc.) to literary novels (The Hours, The Piano Teacher, Cloud Atlas), I feel that the market is constant — or at least constantly voracious in terms of options. Producers and studios might buy the option but it can take years — and even decades before something gets made. Look at Lord of The Rings. Although it had been optioned forever, it was only until Peter Jackson figured out how to use new technology to create Middle Earth that the movies could be made. Before that, the best adaptation was Ralph Bakshi’s animated version. I think the TV has never been more innovative — this is going to be a Golden Age of Television. It’s become a better form than movies because you don’t have to distill its essence to 90 or 120 minutes. The rights are usually sold together — film and TV are bundled, but I do think that there’s more money, opportunity and greater art in TV than film. Imagine what The Leftovers would look like as a movie? It’s hard to picture it.

Anything Canadian that you sold a while ago that you're really looking forward to?
We sold the rights to Andrew Kaufman’s All My Friends are Superheroes back in 2007 and the option is still being renewed. It’s for a film over TV series, but I do hope it gets made!

What advice do you have for writers hoping to see their work on the small screen someday?
Read Story by Robert McKee, the bible of screenwriters. Take a screenwriting class. The closer you can get your work to be structured like a film, the easier the producers will see it being adaptable. It doesn’t hurt to think like a screenwriter. I think several commercial novelists are already basically publishing their screenplays as books — thriller writers like Dan Brown and John Grisham.

What kind of stories sell well to TV? 
They tend to go for bestsellers ;-) i.e. something with an already bankable, known, audience. 

Is there a particular genre(s) or style(s) that are popular currently? What's the next big thing, in your opinion?
I don’t believe in the next big thing, just stuff I really love. Almost everything I’ve sold I was able to because I liked the work and found it personally enjoyable. I’ve never been able to take something on just because it might be “big” — agenting is very personal to me.

What's your favourite novel/story (of all time/current) that you think would make a great TV show? 
Anything by Paul Auster or Haruki Murakami, or even some fantasy series by Michael Moorcock.

What's your favourite novel/story that just wouldn't work on TV (and why)?
I don’t think anything is not-adaptable. I think in some cases you might lose something in the adaptation but it might still be worthwhile. For example, I liked both the Bosch [inspired by Michael Connolly novels City of Bones, Echo Park and The Concrete Blonde] and Daredevil [based on the Marvel comics of the same name] adaptations as well as the Masters of Sex one [based on Thomas Meier’s biography of William Masters and Virginia Johnson]. A big range in all three, but they work.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Carey Toane is a librarian, journalist and poet. Her first collection of poems, The Crystal Palace, was published in 2011 by Mansfield Press. She lives in Toronto, where she is currently working on a collection of poems inspired by and dedicated to Twin Peaks. She is on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/careygrrl

You can contact Carey throughout the month of May at writer@openbooktoronto.com