You’re a medical professional and scientist.
Representatives of the Umbrella corporation arrive intent to hire you to implement the latest stem-cell chemotherapy combo technique to a number of people afflicted with cancer. It’s a complex schedule, using the latest technology, software, and pharmaceuticals, but it’s fairly easy to compare the task to your current daily duties; to come up with a salary based on your current employment, what it would take for you to leave your current position, and dedicate yourself fully to Umbrella’s new cancer treatment center.
You’re a medical professional and scientist.
Representatives of the Umbrella corporation arrive intent to hire you to cure cancer.
This is the difference between hiring a writer to develop a script or story from an existing property… and developing a completely new Intellectual Property from scratch.
So what does it cost to create an entirely new IP from scratch?
The Value of an Original IP
The cold hard truth is, the Value of an original IP, lies solely in its potential.
That’s what writer’s do.
We spend a boat load of time, plotting, planning, creating, putting things in motion, which if executed properly, will manifest in something tangible that converts to cash. In other words pretty much everything we do has no immediate value.
You wrote an awesome comic script, nice job soldier… it’ll make an awesome comic, maybe even an animated cartoon… but it’s neither of those things right now. Right now, it’s just six ounces of paper with a bunch of words on it.
Think of it this way; if someone hired you to write a script, but said, I’m gonna lock the script in a safe when you’re done and put it in my will, for the rest of time, nothing will be done with this script… what value does the script have? Whatever that crazy dude pays you for it, nothing more nothing less. It has no other value, because there’s no possible way it can generate revenue.
Of course, in the real world, a writer plans and hopes and strives that his writing will be executed, at very least in book form (the most closely associated medium to a raw outline or script). But regardless whether the writer is hired to produce a story for a book, comic, movie, video game, whatever, the big hope is landing that holy grail of an IP, something with cross medium potential (there’s that word again) with long, perhaps never-ending legs, also known as franchise material.
On the surface, it would appear that “the value of your original IP, is only worth what someone’s willing to pay for it.”
This is certainly true. To an extent.
The other side of that coin is; who do you know?
Cancer please exit stage left, cue the food…
If you take a delicious gourmet brownie to a kindergarten class, and try to sell it, you’re likely to get a couple of strings, a dirty tissue and a dead, dried up worm.
Take that same brownie outside Starbucks and you can probably get $20 for it.
So what exactly is the value of the brownie?
If you could sell with any consistently, I’d argue $20 all day long, .
Now life, and writing is a little more complex than brownies.
If you know a bunch of people head to L.A. to sell their brownies for $20 a pop, but you live in Nebraska, is your brownie still actually worth $20?
Remember, it’s all about potential, because unlike a brownie, a script is not eaten and forgotten. So in actuality, yes, your brownie is worth $20… though you simply may not have a buyer in your neck of the woods.
Here’s where personal decisions start coming into play.
Do you drop the price of your brownies and sell to your local market, stick to your guns and wait till someone who really appreciates brownies moseys into town, or move to L.A.?
Of course nothing in writing land is black and white.
Keep in mind at the end of the day, YOU DO NOT, decide how good your brownies are.
The people buying them (your clients) do.
The fact of the matter is, your brownies may simply not be that good. Your script may straight up lack the potential (aka, quality) for real success, or require so much work to fix it and reshape it, it has a lot less value.
Just like a fan of brownies can look at a brownie, size up how many nuts they see, how thick the fudge layer is, smell it, ask for the ingredients list, to judge how well that brownie’s gonna go down–an educated script or story person can size up the potential of your story. The proof is literally in the pudding… or brownie as it were.
This is why, as a writer, you MUST have that honesty and objectivity (honesty, objectivity and passion) to assess your own work accurately. If you don’t, you will always be detached from your clients and not see eye to eye when it comes to assigning value to your work.
New Writers, Don’t Rely on Luck
If your brand new to writing, don’t expect your first original IP to have maximum potential.
It might. You could be one of the lucky ones, and inadvertently struck oil on your first dig, but don’t expect it. Also, keep in mind we’re talking about a client coming to you and saying, “hey, we want an original story.” We’re not so much talking about your own personal passion project, you’ve spent the last 20 years cracking away at.
At the end of the day, no one has a crystal ball.
We don’t know what the future holds for any story, for sure.
All we have is our ability to assess the value of story and extrapolate odds of the story gaining traction in the market, based on our individual experience and insight.
Yes, this is open to a ton of factors, timing, luck, market unpredictability all come into play, but none of that overrides the fundamental truth.
A great, genuine story has more potential than a bad, poorly conceived narrative.
Honesty, objectivity and passion.
If you’re an experienced writer, these three should align, giving you an accurate assessment of your work. Don’t ever be afraid to recognize the value of what you bring to the table. Fear of demanding what your work is the mark of an inexperienced novice.
Gold doesn’t sell itself for the price of copper. It’s gold. It knows it’s gold. And it’s right.
Even if you’re an inexperienced writer, don’t sell yourself short, your original IP still have value. If you’re a writer with less experience wanting to develop original IPs for folks, consider hiring an experienced story consultant or editor, who can help objectively assess your worth.
The Writer’s Guild of America lists the following rates (20/21):
Original Story or Treatment: $35,108. – $58,138.
If you’re like me, you’re comprehensive outlines may run 20-30 pages on average. I see $1000/page hiding in there.
Original Screenplay & Treatment: $77,495.-$145,469.
If you’re like anybody, your typical screenplay will run 90 pages. I see $1000/page hiding in there.
That’s the exclusive club. The Major Leagues. The big show. Of course, to my knowledge, nobody in comics pays WGA rates. But it’s good to know where the big money places the value of a story.
It’s good to know what those people in L.A. are paying for brownies.
As you wrestle to find the value of your original IP, keep these two things in mind.
1) Many great writers only produced 1 novel. Such as;
- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
- Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
- Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
- Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago
- Margaret Mitchell , Gone with the Wind
And of all the countless authors who’ve written many works, crafted many stories, how many are only really remembered for one… or perhaps two or three?
If you plan on giving your best on every project–which you always should–be careful, you may only see your best once in your lifetime. Most people never consider this, until they get older.
2) Will you turn to Drugs and Alcohol if your original IP sails away without you?
If you’re sitting on the next Predator, Alien, Dragon Ball Z, Walking Dead script; if your new original IP contains the next Spiderman or Batman… you could be sitting on the birth of a literally, billion dollar franchise.
Is sacrificing the potential to follow your IP wherever it goes, worth a few mortgage payments?
Take a moment and really think how you’d feel if one of your original IPs went on to be a franchise with movies and video games and you never saw a dime from its success. Sure you can milk your writer credit for all it’s worth (if your contract is straight), but wouldn’t it make much more sense to milk that credit with a nice paycheck in your account too?
I want to point out that this isn’t about being greedy or taking a client for all their worth.
Quite the contrary, it’s about doing great work and being compensated adequately for it.
Remember, if you do create an original IP that blows up, you did that. Even given the same execution team, a lot of other writers wouldn’t have come through. Writing is extremely personal.
Own your successes.
Regret is a horrible thing to live with.
Many years ago, I created an original IP for a client. I was paid $5000 and after the fact, even managed to wrangle back a very, small piece of the back end (they were super happy with it, and really accommodating). Even so, it’s been my biggest professional regret. I wish, I could pay $5000 and get that IP back.
Selling out that story for a small paycheck has stayed with me ever since.
If you’re gonna decide to sell your brownies cheap, that’s on you… just take my advice and think it over for a long while. Once you brownies are gone, they’re gone.
Ignorant Con Men Clients
In my 20+ years of working for other people, I’ve learned the best relationships are “ally relationships.” The opposite of adversarial relationships, ally relations are clients that bring you in as a true team member. The goal is not to only collect a pay check and deliver a story, but to actually create something… launch something into the world and be a part of that something, however it goes.
I don’t mean to say, the only good relationship is one where you own part of the IP, ownership aside, you can own zero percent in an IP and still be brought in as an ally.
The reason I bring this up, is because an ally knows your value on the battlefield. There is no doubt. You have to be particularly careful of ignorant clients. Not necessarily bad people, just people who have no idea what they’re doing.
I remember a guy did a video a while back. He went on the street with an ounce of gold and a hundred dollar bill. He offered people one or the other, everyone took the hundred bucks, because everyone was too ignorant to realize gold is worth about $1300 an ounce.
Ignorant clients won’t understand or recognize the value you bring to the table and if they somehow do, they’ll likely squander or waste the potential you give them.
On the other side of ignorant clients are con men clients. Look, if you’re a publisher, or have any experience in writing world, and you want to get a completely original IP for peanuts. Shame on you. That guy is straight up taking advantage, trying to literally, steal the potential and run.
Beware entering into any kind of backend deals with ignorant or con men clients.
More Practical Price Point
If $1000/page seems too rich for your writer blood, try 7-10x your standard page rate.
But don’t be too quick to dismiss some sort of ownership, royalty or bonus schedule if the IP goes to the moon. When it comes to creating an original IP from scratch, you really want to have some skin in the game.
Publishers: Pay for Success
For any publishers or folks looking to pay for an original IP, keep this in mind. If you spend a little money and get an IP that does nothing for you, you’ve wasted your time and money.
Trying to cut corners and take shots at low priced original IP development always winds up costing more in the long run. Trust me, I’ve seen it for 20+ years.
It is far better to pay more for success, than less for failure.
(Print that out and post it next to your computer.)
Last point on the $1000/page rate;
Keep in mind the title of this article the $1000 page rate, is not referring to cash on the barrel head. It’s referring to the value of the page you’re writing when it comes to an original IP.
Expecting someone to shell out $1000/per page for an original story outside of the major movie studios is unlikely. But getting a $100/page with a deferred payment of $900/page in case the IP cracks a bajillion dollars… suddenly that doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it? ▪
About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S. Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.