New Patricia Cornwell Book Deal Jump-starts Possible Scarpetta Film
William Morrow has won the battle of Cornwell.
Best-selling crime author Patricia Cornwell is leaving Penguin to sign a two-book deal worth at least $10 million with the HarperCollins imprint, which outbid two other publishers during a weeklong auction conducted by her agent, ICM's Esther Newberg.
Cornwell, the author of the popular Kay Scarpetta series, will publish her last book with Penguin with November's Dust, the 21st novel about the fictional crime-solving Richmond, Va., medical examiner.
Her first book with Morrow is slated for fall 2014.
The deal is part of a renewed effort to finally get a Scarpetta movie into theaters. Elizabeth Gabler, president of Fox 2000, which is developing the film, played an influential role in the move to sister company HarperCollins, according to all parties involved.
In the statement announcing the publishing deal, Gabler said, "One of our greatest priorities is to begin production on the film as soon as possible." She hopes to have a movie in theaters in 2015.
Michael Morrison, the president and publisher of the General Books Group at HarperCollins, said his imprint had "good synergy" with Fox 2000, pointing to their work together on 2008's Marley & Me. "Knowing that Elizabeth and her team were high on [a Scarpetta film] definitely influenced our acquiring the books."
For Cornwell and her advisers, Gabler's support was reassuring; said one person close to the writer, "We know that having the 'right' movie is important" to the many long-standing Scarpetta fans who have bought more than 100 million books since its 1990 debut.
Angelina Jolie has been attached to play Scarpetta since 2009 and as recently as December 2011 Cornwell reaffirmed Jolie's role. "If all the other pieces … fit together to make sure everyone’s happy with it," she said, the actress will play her popular character, adding, "It's looking hopeful."
The pricey contract demonstrates the value of authors with established brands, even though Morrow won't acquire Cornwell's valuable back catalog of Kay Scarpetta books. Large advances often make more economic sense to publishers, who can offset some of the expensive upfront costs with increased sales from an author's previous books.
HarperCollins CEO Brain Murray pointed to international growth as a justification for the deal, noting Cornwell has a single global English-language publisher for the first time.
Newberg indicated that both she and Cornwell were impressed with the publisher's depth in the digital space -- an area that they think has strong upside for the writer.
While saying it was premature to talk specifically about a marketing strategy for Cornwell, Morrison said he thought Morrow's digital strength came in part from being publishing's "leader in consumer and market research" and that he was "confident" it could grow Cornwell's audience.