Janet Evanovich Talks Latest Best-Seller, Hollywood Plans

Courtesy of Roland Scarpa

Janet Evanovich has her eye on Hollywood.

As part of her most recent eight-figure publishing deal with Simon & Schuster's Atria Books imprint, the 40-time New York Times best-selling author is eager to extend her beloved characters beyond the page and into potential television and film franchises. And unlike her first foray — the 2012 box office flop One for the Money, based on her 1994 best-seller of the same name — Evanovich has every intention of being involved in the process this time.

With Fortune and Glory, her just-released 27th installment in the hugely successful Stephanie Plum crime series, hitting No. 1 on both USA Today’s and The New York Times’ best-seller lists, Evanovich, 77, agreed to answer THR’s questions via email about her continued success in a challenged business, her own struggles as a top-selling female crime writer and, yes, those Hollywood plans.

Here we are in 2020, and you've just released your 25th No. 1 New York Times best-seller. Let's start simple: To what do you attribute that continued success? 

Over three decades and more than 40 books, I have developed a unique relationship with my readers. We are really on this journey together. I also feel that my books are about normal, relatable, compelling characters who can rise to the occasion when heroic acts are necessary. This is a consistent theme that I try to tell with a high level of entertainment. I wake up every day and write and I write for my readers. I am grateful for how my books have connected with such a large audience around the world. I remember when I was a determined young writer with a box full of rejections. It seems unbelievable today to have 25 No. 1 New York Times best-sellers. Dumb stubbornness and dogged determination also have something to do with my success.

As part of your latest deal, you're developing a spinoff series with planned TV and film extensions. What can you tell us about the world you're looking to build, and how are you thinking about and perhaps even writing differently with those mediums in mind? 

Movies and television series have always been hugely important to me. Stephanie Plum was born after I saw Midnight Run with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. I loved that movie and I left the theater fascinated with the idea of bounty hunters. I did a great deal of research, spent time with cops and began creating a strong, flawed, funny and vulnerable female bounty hunter with a complicated love life named Stephanie Plum. I was a romance writer and had no experience in this genre when I wrote the first Stephanie Plum book, One for the Money.

I know the term "universe" has become very popular in Hollywood in recent years, but I've been building a universe for almost 30 years. The "mothership" will always be Stephanie Plum (27 books to date) but I've also written a number of other best-selling series such as the co-authored Fox and O'Hare that are really designed for film and television adaptation.

I'm very excited about my new spinoff, Gabriella Rose, which will debut next summer. This is the first new series I've written myself in a long time. Gabriella is introduced in my current book, Fortune and Glory, and she will have her own book next summer. Gabriella is tough, smart and she's going to give Stephanie a real run for her money. Gabriella is in the recovery business and her adventures take her all over the world. I'm really enjoying writing the first book and hopefully the first of many. My agent, Shane Salerno [of The Story Factory], is working on a television series.

As I continue to expand the universe of my characters, the world becomes larger and the stakes become higher. They are also more cinematic, but at the heart of every one of my stories is creating interesting characters who have a wide appeal.

We are living in a time when IP has never been hotter in Hollywood, and you're sitting on 40 best-sellers. How frequent have the approaches been to adapt this material, and how have you responded up until now? And to that end, what did you learn from the experience on One for the Money, which spent more than a decade in development hell and then failed to deliver in the way your books consistently do?

One for the Money was the first adaptation of Stephanie Plum. It was done years ago and I was not invited to participate in the production. The final film was not something that I connected with, though I appreciate the hard work everyone put into making it.

Stephanie is a unique character and one that has been embraced by so many millions of readers around the world. Book to film adaptations are always tricky, but in most cases the involvement of the author of a successful series enhances the final production. You see this with Harry Potter, Hunger GamesTwilight, The Godfather and so many others. After 30 years of living every day with Stephanie, I know what works and what doesn't. My agent, Shane, is working on a new adaptation of Stephanie Plum, which will take the form of a new television series. We certainly have enough material!

He is also actively developing the first adaptation of my Fox and O'Hare series about the complicated Moonlighting-esque relationship between a dedicated FBI agent and the charming career criminal with whom she has been assigned to work.

You've spent much of your career on best-seller lists and promotional ads populated largely by male authors. How has being a woman in the crime fiction world hurt and helped you?

I got my start as a romance writer and that was a wonderful experience. It allowed me to find my voice and to benefit from being a part of the sisterhood. Romance writers are natural sharers and nurturers.

When I moved into crime fiction, the genre was dominated by male authors. I had early acceptance by reviewers, other writers and readers, but it was sometimes a struggle to get corporate recognition. I’m not sure why it is so difficult for women authors in some genres to find success, but I hope to see it change. Over my career, I've had to work to find people who were willing to take a chance and believe in my product and I've been very involved in recent years with how my work is marketed and distributed to the world. I’m proud to write a book series that promotes smiles over tears, and hopefully leaves my readers feeling good about themselves and the people around them, especially today.

Much like Hollywood, the publishing industry has gone through seismic changes of late. How do you feel those changes have impacted your job, be it in the way you're telling, selling or promoting your stories? 

World changes have been more difficult than industry changes when it comes to selling and promoting literature. Brick and mortar bookstores are becoming extinct. Books aren’t sold at grocery store checkout lines anymore. Book sections are becoming smaller and smaller at the big box stores. Marketing and promotion have had to move into the online world, over store displays and mall ads. It is becoming more and more difficult to make a reader aware, in the physical world, that your book is out there. My goal is to keep expanding my readership worldwide, to bring in new readers with every book.

As you look to capture younger generations of readers, how have you tweaked or reframed any of your stories, if at all, to appeal to a younger readership? 

I'm continually thrilled to see young people at my book signings. One of the keys to my success has been that many mothers and daughters read my books together. One of the most impactful notes I ever received from a reader was a young woman telling me that her mother had passed, how much her mother loved my books and how they always read them together. She thanked me for years of that shared experience with her mom and told me how much she would miss it. I still have that note. It meant the world to me.

You've sold nearly 100 million books at this point. What's left on the bucket list? 

Selling 200 million books.

Finally, what's currently on your bookshelf?

I’m halfway through an early reader's copy of Lisa Scottoline’s Eternal. It’s a powerful story beautifully told.

Interview edited for length and clarity.