The romance runs hot and cold, but Tinseltown and the publishing world remain forever clinched.

Robert Redford plunks down $3 million for film rights to a first novel. Publishers race to get hold of it. After a heated auction, U.S. rights sell for a whopping seven figures. The book becomes a bestseller and, eventually, a major-release film.

The frenzy for Nicholas Evans's The Horse Whisperer (Dell) a few years ago is a modern classic example of the red-hot interplay that exists between the book world and Hollywood.

But lately, the relationship is a horse of a different color. As both the book world and Hollywood undergo some economic contractions, the hectic heyday of the most recent past has cooled considerably.

"Everything we used to believe was true isn't anymore," says Ron Bernstein of L.A.-based Gersh agency. He is part of a "we" that, along with executives from such agencies as CAA, ICM, William Morris, Renaissance, UTA and Brillstein-Grey, plus other independent agents, serve as co-agents to represent literary agents' clients' works to Hollywood. "A big film sale d sn't mean a book deal will happen. A big brand author d sn't automatically get a film deal," he says.Evans's followup novel, The Loop (Delacorte), for example, is apparently out of the loop among film/TV buyers, particularly at CAA agent Bob Bookman's $3-million asking price. And even last year's BEA darling, Tom Wolfe, has yet to find an adapter for A Man in Full. Bookman, who serves as co-agent for Wolfe as well as clients from the Janklow-Nesbit literary agency, among others, claims the selling of the book to film was "at a glacial pace by design," and a deal will be announced soon. He d s admit, however, that the overall Hollywoo -- book connection has been "sluggish."

What's burst the balloon? The reasons are manifold, insiders say, and surprisingly similar on both sides. Both major film studios and major trade houses are cutting back on releases overall, a response to previous investments not paying off as planned. Both are sometimes choosing to carefully cultivate what's already in production -- you could call it the "backlist" -- rather than acquire more. In both camps, the mid-range project -- the B-movie with B-cast, the "midlist book" -- suffers or d sn't even make the cut in the new climate of conservatism, making deals in both directions less likely.
This cyclical "correction" has also caused, at least in the short term, some flux in the ranks of New York-based, in-house book scouts: the merger of Columbia/Tristar cut some jobs and Warner temporarily closed its New York production office. Indie scouts were also affected, since they are often funded by studios as part of various production deals with actors, directors and producers, which in the current climate have been getting slashed. These scouts -- along with editors, literary agents (some of whom sell film/TV rights directly), co-agents and the foreign scouts -- keep information about books humming to Hollywood and are instrumental in fanning the flames for book-to-film/TV sales.

But increasingly, publishers are avoiding such flames, having been burned by buying into Hollywood hype that did not translate into performing books. And the new just-in-time and reordering bookselling environment certainly discourages such risks. Holt, for example, originally acquired two books by author Philip Kerr, who has multiple seven-figure film options to his credit, for a seven-figure advance. In its most recent deal with Kerr -- who has yet to see any of his works reach the screen -- Holt was quick to note that its advance was now only six figures. At press time, the publisher was not expected to pick up its option on Kerr's next book.

An Enduring Attraction

But while the Hollywood/book connection is currently at low ebb, it is by no means washed up. There's no question that publishers see great benefit from screen adaptations of their books. A film's marketing budget and the subsequent video release can provide a double wave of tie-in sales.

Blockbuster films like Titanic can prompt a whole tide of official -- and unofficial -- tie-ins in its wake. And there are also some extremely surefire TV and film tie-in franchises, most notably those for Star Trek and Star Wars, with the latter's newest installment, The Phantom Menace, expected to be this summer's blockbuster.

This year alone has already seen some major book-to-film adaptations -- A Civil Action, Message in a Bottle, The Deep End of the Ocean and True Crime among them -- and more are still to come, including adaptations of Anywhere but Here, The General's Daughter, All the Pretty Horses, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Bone Collector, The Green Mile and Girl, Interrupted. Even the hush-hush Stanley Kubrick/Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman summer release Eyes Wide Shut is based on Arthur Schnitzler's novel Dream Story (Sun &Moon Press).

And the interest stars have in books will always help greenlight projects, which is why many agents representing books to Hollywood approach them, their managers and their production companies first. Oscar-winner Helen Hunt took matters into her own hands when scouting for a film project to do after her TV show Mad About You ends; she approached Robert B. Parker to create a female detective character especially for her. Parker's Family Honor, coming this fall, was written with Hunt in mind.

Many stars, producers and directors continue to employ their own book scouts. Former TriStar scouts Nina Phillips and Nan Shipley now scope, for example, for Tom Hanks. Other Productions' Jon Furay and Manuel Wally recently added producers Lynda Obst and James L. Brooks to their client list. And though book veteran Ruth Pomerance recently lost her job as development exec for Kopelson Entertainment, she quickly landed at a high-profile post: head of the New York literary office of CAA cofounder Mike Ovitz's new Artists Management Group.

Just looking at the slate under development from producer Scott Rudin also shows the enduring appeal of books to Hollywood players. Rudin is the producer of such recent and soon-to-be-released book adaptations as A Civil Action (Vintage), Angela's Ashes (S&S) and Bringing Out the Dead (Vintage). Other work in development covers the spectrum: Don DeLillo's Underworld (Scribner), Richard Price's Freedomland (Broadway Books), James Webb's The Emperor's General (Broadway) and Dennis McFarland's The Music Room (Avon). His adaptation of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys (Picador USA) is currently in production.

TV: An Expanding Channel...

There are many horror stories about books locked in development hell, with publishers endlessly having to wait for the windfall of the tie-in. This summer's release of the film Random Hearts was so delayed that rights to the 1984 Warren Adler novel had expired, necessitating a new tie-in deal with Ballantine.

Combine this kind of torturous waiting with the current contractions of the studios, and an adaptation of a book for TV starts looking pretty attractive. "Chances are much higher that a property optioned for TV will get done," says William Morris v-p Bill Contardi.

Another advantage of TV is more synchronicity with book audiences. "The problem is that the major book buyers are women and the major filmg rs are young males," says Gersh's Bernstein. "With TV, the audience is more the same." Bernstein recently sold CBS a TV-movie deal with popular women's author Nora Roberts.

In addition to network air time to fill, the ever-growing number of cable networks is creating other possible outlets. "The traditional networks seem to be doing fewer films in certain categories," says Howard Braunstein, a partner in Jaffe-Braunstein, an L.A.-based production company. "But the cable outlets are seeking to define themselves, and they are developing material." Braunstein is developing Rod Smolla's nonfiction Deliberate Intent, A Civil Action-like account coming in July from Crown, at FX, the new Fox cable channel.

Cable networks and channels are also realizing their brand value by licensing their names to book publishers -- Discovery Channel has alliances with several. And QVC is now developing its own book line after seeing the success of book sales through its channel. At press time, book franchise deals were in the works with Hallmark Entertainment and NBC.

...That Allows for Depth and Brand-Name Leverage

Additionally, TV has series and miniseries formats that don't really have a counterpart in film. Pocket Books' Roswell High YA series was optioned by producers Kevin Brown and Jonathan Frakes for Fox TV.

Tom Hanks expanded on his interest in aerospace after Apollo 13 by producing the 12-hour HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, adapted from Andy Chaikin's A Man on the Moon (Penguin). Renaissance co-agent Steve Fisher even sold the 1300-page history of New York entitled Gotham (Oxford) to production company Granada TV, which will develop a miniseries.

But perhaps the most interesting route -- and a testimony to the far-reaching power of film -- is exemplified by the adaptation of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (HarperPerennial), now being developed for a miniseries at Fox. The book was cited in the bar brawl in the hit film Good Will Hunting, sparking Fox's interest.

TV also proves particularly fertile for author brand leveraging. Braunstein had produced TV adaptations of the works of Ken Follett, John Sandford and Steve Martini; sales of these authors' subsequent books, influenced by the increased exposure, went up. Tom Clancy's NetForce (Penguin USA) and Stephen King's Storm of the Century (Pocket Books) are examples of authors' bringing their marquee value to the small screen. Both these projects had their genesis with TV in mind; both related books hit the bestseller list.But the problem for publishers is that -- despite some historical blockbuster examples like Roots -- in general, TV adaptations don't boost sales like film d s.

Penguin's reissue of Chaikin's book to tie into Hanks's HBO series did sell some 80,000 copies, for a book that had previously sold only about one-tenth of that a year. But Penguin publicity chief Maureen Donnelly says length of series is key. "We find the more nights a program is on the air, the better likelihood there will be book sales," she says. Understandably, Hyperion has high hopes for its Days of Infamy: Great Military Blunders of the 20th Century by Michael Coffey, a companion volume to a History Channel documentary that will run for 26 weeks in the fall.

And while TV audiences can be larger than film's, TV viewers for any particular program are shrinking due to the proliferation of cable channels.Warner publisher Jamie Raab believes it's simply harder for TV publicity to break through the media noise the way major film release hype can. "The publicity surrounding a film g s on for a longer time than TV. There are articles about the production and cast perhaps a year earlier, then even more articles at the time of the release," Raab says.

Efforts at Synergy

Raab has seen this kind of media confluence at work with the recent release of Message in a Bottle (Warner), which is also one of the rare examples of a major trade house getting some advantage out of being part of a multimedia conglomerate.

"It has been one of the smoothest experiences I've ever had," says Raab, who notes that producer Denise DiNovi kept her and author Nicholas Sparks fully involved in the film's production and release. Warner Bros. even did a media tour with Sparks to promote the film. Ads for the paperback edition of the book and the film cross-promoted each other, as well as the soundtrack put out by, you guessed it, Warner recording arm Atlantic Records.

The Sparks synergy happened informally and not in an all-encompassing upfront deal; that type of arrangement is now being tested on the publishing side by Tina Brown's new Talk Media venture with Miramax. In one of its first deals, Talk Media's book division will publish Frances Park's novel Cactus Bear and the company has a formal "first look" option to consider the adaptation rights.

Molly Friedrich, Park's literary agent, agreed to the deal because she believed her client, an unknown writer, could only benefit from any possible multimedia exposure (the Korean-American saga will also be excerpted in new magazine Talk).

HarperCollins has the unique instance of working synergy with a book executive, senior v-p of entertainment publishing, Lucy Hood, based in L.A. With an office on the Twentieth Century Fox production lot, Hood serves as a liaison on HarperCollins-Fox connections, such as the upcoming film adaptation of Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True.

Hood's presence on the lot has made for some successful book properties that may have not happened otherwise, including a bestselling novelization of the Fox film Soul Food. "I saw a rough cut of the film early here and knew it would be great. We commissioned a novelization and, also, thanks to our Fox ties, got the cast to contribute recipes to put in the back of the book." says Hood. To date the book has sold 100,000 copies.

Tie Ins: Wariness, but They Can Work

If Hood hadn't been around to do that Soul Food novelization, Newmarket Press's Esther Margolis might have snapped it up. Margolis occupies an unusual position in entertainment publishing. As a publisher, she d s screenplays and "making of" books tied to film (such as Saving Private Ryan). Margolis also serves as an agent for Sony Pictures, where she sells other publishers rights for novelizations and "making of" books for Sony productions. She also negotiates permissions to use the movies' "key art" for tie-in books.

Publishing arms of multimedia conglomerates tend to get first cracks at publishing books tied to their parent company's film/TV releases. But given the subjectivity of editorial decision-making, various timing issues and the ever-increasing complexity of movie releases (more than one studio is often involved), the logical synergies don't always happen.

A constant problem in these arrangements, says Margolis, is the movie vs. publishing timing gap. Studios rarely commit early enough that publishers can work their four- to six-month sell-in plans for book tie-ins, which are usually a tiny part of a film's merchandising and promotion package.

For publishers, there's simply the pesky perception issue that novelizations are just wallpaper publicity for a movie, not true books.

While Warner's Raab says she saw respectable sales on a novelization of Stepmom, she now wonders whether it might have sold more copies without the film's key art on the cover. "It was a really good novelization; maybe we should have presented it more as a book," she says.

In that vein, Warner, surprisingly to some, kept the face of star Kevin Costner off the cover of its Message in a Bottle paperback. "Because this was the first paperback edition of this book, we didn't want to present it just as a movie tie-in edition," says Raab. She would have preferred the film version of Message in a Bottle to have uncorked later so she could have garnered additional sales from a second paperback edition, which perhaps would have then featured Costner on the cover.

A tantalizing celebrity cover consideration possibly awaits Riverhead, which holds the rights to Alex Garland's The Beach, now a high-profile film currently in production and directed by Trainspotting's Danny Boyle and starring Titanic heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio. If the publisher buys the art from upcoming movie, it may have a chance to have DiCaprio, if he's featured in the key art, on its cover. The Beach is also a literary novel; and Gersh co-agent Ron Bernstein believes Garland is one of the "new voices" that could re-energize the sluggish book-to-film market.

It's the kind of quality Hollywood-book connection that every publisher craves. "We're already seeing a spike in sales for the current paperback because of all the publicity surrounding the making of the film," says Riverhead editor Christopher Knutsen, who is overseeing the paper release. "It's pretty amazing."