EXCLUSIVE: In the culmination of a courtship that began last spring, Lionsgate has completed a deal to turn the bestselling Amor Towles novel Rules Of Civility into a feature film. The book was published in July 2011 by Viking/Penguin. Lionsgate Motion Picture Group production president Erik Feig spent most of this year pursuing the author, and it finally resulted in a deal. Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility focuses on 25-year-old Katey Kontent and her attempt to rise above the Wall Street secretarial pool into the upper echelons of New York society at the end of the Depression. As much as anything, her challenge is to not lose herself in the romance in Gotham’s high society.

Feig, who as Summit’s production chief always made books a staple of the production slate before he took over Lionsgate, tells me that he makes it a point to find what books people are reading by asking everyone he knows, and by simply walking down the beach or watching in the subway to eyeball book covers. This is what led him to Rules Of Civility, a book that has a ferocious female following. Feig was not the only one to knock on the author’s door, only to be sent away. A graduate of Yale and Stanford and the principal of a big hedge fund, Towles didn’t need Hollywood option money and was wary of trusting Hollywood with the book he’d always wanted to write. Towles didn’t even really want to discuss it personally, routinely turning away suitors through his agents at WME.

Undaunted, Feig tried to find a connection to meet the author, and eventually discovered that his wife’s childhood best friend knew Towles. That got him a meeting with the author during the summer, but no deal. Feig told Towles what to insist upon to protect himself if he made a deal. That must have resonated because Towles finally reached out — insisting on the very terms that Feig suggested. Lionsgate closed the deal.

“There is a universality to this story of  a woman trying to better her station in life, and it’s one you would find in anything from The King’s Speech, Silver Linings Playbook or Saturday Night Fever,” Feig said. “These are themes that, if Charles Dickens came back, he would understand.”

Lionsgate will now go out to writers and filmmakers. Feig will oversee the development with senior production veep Gillian Bohrer.