Know Your Rights

Article commissioned by Writer’s Digest Books for inclusion in their directory, Guide to Literary Agents1993, 1994, and 1998.

Many authors are so glad to get a contract offer that they sign over their rights without understanding what they are doing. Like marriage, your relationship with your publisher should be regarded as permanent; unlike marriage, it is hard, if not impossible, to get a “divorce” from your publisher once you realize you’ve made a poor deal.

Both parties bring something to the relationship. The author gives the publisher the exclusive rights to print and sell his or her book, and the publisher gives the author an advance and promises to pay him more in the form of royalties once the upfront cash has been earned back.

Defining your rights

Reprint rights, book club rights and revised editions almost always go with the deal. A writer who insists on retaining these rights may jeopardize the sale as the publisher may count on income from these sources in calculating the potential profitability of a book.

Reprint rights

Reprint rights is a broad term that can mean hardcover, trade paperback and/or mass market paperback rights. If sales take off, the latter can be quite lucrative. In theory, a book coming out in any one of these formats can be reprinted into any other—but in reality, it would be unusual for a paperback book to be reprinted as a hardcover. We’ve had clients receive a simultaneous hard/soft deal, where the book is published in both hardcover and trade paperback from the first printing. A common procedure is printing first in hardcover or trade paperback and then in mass-market paperback. Many books start out as mass-market paperbacks, never to be published in the other formats.

Your agent will consider how appealing your book might be to each market, evaluating the way to get the best deal. If a book is of interest to publishers in both hard and soft cover, it will usually come out first in hardcover with the paperback edition (particularly mass market paperbacks) coming out months or years later so that hardcover sales are maximized before the cheaper form is available. This works well when the hardcover publisher also does the paperback, but when paperback rights are licensed to another publisher, the hardcover house will want a split of the author’s royalties.

Book club rights

Book club rights sales can generate a tidy sum. Your publisher can offer your book to the club “as is” at a discount or it can license a book club “reprint” edition. The publisher should seek out appropriate book club markets as soon as possible because they increase the public’s awareness of your book and stimulate retail sales.

Article continued on Page 2, Revised Edition and Excerpt Rights

Copyright 1993, 1994, and 1998 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

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