Know Your Rights: Foreign Rights and Film Rights

Foreign rights

Foreign sales and translations don’t always go with the sale of the book. Foreign sales can involve selling the American edition “as is” (in Canada, for example) or it can mean selling the rights to publish another edition in English or translations into other languages. Here again, sales are handled by the publisher or agent, depending on whether these rights were part of the publisher’s contract. It is desirable to go with the publisher if they have staff whose only job is to handle these rights, or if they have an international foreign rights department. When the agent has reserved these rights for the author and arranges the sale, the author then gets all of the money instead of giving the publisher a split.

The license for the publication of foreign editions is usually granted for a particular period of time, usually a number of years. When the license expires, it can be renewed by your publisher or agent in your behalf.

Film rights

Publishers feel entitled to a share of your film rights because they believe their publication of your book greatly enhances the chances of the sale; this despite the fact that publisher will be benefiting directly from increased book sales once the movie is out.

Publishers also buy novelization rights to screenplays, which can then go on to become bestsellers. Either way, book into movie or movie into book, the tie-in enhances the sales in each media.

With the decline of the networks’ power and the proliferation of cable companies and independent producers, more and more original movies are being made expressly for TV. This requires a supply of material—good news to the writer. But you should realize that film sales from books are still a long shot.

Theatrical films (to be released in movie theaters) are the longest shot of all, since over 100 movies are made yearly, and many of these come from original screenplays, not derived from book material. Of those books optioned, dismally few get produced as movies, even among those on the best-seller lists.

The very best time to market film rights is after the book is sold but prior to its publication—that’s when it’s hottest to the movie people. After publication, it loses its appeal unless the book goes on to best-sellerdom or receives great reviews, which greatly enhances interest.

Film rights sales start out as an option. The author is paid a certain amount of cash for allowing the movie people a certain amount of time to line up the movie’s production. Usually the time frame is for six to twelve months and the cash starts in the higher five figures on up, but I know of at least one four-figure deal, and one option purchased with no cash at all., (This is a bad deal for the author. If the option falls through the author will have nothing in return for withdrawing his property from the other film markets.)

At the end of the option’s term it can be renewed, in which case you should receive more money, or it expires, and you are free to sell the option to someone else. If “picked up” (that is, purchased,) your option has been sold for the already-agreed-upon additional amount of money.

If you’re an author with clout, you might be able to swing a percentage of the movie’s profits as part of your deal. Usually, however, it’s in your best interest to go for as much upfront money as possible.

Two other ways you can benefit from your movie sales are Film Sequel Rights, where a second movie is based on your book, and Remake Rights, where the movie is rewritten and reshot with a different cast. Then there are Television and Cable Film Rights, TV Specials, TV Series based on your work, and Videotapes or digital Recordings for direct sale or rental.

Film rights sales should be handled by someone who specializes in this area and has access to the industry. If your literary agent doesn’t handle this herself, she will probably have a West Coast affiliate who does.

Continued on page 5, Electronic Media Rights and Other Rights

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

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