Know Your Rights: Revised Edition Rights and Excerpt Rights

Revised edition rights

Somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of the books published in the U.S. are revised or updated editions. If the author makes a few changes to keep the text current, the book is republished as an “update.” If at least 30 percent of the text is new material and the book has been republished with a new cover, a new ISBN and new promotion, the book is called a “revised edition.” Each update or revision should bring the author another advance.

Updates and revisions extend the life of the book and increase the author’s—and the publisher’s—profits. The person responsible for the text changes should be the author, but if the publisher requests a revision and the author refuses or is unable to do it, most contracts give the publisher the right to have another writer do the revision, charging the costs of preparing that revision against the original author’s earnings.

The publisher may negotiate to retain and exercise excerpt rights in the US and abroad, serial rights, one-time rights and syndication rights. Your agent will most likely reserve these rights for you if you are already well published in major periodicals and have good contacts for your work.

If the publisher retains these rights, it’s to your benefit not to be too stingy with the royalty splits (as long as the publisher will indeed aggressively pursue these sales) because the publisher must have a fair profit as an incentive. The splits are negotiable—but the author shouldn’t give the publisher more than 50 percent.

If you are offering your work to these markets as a primary sale (that is, not as subsidiary rights to a book contract), be certain you’ve reserved control of your other rights for possible future use. Why? Your article may later be developed into a film, book or play—as in the case of Budd Schulberg. Based on his newspaper article series, he wrote a screenplay, On the Waterfront that went on to win eight Oscars for best film in 1954. Then he wrote Waterfront, the novel, and On the Waterfront, the theatrical play, with Stanley Silverman which debuted at the Cleveland Playhouse in 1988.

Excerpt rights

Excerpt (or serial) rights (allowing passages selected from your book, or sometimes the entire text, to be printed in magazines, newspapers or newsletters) should be pursued vigorously because of the tremendous publicity this generates for the book.

At one time, sales of these rights would bring the author more money than from book publication. Serial sales can still be quite lucrative, especially if they involve a celebrity. But even if little or no money is forthcoming, more savvy clients mine their nonfiction books heavily for excerpts, getting in print as extensively as possible—because this sells lots of books.

You should try to suggest ideas for excerpts to the rights director at your publishing house, or to your agent if she’s handling these sales. Be specific. If you think your chapter three checklist could be lifted and made into an article titled, “How Do I Know If I’m Happy in Love?” which looks just right for Redbook, suggest it.

Continued on page 3, Serial Rights and Syndication Rights

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

Discuss This Article

Security Code: