Know Your Rights: Serial Rights and Syndication Rights

Serial rights

These excerpts can be marketed to American periodicals, or you can offer them abroad, in which case you’d be selling the foreign serial rights. The excerpt can come out either before publication (first serial rights) or after publication (second serial rights.)

First North American serial rights are purchased by periodicals, which are distributed in both the United States and Canada for simultaneous first appearances of the excerpt in each country. Serial rights can be sold on a nonexclusive basis, that is, excerpts from different parts of the book to different buyers. First Serial Rights sales could involve exclusive rights to the entire book or just to a part of it.

Obviously, you can sell the right to be the first to publish the excerpt only once; this should go to the buyer most likely to pay the highest dollar and give you the best exposure. After that, it could be sold as second serial rights, one-time rights or perhaps as simultaneous rights, probably to periodicals without overlapping circulation; these rights can also bring in good money.

Syndication rights

Newspapers regularly buy and print material they’ve received from syndicates, which are agencies specializing in these sales. The syndicate is granted exclusive rights to sell your pieces all over the world in first publication and in reprint. Syndicates simultaneously offer their material to many buyers, usually guaranteeing the buyer exclusivity in a particular geographic area.

Books that are to be excerpted in several continuing installments or as columns might be picked up by a syndicate. The value of syndication rights should be more than what the author would get for First Serial sales to one publication. The syndicate takes 50 percent of the earnings. If the author has granted the publisher the right to license syndication, the remaining 50 percent would be split between the author and the publisher as agreed in the publishing contract. If the agent has retained these rights, she can approach a syndicate on the author’s behalf. Another option for the author is to self-syndicate.

When selling excerpt rights, it’s important to understand what the benefits are to each party in these agreements. We’ve already mentioned that the author gets good money and, even more important, publicity for his book.

The publication that purchases First Serial Rights gets to “scoop” your book to the world, thus capitalizing on any prepublication publicity your book has generated. The excerpt will require less editing, and it may cost the publication less to buy these rights than it would to commission a freelance writer to do a major piece.

Even though they’ve lost some of the “scoop” value, Second Serial Rights are attractive because they’re cheaper than First Serial Rights. The publication still benefits from the book’s publicity and promotion, and the manuscript has already been edited and proofread—a savings in editors’ time and energy.

To maximize the effect of the publicity for your book, try to time the publication of excerpts to coincide with your book’s availability in bookstores. Keep in mind that the First Serial appearancemust occur prior to the book’s publication date.

Continued on page 4, Foreign Rights and Film Rights

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

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