By Al Kalar
Copyrights aren’t just one thing; they’re a bundle of rights. Examples:
- First North American rights
- First World rights
- First hard cover rights
- Electronic rights
- Movie rights
- Television rights
- Exclusive rights for a period of time
- Non-competition rights (no sales to another magazine for instance)
- and so on.
You’ve found a publisher. Now, which rights do you sell to them?
There are several schools of thought here, but they boil down to two:
- Sell all rights.
- Keep as many rights as you can.
The first school of thought says that, “Only amateurs worry about rights. Sell ‘em all and get on with writing.”
The second school is devoted to wringing all the cash out of a piece of work they can get.
Even some of the big-name pros are starting to move to the second camp.
My Two Cents:
You sell all rights if you don’t want to deal with the “business” side of writing or you don’t think a piece has a life beyond the first sale that would make enough money to be worth your effort.
You keep rights you don’t have to sell if you think the rights may be valuable enough to make it worth your while. You can “repackage” and resell magazine articles. You can sell eBook rights separately if your paper publisher doesn’t make use of them. You can sell non-exclusive rights. Some people make a good living by coming up with a few good themes or ideas and re-packaging them over and over again. Magazine articles and “how to” self-publications are two prime examples.
If you don’t want to deal with the business end of publishing, but would like to see some return for the extra rights you may have, find a good agent to do the negotiating and business work for you. A good agent should produce enough extra income to justify his commission.
Usually, your submission package lists the rights you’re offering. Don’t be surprised if the publisher wants to change that.
If your publisher insists on a bundle (or all) of your rights, you have to make the decision based on “what’s worth it”. If you’re unpublished and grabbing at this opportunity (and the money is acceptable), you might be willing to go along with the deal just to get established as an “author” rather than just another unpublished “writer”.
Some publishers don’t deal in secondary rights such as film or television, so you may have little trouble hanging on to those rights.
For instance, AKW Books only dealt in eBook publication and sales rights with an exclusive for six months. You kept all the other rights and could use your e-rights elsewhere after the 6 months.
Small presses rarely insist on all rights; usually just first publication rights for whatever media they deal in (mass market paperbacks for instance).
At the top end of the scale, the big New York houses usually buy all rights since they are often conglomerates that publish books, eBooks, films, and have television deals. Some even own or are owned by entertainment conglomerates that include TV and film production companies. However, if you’re already a best-seller in, say, eBooks, you shouldn’t give those rights even to a NY house. After all, you worked hard to get there and you’re making good money from your rights. If necessary, take your book to another publisher until you find one that will split your eBook rights out. Hugh Howey did with his Wool series and scored a movie deal to boot.
My attitude is to keep what you can, but don’t let that stop you from making a good deal that will allow you to become established as an author with a following.
You can get picky when you’re famous.