Here’s an entry in a useful series from The Passive Voice, in this case that “out-of-print” clause that can prevent authors from ever recovering their rights to their own work. The discussion is complicated, but worth storing somewhere when the day arrives that you have this problem. I was able to get my rights back easily, but then, my books had been out of print for a fairly long time. Search this blog for “reversion of rights,” and you’ll find links to several related discussions of the kind of language any contract should contain.
Category Archives: reversion of rights clauses
Are you considering traditional book publishing? Do you have a contract in hand but haven’t signed yet? Did you work with an editor? Then beware.
Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware has another warning for you—and for those of you considering self-publishing your out-of-print books.
Check out the contract language from these publishers claiming that, once your book manuscript has been edited for publication, you can’t claim that version as yours anymore. Not even if you’ve gotten your rights back. Some of these seem to say you can’t republish.
Thanks for about the thousandth time to Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware for keeping abreast of these publishing-contract traps.
Share if you’ve had a publisher (or an editor) claim that once your manuscript has been edited, it’s no longer your book!
Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for making this terrific Jane Friedman article available! I’m closing in on the decision as to whether to self-publish or go the traditional route with a small press, so this article is a godsend!
In my annual chart,The Key Book Publishing Paths, there is one column that is most vexing and problematic for writers to navigate: small publishers.
Into this category falls some of the most prestigious publishers you can imagine, that can boast of New York Times bestsellers, and that writers dream of working with.
But it also includes publishers that started up last year out of someone’s home office, run by people who may not know anything more about the publishing industry than you do.
Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer is always a wonderful source. This piece by Judith Briles (@mybookshepher) on “How to Avoid Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers and Boo-Boos” has some up-front advice for all of us. I especially like the “writer beware” section on “pitch fests.” Briles says save your money!
Something here for every aspiring writer! Strauss is one of the best resources around! Info on contracts, social media, marketing, promotion—check it out!
Found this at Writers in the Storm today. Here’s what I wrote as a comment:
I had old contracts that required me to give notice and then wait 90 days for the publisher to decide whether or not to re-activate the titles. While I was pretty sure the rights to at least one of the books had already been passed on and then returned to me by another publisher, I went through the steps as laid out in the contracts. The hard part was finding the right place to send my notice. The web site (of a major publisher) was no help. I found a “permissions” link and wrote asking that my request be forwarded to the right person. That eventually happened. and I eventually received written confirmation of the reversion.
The clauses you provide would have saved me a lot of trouble. I’m not sure they were standard when my books were originally published, but for future publications, I’ll be on the lookout! Thanks for some solid advice!
Following up on the rather alarming article by Dean Wesley Smith that one of my earlier posts linked to, I wrote to some agents and publishing experts requesting their thoughts. Despite dealing with a family emergency, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware took the time to write back with a compelling clarification of Smith’s more extreme claims. With her permission, I reproduce her reply here. You’ll note a link to a very thorough article on the issue of reversion-of-rights clauses in contracts. If you’re on the verge of querying or have an offer, this article is well worth your time.
Here is Victoria’s reply to my questions:
Taking your questions in order:
1) Is it true that “life-of-copyright” is now the industry standard,
so that rights never revert, regardless of the original publisher’s
intentions for the book?
Life of copyright has _always_ been the industry standard among large and medium-size publishers. This is nothing new, and I’m bemused that Dean Wesley Smith would say that it is.
I do think that a limited-term contract is far more desirable, if you’re going with a small press (and small presses do often offer limited-term contracts–though life-of-copyright is not at all uncommon in the small press world). But life of copyright doesn’t have to be a problem–as long as there’s a detailed, specific reversion clause that ties rights reversion to minimum sales (for instance, making rights reversion automatic on author request once sales drop below 100 copies in any 12-month period). I’ve written about this in detail here: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2012/04/importance-of-reversion-clauses-in-book.html .
Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to encounter life of copyright contracts that _don’t_ have adequate reversion clauses–especially in the small press world, where people often don’t know what they’re doing. You may be able to negotiate to add a good reversion clause–my agent has negotiated sales-dependent reversion clauses into all my contracts since at least the early 2000’s–but, depending on the publisher, you may also choose to walk away from a life of copyright contract offer with inadequate reversion provisions. It’s definitely something to watch out for. But the reality is a lot more nuanced than what’s presented in Dean Wesley Smith’s post.
2) Is it true that authors who were once seen as “midlist” should
now assume they will most likely be offered $5000 or less as an
advance? (I received that amount for my first novel, but much more
for subsequent submissions that definitely did not quality as
“best-sellers,” though they sold respectably.)
Advances have generally fallen, especially since the 2008 economic downturn. But they are all over the map, so it’s impossible to make a blanket declaration. Advance amounts depend on all kinds of factors, including your agent (or if you have one; authors without agents tend to get lower advances), the publisher (smaller publishers generally offer smaller advances), what the publisher’s expectations of your books are–and, unfortunately, if you have a publishing track record, the sales of your previous books. In any case, if your sales are good, you’ll get the money owed to you regardless of the advance amount.
As for the whole “midlist” thing (that word doesn’t mean what it used to)–a lot has changed in the publishing world over the past 15 to 20 years, and one of the things that’s changed most is how hard it is to stay in the game. I don’t think it’s any more difficult to break into traditional publishing than it ever was (possibly easier, given the huge volume of books that are being published), but it is a lot more difficult to maintain a career, especially if your sales aren’t stellar.
3) the proliferation of “royalty only” publishers. How are such
entities regarded in the industry at present? Is this a coming wave?
This really is a phenomenon only in the small press world, which has expanded hugely over the past 15 or so years thanks to digital technology. These days, anyone can set up a publishing company just by registering with CreateSpace or LightningSpark. One of the ways many small presses try to limit their financial outlay is to eliminate advances. This is extremely common, and has been for some time. However, don’t believe anyone who tells you that advances are becoming less common among large and medium-sized publishers, or that debut authors no longer receive advances. This simply isn’t true.
There are some great small presses, but an awful lot of amateur and predatory ones whose staff know little about editing, production, design, and marketing. When Writer Beware was founded in 1998, we mostly got complaints about literary agents and scam vanity publishers; these days, small press problems make up by far the biggest volume of complaints we receive. In many cases, self-publishing is preferable.