Friday, 21 August 2009

Some Notes About Rights

Publication rights to a book reside in the book itself, not in the author—although the author will (usually) own the rights to the books that they write.

Once a book appears in print, the first print rights to it have been used up and cannot be retrieved under any circumstances. While other rights to that book might still be available, those first rights are gone for good and nothing, including a change of name for the book or for the author, can legally renew those rights. It's important for writers to understand this as while some publishers will consider republishing a previously-published book, many will not. Self-publishers: take note.

If someone sells first rights to a book and then writes a second book, that second book will have its own full set of rights which the author will own (unless it’s been written under a work-for-hire contract, but that’s a whole new kettle of fish), including first rights.

If you sell full world rights to a book, you can't then sell that book into any other territories or in any other formats, but the publisher which bought those rights can. So if a UK publisher buys first print rights for the UK, US first rights and world electronic rights remain with the writer; if a UK publisher buys world rights to that first publication, they can publish it in their own territory and get their US branch to publish there, for example, or sell those rights to a different publisher. Generally, a writer would get 50% of the advance and royalties resulting from any such sale, but a lot depends on the contract.

Some agents prefer to only sell the rights that a publisher is definitely going to use, which means that the writer retains all other rights: but I think that the best place for rights to belong is with the person or business with the best chance of selling them. There's little point in a writer keeping hold of US rights if he or she has no hope of selling the book into America, when the publisher of their UK edition has a US branch too, or good sales contacts in that country.

Finally, if a book which has already been published is revised, extended, redesigned, and republished, then the resulting book would be a new edition of an old title, not a whole new book—because the main portion of the book would have been published in the earlier edition, so it can't be considered a completely different book.


Dan Holloway said...

Rights is a fascinating subject.

It has, of course, been made a WHOLE lot more complicated by the Interweb. I'd love to see a blog post outlining the caveats.

When I started writing "The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes" on Facebook, a lot of people said "what a great idea, I think I might do the same", at which point I had to put the brakes on their enthusiasm quickly and say "you do realise what that means?" It means, of course, that Facebook has the right to use the material you generate on its site for its own purposes. I knew that, and was happy to go along with it.

Some writers ARE aware of the issues with sites like Facebook (evidenced by the fact I got two concerned e-mails asking me if I'd lost my marbles).

What I WOULD love to see, to make things clear for enthuisiastic but not yet savvy writers, is a really clear outline of how sites like Youwriteon and Authonomy affect the question of "first rights", and whether there's a difference between sites like that and sites that are private (like The Bookshed). Also, which if these websites (and why) affect competition eligibility when a competition says "previously unpublished". It's an area where some template forms haven't quite caught up, I fear.

Part two, perhaps?

There, all that before England get skittled over!

Nicola Morgan said...

Jane, this has come at just the right (hah!) time. Next week I am doing an event on fighting for your rights and I will point people in your direction. Thanks for your inimitable clarity. It was all in my notes already but not as clearly as you've expressed it.

I don't like today's word verfication: faker!

Jane Smith said...

Thanks, both. I could waffle on about rights for hours, and wasn't at all confident that this was as clear as it should be: so it's good to know that it made sense to you two, at least.

And as for England getting all skittled over, Mr Holloway: you're probably right but I wish it wasn't going to be so. I did so enjoy it when we won the Ashes.

Dan Holloway said...

Still, it's better than the old days when we used to lose the first four tests and pick up a consolation win at The Oval (usually after they finally reselected Tuffers in desperation and he came in with a five-for, if I remember). Hmm. Nuff cricket. Already kiboshed it once.

catdownunder said...

Rights are a hot topic here in Australia. We have a very small market - a population of just 21m people. The implications of that for first print rights and full world rights are enormous. The likes of Tim Winton, Peter Carey and Colleen McCullough (to name just a few) do not publish in Australia first.