Subsidiary rights ~ what’s an author to keep?

Yesterday, I posted a list of 9 subsidiary rights an author has with regards to a publishing contract.  If you missed it, you can read about it here.  Today, I’m going to discuss those rights that are usually handled by the publisher, those that are negotiable, and those that, if you have the means to keep, you should.

Rights the Publisher usually keeps:

First and Second Serial Rights:  In general, Publishers usually keep 1st and 2nd serial rights.  They are important to the publisher more for publicity and promotion than revenue.  As most people don’t have a publicist lined up to handle this sort of marketing, it makes sense for the publisher to retain the rights.

Book Club rights:  Unless you’re in the know with the “Club”, Publishers usually retain these rights as the Publisher has more contacts than a novice author with little clout and financial backing.  Unless you have a publicist, you might want to allow the Publisher to keep this right.

Reprint rights:  These rights are geared more for the Publisher to keep as they have the “print” power.  Many publishers nowadays offer what is known as a “hard-soft” deal, meaning they’ll reprint the novel or manuscript in paperback if the book sells well in it’s original publication form, whether e-book or hardback.  What you’ll need to focus on are the terms related to this ‘hard-soft’ deal, and if you agree with them.

Rights the author should always keep, if possible.

Performance Rights:  If you have an agent or a dynamite publicity team, the author should do whatever he or she can to retain these rights.  9 times out of 10, an author won’t get a ‘movie deal’ out of the gate.  The author will get what is known as an ‘option’. This means the producer will pay the author money for the option to make a movie.  While they have the option, no one else can touch it.  A producer can re-option your book as many times as he or she wants and as many times as you accept.  This could amount to a big chunk of change to the author.

Merchandise Rights:  What you must remember is that publishers are not in the merchandising business, that which involves toys, action figures, video games, etc.  If your novel is picked up by a studio, you will want to make sure you, the author, has the right to negotiate the merchandise associated with the movie.

Rights that are negotiable between the Publisher and Author:

  • Foreign language rights
  • Electronic rights
  • Audio rights

If you have an agent or if you have the ability to exploit these rights on your own, keep them.  If you do not have the means to exploit the rights, you can let the Publisher keep them.  Just make sure the commitment by the Publisher to exploit these rights is written in the terms of your contract, as well as the rate as to how they will split the monies received.  You will also need to check the Reversion of Rights back to the author in the event the Publisher does not exploit the rights as agreed upon.

For more information on your rights and what they mean, check out these articles:

Writer’s Digest: “Publishing Contracts 101 (Protect Your Work)”

The Author’s Guild: Improving your Book Contract 

Rachelle Gardner: Publishing Contracts

Morse Barnes-Brown Pendleton (law firm): Book Publishing Contracts: Checklist of Deal Terms 



4 thoughts on “Subsidiary rights ~ what’s an author to keep?

    1. I’m glad you think so. I wish there was more information out there to help unagented authors, like the actual terminology to look for in contracts. The ‘hidden meaning’ clauses. I have to admit, the whole thing is quite scary. I just want to write. 🙂


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