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 



Publishing contract ~ what are subsidiary rights?

As an author, I wish I could write and write and have someone else worry about publishing contracts and marketing.  We, authors, can avoid these to some extent by having an agent work for us to try to get the best deal.  Even then, we still need to become involved in the process to make sure the agent is doing what is best for us. Whether agented or unagented, authors need to understand what is presented in black and white to make sure they maximize current and future revenues.  To do that, we have to understand some publishing contract terms.

Today, I’m going to talk about subsidiary rights as they pertain to U.S. contracts.  This information is in no way to be viewed as legal advice.  I am not an attorney. These terms are for educational purposes only.  I will try to explain as much as I can so you, as an author, will have the knowledge to make an informed decision if you ever find yourself with a publishing contract in hand.

Authors have nine (9) subsidiary rights.  They are:

  1. First serial – This is your right as an author to publish excerpts or condensed versions of your manuscript or book in magazines and newspapers before the book is published. You may not see any $$ from these, but they are awesome for exposure and getting readers excited to buy your book.
  2.  Second serial – This is same as the First Serial right except this covers the same right to publish excerpts after your book is published.  Again, few $$ if any, but extremely valuable book promotion.
  3.  Book Club – This is a fierce and competitive market, and if your book can break into “the Club”, there can be substantial royalties. It is said you’ll need excellent contacts or an awesome agent/publisher to open the door of this exclusive Club.
  4. Foreign rights (also called foreign language license) – As the right implies, this is your right as an author to publish and sell your book outside the US.
  5. Reprint – This is a natural progression of your book.  The norm used to be Hardback, then paperback.  Rarely was the paperback printed first and then hardback upon reprint, but it did happen every now and then.  With the advent of e-books, the norm seems to be e-book, then paperback upon reprint, or ebook along with Hardback, then paperback on reprint.
  6. Performance (also called dramatic) – This is your right as the author to have your novel or manuscript adapted into dramatic performances to be enacted on radio, TV, in a movie, play, etc.
  7. Audiobook – This right (and the electronic or ebook right) is your right as an author to produce your manuscript or book in audio (or electronic) format.
  8. Electronic – You might see this combined in Audio rights.  Some publishers call it Reproduction.
  9. Merchandise – This right allows you, the author, to produce merchandise like T-shirts, video games, action figures, etc. based on your story or characters. This right is usually associated with film rights and will most likely be purchased by the studio/producer in a package deal along with your performance rights.


Tomorrow, I’ll pass on which rights the publishers usually keep, and which ones the publishing agents and gurus suggest that you, as the author, should keep, if at all possible.



So, you got a publishing contract. Now what?

It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to get a publishing contract for my novel.  I know I personally spent more time imagining covers for my novels than I did envisioning my dream wedding.  Come on.  Let’s face it.  The wedding gown is expensive, you wear it for an hour, and then it gets stuck in a ‘preservation’ box forever.  A book cover on the other hand lasts a long time, people will see it for years to come, and even after many eons have passed and the pages are yellowed, a new reader will come along, find the cover intriguing, and crack open the binding to read the precious, toiled-over words in between. For me, that would be words I wrote.

I wrote.

The thought boggles my mind that others will read my story.  That my words will be eternally in print.  Part of the Library of Congress.  A permanent testimony of my life on earth. A legacy.  In a sense…immortality.

But to get this dream, I have to have one of these:

Yes, a publishing contract.  Yuck.  I hate contracts.  All the legal mumbo jumbo, the fine print. Wondering if I can live with this, or if that has to go.  If I push too far, will the publisher say no and then I’m back to square one looking for a publisher?  Do I self-publish?  The possibilities are enough to make an author want to run for the hills and hide.  After all, we write, not negotiate contracts, right?

Sorry to say, if we want to see our books in print, we have to wade through the business end, too.  Even if you have an agent, you want to make sure your agent has your best interest at heart.

As I sit here and wait to find out the fate of my novel I submitted to one of my dream publishers, I’ve been educating myself on what to expect when that contract comes in.  (yes, I said, when.  There is no if.  It will happen).  Over the course of the next few days, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned on Granting Subsidiary Rights, Royalty terminology and other important publication rights that all authors must consider whether going the publishing route alone or with an agent.

I hope you stay tuned.  It’s gonna be a bumpy but fun ride – like dodging pot-holes in a Ferrari at 200 mph.