It’s easy to put off obtaining a rights reversion from your publisher. Perhaps you’re not sure who to contact at the publisher because your former editor is no longer working there. Maybe you’re not sure exactly what to ask for or what to do with your rights once they’re reverted to you.
Asking for your rights and starting down the road of self-publishing a backlist can be overwhelming. But breaking down the project into smaller tasks makes the job manageable.
First off…is it worth it to get your rights back from a publisher? Yes.
Things you can do when you have rights back:
- Publish prequels or sequels to books. Publish spin-offs where supporting characters now have their own stories.
- Put your books up for audition on ACX for audio.
- Expand into hardcover for the library or collectors’ market with IngramSpark. Expand into digital if your books are older. Have your books available in paperback again.
- Make your books available overseas in English by using aggregator sites like Draft2Digital, Smashwords, PublishDrive, or StreetLib.
- Get your books into libraries through the aggregators above and Overdrive.
- Publish box sets, or bundles, of your books.
How to Start the Rights Reversion Process
Review your contract. What rights did you sign over to your publisher?
Some pertinent chapters:
- Are You Eligible to Revert Rights Under the Terms of Your Contract? 40
- Does Your Contract Have a Reversion Clause? 42
- What Conditions Must Be Met Before You Can Exercise Your Reversion Clause? 45
- Have the Conditions of Your Reversion Clause Been Met? 49
Write to your publisher:
My email, asking for my audiobook rights for my Southern Quilting mysteries, looked like this:
Dear Subrights Department,
I’m writing to request a reversion of unexploited audiobook rights for the Southern Quilting Mysteries (cozy mysteries formerly with Obsidian). These include Quilt or Innocence (2012), Knot What it Seams (2013), Quilt Trip (2013), Shear Trouble (2014), and Tying the Knot (2015).
The original contract was signed Feb. 10, 2011.
Please send written confirmation of reversion of the audiobook rights to me at this email address or at my home address of ________. I can be contacted by phone at _______ to answer any questions.
In my email, I was specific as to the rights I wanted reverted, and I named each publication. I was polite. I gave them a date in case they needed extra help locating the contract. It would have been better if I’d had a name to work with, but unfortunately the switchboard at Penguin Random House appeared to be overwhelmed when I called in, so an email address was the best I could get.
What happens if you run into issues? If your contract doesn’t address reversion rights or if your publisher balks at reverting them? Writer and publishing attorney Susan Spann (no relation to me) in her Jan. 2016 post for Writer Unboxed (Obtaining Reversions of Publishing Rights: the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly) suggests that we contact a publishing attorney. Additionally, she states (all emphasis hers):
Consult a Publishing Attorney. If the contract doesn’t grant you obvious termination rights and the publisher refuses a polite request for termination and reversion, there may still be creative ways to obtain termination of the contract and reversion of publishing rights.
However, in most cases the author’s right to terminate a contract and obtain a reversion of publishing rights is limited by the language in the agreement. If the contract doesn’t grant you termination rights, and publisher isn’t in breach, your options may well boil down to persuading the publisher to agree to termination—or waiting until the contract allows you to terminate without the publisher’s consent.”
Persistence is key
If you’re turned down, make a note on your calendar to ask again. You’ll likely get someone completely different at the publisher the next time. After several tries, I finally got the digital rights back for the first book in my Myrtle Clover series (I’d already received print and audio rights for it).
But what if you can’t get the rights back for that first book in your series?
Writers might get around this issue by creating a prequel trilogy and have a box set of those. Or have a novella prequel that could work as a perma-free introduction to the series.
At any rate–why not see what you can get? With any luck, it will only be a matter of pulling out your contract and writing an email.
Have you asked for a rights reversion? Have you got a series that’s partially trad-pubbed and partially self-pubbed? How has that worked for you?
Elizabeth is the bestselling cozy mystery author of the Southern Quilting mysteries, the Myrtle Clover Cozy Mysteries, the Village Library Mysteries, and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House, Midnight Ink, and independently.Follow her on Twitter where she shares writing links @elizabethscraig or at her blog where she offers tips for writers: http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/. She lives in Matthews, North Carolina with her husband and is the mother of two.
Header photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash
Before you go, you may also be interested in this post about Re-Publishing an Out-of-Print Book After a Rights Reversion.
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