Monday, December 30, 2013

Question: series rights

I had gradually warmed to self publishing over the years, but I didn't think it was for me. I'm writing mainstream fiction, and my goal is trade publishing. Then I got the idea for a series and was told that if I trade published it, and the publisher decided to end the contract, I wouldn't be able to sell additional books in the series elsewhere or to self publish them. If that's true, then I won't even consider trade publishing my series; I'll self publish under a pen name. I still think mainstream publishing is the best choice for my mainstream work.

It's not true.

Unless you sign some sort of dreadful contract that no respectable agent would advise you to, then you retain all the rights to any future books and can do with them as you wish.

A publisher licenses the right to publish a book from you. As part of that contract you will agree to not publish books that will compete with that book for the duration of the contract.

When a publisher decides to terminate their license to publish your books, the rights return to you and the contract is not in force (other than the warranties and indemnities clauses.)

You're free to publish anything you want. Sequels, prequels, further books in the series. Whatever your creative heart desires.

That's the legal side of things.

The reality is that it's very hard to move a series from one publisher to another.  I've seen it done, and I've done it, but it's not the norm.  It's not that the contract doesn't allow for it, it's that if a series isn't doing well enough for the publisher to continue, a second publisher rarely thinks "oh, I can do better! Here let me!"

On the other hand, you can self-publish the continuation of a series no problem. I've seen a LOT of authors do that quite well.


Ashes said...

The part of the question I'd love to see addressed is the thinking that 'if I can't trade publish, I'll self-publish under a pen name.'

Does that option make sense? I've seen it said that a debut author is more appealing to publishers and agents than an unsuccessful self-pubber. Would self-publishing under a pen name eliminate that issue?

Melissa Alexander said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this post, Janet. (I'm the person who made the original comment.) Your answer definitely makes me rethink things.

Ashley, my thought process about a pen name was to have two different brands, because the series is urban fantasy and VERY different from the mainstream fiction. I didn't want my publisher (of the mainstream fiction) to worry that the series would confuse the brand or steal sales from the mainstream books.

Lance said...

Could a publisher have a right of first refusal on an author's output?

Steve Stubbs said...

I have heard of a scenario in which a publisher decides to leave a slow seller on the backlist on the reasonable theory that they might as well get some sales out of it. To minimize costs they sell it thereafter as a POD book. In that case, there is no reason for the original publishing deal to lapse.

Elissa M said...

@Steve Stubbs

This is a reason authors should have competent agents, or at the very least, read the publisher's contract before signing. Reversal of rights is of primary importance and should always be negotiated in the author's favor.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Seems there's some cart before the horse thinking going on. Melissa is worried about confusing the brands between the two types of stories she's writing. Shouldn't the primary concern be getting product out there to readers, and building a name? I mean, at this point you haven't sold anything. Seems to me at square one is just trying to build readership loyal to an author, rather than worrying about build two separate readerships. Worry about the other problem when it actually becomes a problem, after you're actually selling in two categories.