Wednesday, January 15, 2020

paying to revert rights

My twelve-year old small press sent a certified letter to its authors stating it was working through putting its backlist on audio. As part of this process, it offered a rights-reversion opportunity of $500 per title to “avoid the angst of trying to get out of a contract as well as potential lawyer fees.” This is a good deal, the press says, because in the past, “negotiations have been anywhere from $800 - $3000." After the deadline, they will “no longer be able to consider or negotiate with authors for return of rights.” If the author stays, audio production will commence.

My questions:
1.) Is this common or does it strike you as strange?
2.) Is it generally a good idea for an un-agented author with poor sales to cut her losses (and cough up, in my instance $1500.00,) regain all rights, and let the books go out of print in hopes that future success with another book will make her backlist desirable OR is it more appealing to potential agents/publishers to see an Amazon author page with a row of shiny covers and reviews?

Oh man, don't let anyone see this great idea!
Charging authors to revert their rights is pretty clever. Gougingly clever!

First things first: does your contract include licensing audio to the publisher?
If it did, and they put out an audio edition, they have to pay you a portion of the proceeds. The split can vary, but you should see some of it.

If the contract doesn't include audio rights, they can't publish an audio edition. No matter what.

And to the larger question:
Reverting rights doesn't require a lawyer.
It's a simple amendment to the contract signed by both parties.

I do them routinely. I have a boilerplate that fills in the rights being reverted, the title and author and when the reversion takes effect. There are some other details as well, but my point is this is a simple thing to do.

If the publisher wants you to pay $500 for this, you're working with people who have taken gouge to whole new level. Or who have mistaken themselves for a company with customers. You're NOT a customer. You entered into a contract with them and they don't get to charge you a fee for amending it.

After you forward this to Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, you might just send your publisher a letter confirming they have offered to revert all rights as of X date, and this letter confirms you're in agreement.


Mister Furkles said...

Seems more typical of a business in deep financial trouble. Where does it say they will produce audio editions? Audio production is not cheap. Do they have professional readers with the voice for this?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Publishing industry resembles a mine field. Please, please let me get a good, honest agent. Good luck, OP.

CynthiaMc said...

One of my childhood goals was to have a story published in Highlights for Children magazine. While we were in Japan I sold a story to them (!). They paid promptly and said they would let me know when it was published. A couple of years and several moves later it occurred to me I hadn't heard back from them so I wrote to inquire. I got a very nice letter back from the editor who apologized for keeping it so ling (they had gone through several staff changes he said) and reverted the rights back to me. I offered to repay them. He said a absolutely not, he loved my story and to keep writing.

I spent that check having a cashmere coat made when we were in Korea. I still wear that coat to this day (on the 1-2 days a year when it actually gets cold in Florida) and smile.

Claire Bobrow said...

Sheesh! That sounds completely underhanded. Thank goodness for Janet's advice and good luck, OP - hope things work out.

Great story, Cynthia!

Claire Bobrow said...

I meant to bold Cynthia's name, not italicizeit. Help! Send caffeine.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yowza !
I know to tread lightly but I didn't think I had to wear boots.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

wow all those certified letters certainly didn't come cheap, and are an added level of intimidation so that you don't pay too-close attention to their bullshit! How exciting!

Please do forward this to Victoria Strauss, as Madame Sharque recommends!

nightsmusic said...

I guess I'm surprised by this though really, I shouldn't be. But I always thought that the rights reversing to the author, we've reversed your rights, you're free. Not give me lots of money to type a few lines on a piece of paper and have you sign it.

Katja said...

I wonder if this is a hybrid publisher. I don't know but small publishers often are, I believe.
I personally would never sign with one after what I now know compared with what I used to know. (Doesn't mean I'm blaming you here, OP!!!!! Just trying to say to every fellow writer be careful.)

I had interest in my book from a local publisher, a small press who have published around 60 books. I now know that all that would have happened is they would have put their logo on my book, then placed it on their website, uploaded it to Amazon, and conducted my book launch in town instead of myself. I also know they would have formatted my book interior poorly (bought a couple of books from them...).
They wouldn't have offered me anything that I couldn't have done myself.

I'd only sign with an agent and then have my book traditionally published by a big publisher who CAN do something that I can't. Otherwise self-publishing does the same thing - it's hard to reach many readers, your sales are just as poor, but at least your rights stay with you as long as you purchase your own ISBNs.

Best of luck, OP, I really hope you can sort this out. Fingers crossed!

Craig F said...

It can be frustrating as can bee finding an agent that can see where you are going. I imagine it keeps going with the publisher. It would be awfully easy to get stuck in what turns out to be an untenable position.

OP: I feel for you and hope I don't end up with those same decisions. Hope it all works out, definitely report it everywhere you can.

Theresa said...

Cynthia, I love your story.

OP, good luck with getting this sorted out.

Colin Smith said...

Just a quick reminder to my fellow writers (Janet, cover your eyes for a moment):

We writers run the publishing industry. Agents and publishers make their money off of our stories. If we don't write, they don't have a job. Yes, you want to be respectful and play nice. But never forget, you are not the beggar at the banquet. You're the one supplying the food. :)

OK Janet, you can open your eyes. ;)

AJ Blythe said...

Another reason I want an agent! Good luck, OP, with navigating the minefield. Sharing with Writers Beware is a great idea. I hope you are able to find a happier home for your stories once your rights are yours again.

Cynthia, I love that you got that coat. What a wonderful way of celebrating your childhood dream - even if it didn't quite work out in the end.

K. White said...

Janet: Setting aside the publisher's sketchiness for a moment, what's the downside of allowing the publisher to turn the book into an audio version?

At Bouchercon there was a session on how audio books have exploded and former undersellers are finding larger audiences.

It didn't sound as if the author was expected to share in the cost of creating the audio book. Assuming the author still gets royalities, couldn't this be a way to enhance sales?

Janet Reid said...

I'm amused at being asked to cover my eyes when I'm being quoted!

Of course, Colin knows that and he knows that I agree wholeheartedly with his point.

As for what K.White asked, there's almost no down side to an audio version of a book. Just make sure you get paid fairly for it.