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.
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.