INDUSTRY KNOWHOW What rights to sell, what rights to keep

Well done. You’ve got an agent and that agent has landed you a deal for your most recent work.  Rounding off our series on copyright, Dr Miriam Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University, considers what rights to sell and which to keep.

Firstly, if you have an agent, hopefully you trust them to have your best interests in mind. So listen to what they say, but be aware that you do have a choice.

Language Rights
Most publishers will ask for (in the UK or US) English Language Rights, or World English Language Rights. Or your agent might have an idea that you would make more if you broke the rights up territorially and sold them based on the UK and Europe* English Language, Australia, and USA all separately. This is entirely up to the publisher you work with, what rights they want, and how in-demand the work is. You obviously have more bargaining power if your work has gone to a six-figure auction, for instance.

When you work with publishers to publish your book, always ask about what territories they sell into, and whether the deal will include eBook rights, as many are considered part of the primary rights now. If that’s the case though, ensure that they are capable of publishing the eBook if that’s a market you think is vital – you don’t want to get stuck with a publisher having the eBook rights and sitting on them indefinitely because you didn’t have anything in writing regarding them actually getting it out, or at least have a clause that will allow the right to revert if a certain time as passed without anything happening with it.

Subsidiary Rights
Likewise, the subsidiary rights will matter as well. Subsidiary rights include things like dramatic rights, film rights, TV rights, merchandising rights, etc. There are many of these sub rights that need to be considered in a larger deal. And, it will really depend on how the publisher feels they can take them on, and if you and your agent think you can get more bang for your buck by selling them elsewhere. For instance, you may want to sell the primary rights of your YA novel to a large publisher. But, you may find it more valuable to keep the TV and Film rights and sell those separately to Netflix. It’s all a matter of knowing the value of the work, having an agent who knows the market and knows how to make it all work for you.

*As an aside, we still aren’t sure what will happen with rights and Brexit. Last year there was talk at London Book Fair about what will happen if the UK doesn’t get access to sell in English to the EU, and instead, the US swoops in to take over that market. But it’s speculative, as are all things Brexit at the moment.

You can find more on rights and contracts in our KnowHow series with The Society of Authors.

Main image by Photo by Mohammad Danish from Pexels

Living in London, Dr Miriam Johnson is the Senior Lecturer in Publishing at Oxford Brookes, specialising in the MA in Publishing Media and the MA in Digital Publishing. Discover more about Miriam’s work and projects on her site and follow her at @MiriamJ801.


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