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When book rights revert back to the author

Last week the rights to my two novels published through a small-press publisher in 2011 and 2012 were reverted back to me. My contracts were supposed to last until Sept 2015 and October 2017.  While it heralds the close of one door, I did a little happy dance, along with many other authors, because this opens up a new door.

What does it mean when rights revert back to an author? It can mean a few things. The first thing that pops into mind is that sales have dropped and the admin costs are higher than the income. However another reason for rights reverting back is that the publisher is no longer interested in working that particular genre.

I once worked for a record company and we had an artist who was coming up to the end of his fifteen album contract. The contracts department were eager to get him to sign on for more albums, however the artist politely declined, stating that he wanted to know what it felt like to be a free agent, just for a little while and then he would sign up again. Or so he said. Our record company was panicking that he’d go somewhere else and those in the business hear the rumours daily. His freedom last all of a week and he signed up with another record company. As they say, that's show business.

The rights of books, movies, DVDs, and CDs are bound by contracts, yet at the same time they are never set in stone. Artists get dropped and picked up all the time depending on whatever the business is doing at the time.

It’s not always a bad sign when rights revert back to an author. In fact, sometimes it can be what an author has been waiting for, for a long time. For example, the publisher of my first two novels decided almost a year ago that they were going to ditch all their non-erotica/romance books. At first they tried to set up a bogus company to shuffle us all toward, but that didn’t work, and almost a year later the rights were reverted back to all the authors.

Here’s 5 reason why I’m happy my book rights have reverted back.

1.       I never liked the cover

The cover to my second novel Feedback is blah. Yeah, the boy on the front is cute, but he doesn’t do anything to help sell the book. If anything, he’s too mopey. But publishers create covers and authors get no say in the matter.
Here is the mock-up of my new cover design for Feedback. It is so much more like I imagined. It depicts everything the book is about – adventure, sci-fi, young adult. I love it. I also love the colours. The older version is too dark. I'll work with this artwork over the next few weeks but at this very minute, I like it.

I always did like the cover to The Bird With The Broken Wing, even if it did not represent the book. This may or may not be the fault of the publisher/cover artist. I gave descriptions of what I envisioned but it got lost in translation. Did anything that I wrote get taken into account? A bit. I described a tunnel that the teens ran along to escape. I got the tunnel but not the sense of danger.

2.       I never got a lick of promotion

I’m the first to admit that authors need to be self-promoters. There just simply isn’t enough light to make it to the bottom of the well, yet the publisher should be doing something. My publisher did nothing but slap the book on Amazon and Lightning Source. Anyone could do that. And anyone is. By the millions. There are so many self-published books out there because it is easy to do. But it takes promotion to get out of the quagmire and into the hands of readers.

 3.       The cracks began to appear

This was a start-up independent publishing company and, hey, I was lucky to be there at the start when they were looking to build a catalogue. At least I told myself I was lucky. And then the cracks began to appear. Other authors complained and got black-listed. Authors asked about promotion and got black-listed. Authors queried royalty payments and got a full page email back about how the way I tracked sales was the wrong way but hey we made a mistake and we owe you for 20 books that sold in May (yes, this happened to me). Authors began asking for their rights back and got black-listed.

4.       I can now write the follow up books

Because of the above issues, I had no interest in writing the follow up novels. Basically when you sign a contract it stipulates that any further books with the same characters means you have to give that publisher first refusal rights. I didn’t want to risk writing something that would then be locked in for a further 5 years. I am now free to write the follow up books,.

5.       I can earn more

The entire publishing and editing experience has made me a better writer. I also know what I want more than I did three years ago. And one thing I have learned is that I can earn more self publishing. Here’s a little math. Ebook royalty payments can be around 40% of net to the author. So for an ebook selling at $5.99, with Amazon taking their cut, and author can expect to earn up to $1.20 per book. A print book selling at $11.00 will earn an author around 77c per book. By self-publishing I can sell the book for less at $2.99 and earn 70% of royalties which means $2.09 in my pocket per ebook.

The bottom line is that many authors have their rights reverted back to them, they also contracts lapse and not renewed, books go to new homes and do well or not,  print runs aren't reprinted. The world of publishing, music, movies is a revolving door of opportunity. Mariah Carey wanted out of her 5 CD deal so bad she recorded 2 truly bad albums on purpose just so they would release her early.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with rights reverting back to you or contracts lapsing and not being renewed. Please drop me a line.

Thanks for reading!


D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. The Bird With The Broken Wing reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Feedback reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.

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