Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Traditionally Published Titles and Rights

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Pretty is as pretty diesI wanted to touch on a topic today that not everyone is going to relate to, but one which I think is important—self publishing backlists or restarting discontinued series.

I have one traditionally-published book that was contracted before I got an agent. I negotiated that contract myself. And negotiated it poorly, no doubt, because I ended up with a one book deal….as opposed to my two series with Penguin, where I had three book deals at the get-go.

At any rate, that was Pretty is as Pretty Dies. When the publisher decided not to sign me for more books (early 2010), we parted on good terms. I still had readers for the series, who were emailing me quite a bit to ask about the next book. I wasn't sure what to do.

My agent for my other series suggested that I shop the series out with either Penguin, who’d previously been interested in it, or St. Martin’s…meaning, of course, that she’d represent me and get a cut if we went in that direction. But to me, I was already working on other series and didn’t want the hassle of shopping it out and the delay of another contract and the back-and-forth, drawn-out nature of negotiations. On top of that, there would also be production time—it would just take forever.

So I did nothing. :)

Toward the end of 2010, the self-pub buzz was really growing and I started considering taking the series directly to e-reader. It took a while for me to make that decision….probably six months.

One of the reasons I was nervous about it was that I wasn’t sure how to get my rights to the characters back. Or when those rights reverted to me. My agent hadn’t worked with me on that book, so I couldn't consult with her, and I’m not great with legalities or contracts. I read my contract a few times and made some sense out of it….but not a whole lot.

So I finally, in March 2011, wrote a very simple email to Midnight Ink….along these lines:

I'm writing to confirm that my rights to the character of Myrtle Clover have reverted back to me, as the author. Midnight Ink published Pretty is as Pretty Dies, a Myrtle Clover novel, in 2009. A sequel was offered to the editorial staff in early 2010 and was rejected, about a year ago. I'm now interested in taking the previously unpublished sequel directly to Kindle instead of shopping it to another publisher, and wanted to confirm that's not a problem for Midnight Ink.

Actually, that’s the exact email I sent to them. This is what I heard back:

Your question regarding the follow-up to PRETTY IS AS PRETTY DIES and the status of rights was forwarded to me.

You are correct regarding your right to take the sequel title directly to Kindle yourself. You have that right based on our decision not to publish it under the Midnight Ink imprint.

We wish you good success with the book on Kindle or even with another publisher.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

That was directly from the publisher, Mr. Krause, himself (one nice thing about working with a mid-sized publisher.) :)

This process was resolved in the same day. There was no need for me to have put it off the way I did.

Then it was just a matter of hiring an editor, finding a cover designer, and getting someone to format the book for the different ereaders. I also bought ISBNs from Bowker, simply because I’m old-fashioned. Who knows if that will end up being the right thing to have done?

The two books that I’ve put up on Kindle have sold well for me and resulted in thousands of dollars of income that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Yes, y’all, it’s worth the trouble and handwringing and inconvenience to get a backlist up there or to get an unpublished title from a suddenly-canceled series up there.

Last week I got another email from Midnight Ink that the print rights for Pretty are reverting back to me, since the book will go out of print. They made sure to let me know they’re holding onto the ebook rights for that title, though. So make sure you know what you’re receiving when you get a letter or email from your publisher.

This is the notification I got on that reversion (and the exclusions for the rights reversion are pretty clear):

Midnight Ink hereby returns all international and domestic rights to you to the above named title with the following exceptions:


English large print rights (domestic and international)

Note that this rights return does NOT include rights to the covers, interior or exterior artwork. Nor does it include typography or electronic files.

When I procrastinate, as I’ve mentioned before on the blog, it’s usually a clear sign that I’m not sure how to proceed.

But that’s okay. If we think through the steps we need to take, making progress a little at a time, then we just check off the items on our list as we work through them.

The main point of this post is….if you aren’t sure about your rights, just ask. Don’t let this hold you back from taking the next step of self-publishing. Either contact the publisher directly, as I did, or an intellectual property lawyer. It’s not that much trouble and you can continue your series, self-publish your backlist, and increase your income.

And make your readers happy. I’ve heard from quite a few that have been delighted that the series is continuing.

Have you considered self-publishing old titles? Or self-publishing in general? Is there a pattern to your procrastinating? How do you work through handling a big project (like self-publishing a backlist or continuing a discontinued series)?