Below is the grand spelling-out of most of the specific kinds of rights covered in your basic book deal. Please, however, take some of what I’m saying with a grain of salt—while some of these definitions are hard and fast, others vary slightly from publisher to publisher and will continue to evolve as the industry changes. Also, my knowledge of this is based purely on my own experience, and I have never ever gotten the same answer twice from a publisher about the difference between a premium sale and a special sale, so always double-check with your own agent/editor/guru.


Also, in looking at this list, you’ll want to think about how much control you, as the author, will have over how the publisher uses these rights. There are basically three levels of input the author has over a right once it has been granted to a publisher: 1) Approval, 2) Consult, 3) None at all, baby. Approval is obviously the best and what you ideally want, but publishers can be loath to give it. You’ll generally need either precedent—in other words, a right for which you have almost always been given approval in the past—or a reeeeeeaaaally good reason they can’t weasel their way out of granting it. And sometimes both of those don’t even do the trick. Consult is the next level down, which means that the publisher is contractually obligated to discuss things with you. It does not mean that they have to do what you want or listen to what you have to say, but it does, at the very least, mean you get to sit at the table and yell if you need to. It’s not great, but we settle for it when we can—especially when the alternative is having no say whatsoever, the default for most of these rights. I’ve noted as we go through the list where you can/should/might get either consultation or approval for any of the below.




The book that all books wanna be when they grow up. Hard sides, dust jacket, pretty end pages. Hardcovers are generally the most expensive edition of the book out there, both for the publisher to produce and for the consumer to buy, and almost certainly the most lucrative from the author’s perspective, given the standard hardcover royalty percentage. It used to be that most all books started out as a hardcover, but now it is definitely not a given. It’s not generally hard to understand, but you should pay attention to the fact that “hardcover” is not the same as “hardcover reprint” or “cheap hardcover edition” or the like (see below).


Trade Paperback

Trade-paper editions are those nicer, larger-sized paperbacks that you see on the table in the middle of Barnes & Noble (if you’ve even been in one recently). These have become a new alternative standard to hardcover in “initial editions” (meaning the first edition of the book that is produced). I don’t know the statistics, but while it used to be rare for a book that wasn’t a genre novel (sci-fi, romance, etc.) to be initially published in paperback, it is now pretty common. Trade paperbacks cost more than their cheaper rivals, the mass-market paperback, so the author makes more money on them as well.


Mass-Market Paperback

Mass-market editions, also sometimes known as “rack-sized paperbacks,” are the smaller-format paperbacks you grew up with (and are often sold in airports and supermarkets). They generally occupy two specific parts of the marketplace: initial publication of certain types of genre fiction, such as romance, thrillers, mysteries, and science fiction/fantasy, or an optional third cheaper edition of a very successful title. They cost less to make and they sell at a lower price.


Omnibus/Combined Works

In my mind, an omnibus is a book or package that collects several of a single author’s works together in one volume, while a collected work includes a group of authors’ works together in the book. This distinction is a bit fuzzy and doesn’t always carry over to each publisher, but the general idea is that more than one book is put together to make a multi-book volume. Obviously these aren’t produced that often as there are only a few times when it makes sense to package an author’s books this way, but for certain series they can be a great marketing choice. This is one case in which approval is highly desired (particularly if your book is going to be combined with another author’s), and generally you can get some version of it.


Large Print/Braille

Pretty much what it says on the tin, in each case: the publisher sells special editions for people who need a large-print edition of the book or who need the book in Braille. The difference here is that while the large-print edition is generally sold for money, the Braille edition is often produced for free, and your contract will have a quick clause that says that it is okay to do so. If you have a problem with that, you probably should get a puppy or something ’cause you’re just too cranky.


Premium/Special Sales

Again, the difference between these is always a bit murky. To me, a premium edition is one produced for a specific third party (such as Barnes & Noble or Walmart), or one that comes with something extra (like a bookmark, or a toy, or something else). A special sale is a sale of the regular book to a specific third party at a special price. But again, I’ve gotten a lot of different definitions of these two over the years, and every publisher seems to have a slightly different answer. The short answer on this one is to GET APPROVAL because these are going to be weird sales in weird formats and you’re going to want to have input on them.


Book Club

A rarer breed than they used to be, book clubs are companies that offer selected books to their members at a discounted price, sometimes producing a special edition of the book for their members and sometimes not. (I myself grew up on Book of the Month Club, and my mother’s house is still full of their copies of various titles.) Authors get a smaller royalty on these sales, but the exposure is great.



This is the right to sell the U.S. edition of the book overseas, which is different from the right to produce a new edition of the book in the English language for a foreign market. The publisher doesn’t create a new version of the book, it just sells the same book somewhere else and pays you less money for it.



Audio books are pretty straightforward: someone reads the text of your book aloud and people buy the recording instead of buying the book in paper or electronic text form. There are a few tricky bits about audio, though—you want to pay attention to whether you are granting the publisher the right to do both abridged and unabridged audio recordings (and you will often have to), in which case you’ll want to ask for special approval over the script of the abridged version. This is also one of the few rights that will be exercised by the publisher itself (a direct right, remember? ) for a royalty as often as it is sublicensed to an outside audio publisher as a subsidiary right, so audio rights often appear in two places within the contract (that is, where royalties are listed and where subsidiary rights are listed). You’ll want to make sure that any changes/approvals/etc. that you have in one place apply to the other place as well. Also, these days publishers often offer two different royalty rates for audio books—one for “physical editions,” meaning the purchase of CDs, and one for digital downloads.



To be continued … Check back next week for Part 2 of “Contracts 101: List of Specific Rights” for the remainder of the list!



Disclaimer: The above is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal and/or financial advice in any way. For advice specific to your own legal, financial, or other professional matters, please contact a licensed professional in those areas. In other words: “I ain’t your lawyer, so don’t sue me.”