As promised (albeit a little late): the second half of our discussion of the specific rights granted in a standard book contract. (For all you newcomers, check out Part 1 for the first half of the list.) Again, I’ve noted throughout where you can/should/might get either consultation or approval for any of the rights listed below.





First Serial

First-serial rights are “the publication of a portion of the work in a periodical before publication”—for example, when The New Yorker prints the first five pages of your novel before the book goes on sale. It is a GREAT publicity tool and in very rare occasions can be quite lucrative. Generally, agents assume that the standard income split on first serial is 90% to the author and 10% to the publisher, although publishers will sometimes disagree. We try to get consultation on this when we can.


Second Serial, Abridgements, Condensations

Each of these rights deal with the use of a portion of your book in other publications after initial publication—e.g., magazines, Reader’s Digest, other books, wherever. Our concern with these rights is to ensure that, whenever possible, you as the author have the right to approve the selection of, and the condensing done to, your book. However, you generally will only get consultation (at best!) of anything else concerning these rights.



While we can’t get approval to use part of your book in, say, a magazine after initial publication, we often can get approval to use part of your book in an anthology. Don’t ask me why.



When someone wants to use a small portion of your book verbatim in their own book, they need to get your permission, sign a form, and pay a fee (usually, but not always, a small fee). How permissions differ from something like a second-serial excerpt usually comes down to who benefits from the use. Someone seeking a permission from you needs you to say that it is okay for them to use your words, but you don’t really get much out of it except for the fee. A serial use or abridgement, as mentioned above, is really more about getting the work out there and publicizing it for your benefit (and your name will be more prominently displayed). At the end of the day, however, they’re all about someone using a bit of your work and you getting a bit of money for it.


Hardcover Reprint/Sublicense

Sometimes publishers will produce a hardcover edition of the book later on down after initial publication. Sometimes they do this because the book is a huge bestseller and they never did a hardcover edition originally and they wanna make some money. Other times they want to do a cheaper hardcover edition to market the book to a new audience. And sometimes they just think it’s a good idea for goodness knows what reason. The point here is that doing a hardcover edition out of sequence (that is, later than the original publication) means that something unusual is going on, and my main M.O. for ANYTHING that can be considered a potential future unknown is to get approval over it. On this one, I often (but not always) can get publishers to agree.


Paperback Reprint/Sublicense

Different from a hardcover reprint, publication of a paperback reprint is not so unusual. Repackaging the book with a new cover, a new format, or anything else that marketing thinks might make the book sell, is pretty standard, and consult is fine. (As a side note, historically paperbacks were very often sublicensed to paperback publishers, and most sales of paperbacks were through subrights. Now, however, most all major publishers have a paperback division, and so these paperback sublicenses are a lot rarer than they used to be.)


U.K., British Commonwealth, English-Language Publication Outside the U.S./Canada

When a U.S. publisher buys the right to publish your book worldwide, it is going to have to make a choice about what to do about the other big English-language markets—namely, the United Kingdom and Australia/New Zealand. They can do one of three things: 1) simply sell their regular edition (that’s the export royalty we talked about in Part 1), 2) have their U.K. and/or Australian subsidiary create its own edition (that is, if you’ve got a book with Random House U.S., they can decide that Random House U.K. will publish its own edition), or 3) sublicense the right to publish the book with another publisher altogether as a subright. Unlike most subrights income that is split 50/50 between the author and publisher, we as agents always hope to see 80% of it going to the author.



This is the right to sell your book in other languages. This seems simple enough, but it can get tricky due to the way people talk about it. Always remember that when we’re talking translation rights, we’re talking about the right to sell the work in a language, not (usually) in a place. For example, when we say we’ve sold German rights, this means we’ve sold the right to publish the book in the German language all over the world (including in Germany); it has nothing at all to do with selling the book in the English language in Germany (something that would have been decided much earlier). To complicate matters further, however, there are a few languages that sell language AND territory together, most specifically Spanish and Portuguese. What this means is that you can have different sales for the same language, such as a sale for Portuguese in Brazil and Portuguese in Europe. For the most part, though, one language deal works for the whole world—just remember: you’re selling the language, not the country (usually).



Action figures. Stuffed animals. Legos. A rhinestone necklace just like your heroine wore when she was whisked off to the secret mountain lair, blah blah blah. Basically, these are the rights to make any little piece of anything based off of the book, usually out of plastic. As mentioned in an earlier post (“Contracts 101: Which Rights to Fight For (and Why)“), whenever possible, do not sell these to a publisher if you plan on keeping film/TV rights because a film studio wants these rights in their hot little hands.


Paper Products

Paper products are actually a subset of the commercial and merchandising rights discussed above, but specifically the ones in paper. Notebooks, journals, bookmarks, calendars—that sort of thing. Not all publishers will pull out paper products as a subset of commercial/merchandising rights, but if they do, it can be a good compromise to give a publisher the right to produce merchandise that they may actually create (like a calendar), but reserve the action figures for a film studio. Usually (but not always) film producers won’t care that these rights are already gone, so it won’t get in the way of your potential film deal (ha-ha), and thus everyone wins.


Dramatic/Performance/Film, TV, Stage

They’ll call these any number of names, but you know what these are. You dream about selling these. Most likely, however, the closest you’ll ever come is to sell an option on these rights, and not the rights entirely, but that, my dears, is a topic for another day.



You might notice that there is one very glaring omission from this list—the dreaded Digital/Electronic/e-book/Whateverwe’recalling’emthisweek Rights. That’s because it’s too big and too controversial a subject to include in a mere list o’ publishing rights. Stay tuned for a special, in-depth look at the world of Electronic Rights in another post, just as soon as I find someone to explain them to me.



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.”