Pub Rants

Agenting 101: Part Three: Grant of Rights

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STATUS: I have to admit. I’m pretty much taking the day off but I have managed to drag myself to the computer to do this blog.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? LADY by the Little River Band

I have to say that explaining elements of publishing is the least creative writing I can think of. Why? Because it’s really not ranting—polite or otherwise—but y’all seem pretty excited so I’ll see how creative I can get with my explanation but I tend to like bullet points. Quick, easy, and to the point.

Now remember, this is a broad overview and not to meant to cover EVERY aspect. It’s just enough to give you some light working knowledge.

Isn’t it Alexander Pope who says, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”?

Please keep that in mind. Here we go. The grant of rights has two parts: 1) territory for print rights granted, and 2) other mediums where print rights can be exploited—otherwise known as subsidiary rights.


When a publisher calls to offer, basically, they need to explain where they want the right to print your work. There are several possibilities.

1. World Rights

This means that they have the right in all English-speaking territories (US, Canada, UK etc.) and that they also have the right to sell the work in translation (which means to sell the work to foreign publishers to be translated into another language).

If you are working without an agent, more than likely, the publisher will ask for World rights. This is not a bad thing—after all, they do have subsidiary rights people who can sell the work on your behalf and then you split the monies (and splits can be as good as 75/25 [75% to author and 25% to publisher] or 80/20 for UK but some publishers do 50/50 and I have seen 60/40 splits for translation).

2. World English

Publisher has the right to publish the English version throughout the world (and the main markets are US, Canada, UK, Australia)

3. North American Only

Publisher has the right to publish an English version in the US and Canada (and territories) only.

4. U.S. Only

Publisher only has the right to publish the work in the US. Author reserves rights to Canada and may sell that separately.

Subsidiary Rights

Print rights are valuable. There are many other mediums in which to exploit them. These venues are called Subsidiary rights and they can include the following:

1. Motion Picture/TV
2. Dramatic (which is plays or theater but sometimes we say Dramatic to include Movies and TV just to lump it all together)
3. radio
4. Commerical Merchandising (that’s products—like a doll or a cup holder)
4. audio
5. video
6. Calendar
7. Electronic rights (e-book)
8. Multi-media and/or interactive electronic rights (not the same thing as an e-book—and are almost always sold in conjunction with Motion Picture/TV because studios are evil and want to rule the world. Interactive e-rights could be a game made for a gameboy from your print work.)
9. US-Only Spanish Language

That’s the general explanation. Now, what most authors don’t realize is that these elements are your bargaining chips. What you will and will not give to the publisher really depends on the money being offered.

Always note that the first offer a publisher gives is never the final offer that they are willing to do. Never.

If they want all these rights, they should pay for it and increase the advance offer or the royalty percentages or something.

Now, they aren’t always open to changing the advance monies but if they aren’t, then you need to restrict the territory grant of rights and then of course, no subsidiary rights. (Hint: this is where an agent, and our years of expertise, really helps. We know what a project is worth, what publishers will pay what for it, what to hold, what to allow, where we can push).

I prefer not to give World rights (because I have a terrific foreign rights co-agent and I think we can earn the author more money selling them individually) but if the money is right, everything is negotiable in terms of territory. And if you are without an agent and want those rights exploited (and you, personally, don’t have the means), then it’s better to let the Publisher handle it.

For subsidiary rights, as a general rule, for me personally (and remember, I don’t rep all agents in the universe here), I never grant dramatic rights, merchandising, multimedia, radio, or Calendar.

E-book and Audio is all I’ll ever play with and once again, it depends on the money being offered.

Why? Most publishing houses are not equipped to really sell dramatic rights (although lately, many partnerships are being created to make this more viable), Either way, I would rather control this on behalf of the author.

As an author going forward without an agent, my recommendation to you is to never grant dramatic rights. If Hollywood comes a-calling, it’s easy enough to get an entertainment lawyer on board to help you through it. You want control over this medium and if you grant to the publisher, you’ll have no say (and trust me, it’s not like you have a lot of say to begin).

See my previous rants on Hollywood and dramatic rights.

Well, this post was as exciting as a root canal. Big grin here. If I forgot something, I’ll address it later. Onwards to tomorrow.

38 Responses

  1. E.A.Saraby said:

    Such valuable information. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it. As a aspiring author, I can see myself jumping on the first offer to publish without even looking at these things. Just the distinguishing of world rights vs the rest gives me more to chew on as I try to get my novel published. With everything you provide here, I truly have a mouthful to think about. 🙂

  2. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, thank you for bringing these things up. I just recently turned down a contract from an e-publisher because they wanted worldwide rights to every single one of the things you mentioned, plus they wanted them for the full term of copyright in every country covered under the contract (which, since they wanted foreign rights would have been all of them.) They refused to negotiate on any point, they don’t pay advances, their commission structure was on the low end for e-books, and there was no guarantee the book would ever see print. I have no idea what they thought they’d do with those rights, but from looking at the latest RWR, plenty of authors signed that contract. To me it’s kind of like an ugly woman marrying a man who insists on controlling her fortune, just because he was willing to marry her. Sorry, my baby might be ugly, but I’ll find her a better husband someday.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I guess I’m Anonymous #2–Their royalty rates on print rights are sad, and foreign rights are just pitiful. Maybe if enough people turn them down (and I hope they do) they’ll rethink their no-negotiation stance.

  4. Anonymous said:

    As long as they’re willing to take authors on, there will be authors willing to sign the contract. That’s a fact of life in this biz. They don’t know, or don’t care, that it not only hurts them, it hurts the rest of us when it’s our turn to try to negotiate.

    But, some people are really desperate.

  5. Julie said:

    I’m curious — do you often sell merchandising and calendar rights after the book is published?

    Thanks so much for educating us! I’d rather read your blog than have a root canal any day.

  6. Kiskadee said:

    Hey, you left out British and Commonwealth only, which is what would apply to us UK authors.
    You have an international readership here!

  7. Anonymous said:

    But, some people are really desperate.

    This is incredibly insulting.

    Or maybe some of us recognize that, as a small publisher with no guarantee of print, the chances of those rights being used are slim to none. Some of us also carefully read the clauses about getting out of the contract, too, should the need arise, and some of us are building careers with many publishers.

    Don’t assume anyone who signed with them (and I’m pretty sure I know who you’re talking about, they’re newly recognized by RWA) is an idiot. Some of us saw those clauses weren’t the best but decided the credit and the opportunity were worth it, perhaps because we’re writing in a subgenre that doesn’t sell much these days, or because we’re trying to build careers and are working on gaining as many credits as possible.

    Personally, they bought an older project of mine that I had thought would never sell because of some issues in the plot. I didn’t want to sell it to my other publishers because it’s different from my other work as well. So this fit me just fine. I also have confidence they will continue to grow, so my signing was partly based on that-I gambled on them.

    (By the way…I’m not a cheerleader for that pub either. I have been equally impressed and dismayed by things I’ve seen since signing with them. But to imply it was desparation that drove me, or any of their authors, to sign, is really rude and cruel.)

  8. Ryan Field said:

    You know, this is all interesting and educational. But just as vast and far-fetched (for anyone reading this blog, it seems) as a weekend on Venus. For example, I’ve been very tenacious (often pushy and sometimes obnoxious) about getting my short fiction published (short stories, from dating to erotica, with Alyson Books, Cleis Press and Starbooks Press). But the cold hard fact is when an editor calls or e-mails to say the story has been selected I know I’m giving up everything simply to get the work published. They send a contract; I sign it. And then they publish it, send me a check for between $50 and $200, plus two free copies, and sell their collection or anthology for many thousands of dollars. Just the other day I actually had an editor e-mail me to ask for my support in promoting a book that contains one of my short stories;she knows I write and contribute to many blogs and web sites…and she knows I know what I’m doing. Of course I’ll do it—I want that book READ! So, with that said, all you aspiring authors should be concentrating on getting the work published no matter what. If it’s that good, you can wheel and deal later. But it ain’t gonna happen if no one knows (or cares) who the hell you are! I simply can’t imagine, as an inknown writer, turning anyone down. There’s just too much competition and too much at stake.

  9. Ryan Field said:

    …….I wanted to add I think this blog is excellent, both as a forum and “rant” page. But guys, c’mon, any unkown writer who turns ANYONE down because they don’t like the contract (I don’t care who or what it’s for) is just plain stupid and living in a dream world. There’s an old saying in the antique business, “The only one who wanted what your grandmother had was your grandfather.” Well, that’s the same for your (collectively) writing, too.

  10. Anonymous said:

    If no one has the guts and strength of character to take a stand against unfair contracts, then fly-by-night and established publishers will continue to take advantage of authors. I mean, come on, you spent months or years writing that book. You mean to tell me you’re willing to throw it all away just so you can tell your Aunt Sadie you had a book “published?”

    If so, I know the perfect agent for you. Just check out that 10 Worst List. There will be someone on there who’s a perfect match for you.

  11. Tori Scott said:

    I’m another one who turned down that contract. While it might have been right for someone else, it wasn’t right for me. I know I’ll eventually sell to a NY publisher, probably not with this book but a new one, and I don’t want this book tied up in an unfavorable contract when an editor says, “So, what else do you have?”

  12. Anonymous said:

    If no one has the guts and strength of character to take a stand against unfair contracts, then fly-by-night and established publishers will continue to take advantage of authors. I mean, come on, you spent months or years writing that book. You mean to tell me you’re willing to throw it all away just so you can tell your Aunt Sadie you had a book “published?”

    If so, I know the perfect agent for you. Just check out that 10 Worst List. There will be someone on there who’s a perfect match for you.

    OMG you’re really a jerk, aren’t you?

    Just because the contract isn’t the best doesn’t mean the book wasn’t really published, as you implied by putting “published” in quotes. How many authors out there always signed wonderful, completely author-friendly contracts?

    Do you really think any publisher cares that much if an author turns the contract down? Have you read some of Kristin’s early blogs about publishers insisting on clauses that agents and authors hate-but since if you want to be published, your options are finite, agents are being forced to accept some of these terms?

    Must be nice to know that your book is so amazingly good that you can hold out until a publisher agrees to massage your feet and cook your meals in addition to everything else. The rest of us, who are just trying to build a catalog and a name, and who know that most authors don’t have a lot of power or huge sales until they have several books under our belts, have to be practical. (We also tend to think of a finished book that hasn’t sold as a liability. We also try not to get our egos so wrapped up in our work that we think publishers will bend over backwards for us.)

  13. Bernita said:

    Dear me, is 7:49 Anon another of those ready and willing to hold the coats of those in the front line?
    One of the very brave from the back of the hall?

  14. Anonymous said:

    Hey, if you don’t have confidence that your book is good enough for the “big boys” then by all means sell it to the cheapest bidder.

    All I’m saying is that you hurt everyone’s chances of getting a better deal when you sell out by agreeing to terms that suck.

  15. Diana Peterfreund said:

    You know, this is all interesting and educational. But just as vast and far-fetched (for anyone reading this blog, it seems) as a weekend on Venus.

    Not so. Anyone who sells a novel is going to be dealing with this. And there are a lot of people who read this blog who are about to sell novels, or already have. Even those of us with agents have much to learn from these explanations — it’s good to know what the various terms that your agent is going to be negotiating MEAN.

    (Calendar and such subsidiaries, I’ve learned, tend to be packaged in the merchandising rights that a film studio will option. You want to keep them. I know a writer whose series has NOT been optioned for film because her publisher is holding the merchandising rights hostage.)

    As for the other charge — that an unpublished writer’s job is to take any contract offered, no matter what — I strongly disagree.

    I was certainly willing to hold out for the kind of book contract I wanted. I specifically did not submit to houses whose contracts were of a nature I knew would not appeal to me. Could I have been published earlier if I didn’t hold these standards? Certainly.

    So, there are PLENTY of people reading this blog to whom the subject of negotiating contracts is actually an important one and who have and will continue to act in a manner which is good for their business, even if it means that their books do not appear in print as quickly.

    I don’t attack other people for their choices — everyone has their own reasons and publishing preference. Just because I did not wish to self-publish or publish with an ebook only small press does not mean that those who do are wrong. They just aren’t choosing the way I would, or did.

    I’m not stupid, and I was not living in a dream world. I knew what I wanted for my career and I was willing to be patient until I got it. And I did get it, including the rights package I wanted.

    Publishing is always a compromise, but that does not mean that you must always be the one to give.

  16. kis said:

    I think the main thing, really, for all those angry anons out there, is that unless you’re Dan Brown post-DaVinci, you’re not gonna get the deal of your dreams.

    I’m prepared to take what I can get money-wise on my first book or two, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to bend over for the publisher, either. There are more important things than money, IMO, and one of them is the feeling that the house is doing the book justice. I care more about things like the size of marketing budgets and print-runs than the size of my advance.

    Anon 9:45, I don’t have unrealistic expectations, but I’m not out to get screwed, either.

  17. Jana DeLeon said:

    Consider these two deals that I know of from a NY publisher for first-time authors:

    Author A has an agent – got a $3000 advance, 6% royalty and some other spiffs including some marketing dollars.

    Author B had no agent and swore she could “do it all herself.” She got a $500 advance and a 2% royalty. Period. End of story.

    Is this fair of the publisher? No, and a bit unethical in my opinion. But ultimately, the blame lies on Author B for letting it happen.

    If the publisher wants your story, they are willing to be fair about the cost. You may have to twist their arms a bit – and you should never expect more than what anyone else in your position is getting, but in this case, equal would definitely have been better.

  18. Sara Reinke said:

    I think everyone should settle down. Feelings are getting hurt, and I know that’s not Kristin’s intention with this blog.

    For anyone who has never been offered a publishing contract before, it’s a very exciting thing — and as Kristin has pointed out in her posts, you can easily become overwhelmed in the moment and walk away with a contract that isn’t in your best interest as an author. This doesn’t make the publisher the bad guy by any means, or the writer who accepts the deal an idiot. It’s business.

    I’ll repeat that — it’s BUSINESS. There’s no need for personal affronts here. This is an educational forum. Everyone’s definition of writing success is different. We shouldn’t be at each other’s throats because some have chosen such-and-such a publisher when someone else wouldn’t. We’re all in the same boat, and to take this discussion and turn it into personal attacks is insulting to Kristin and her purpose in offering the information.

    So, hey, play nice, kids.

  19. Ryan Field said:

    You know, anon, when I was speaking of unfair contracts I wasn’t speaking of croooked, small time publishers you find on the web, with bad reputations…I was speaking of well known publishers, with excellent reputations, who have the ability get my fiction into the bookstores. I don’t care what they pay…just get me into BOMC catalogues and the stores. It’s a tough business, with much competition, and it’s not a group effort. WE (writers) work alone. Period. Personally, while I wish you the best, I’d kick you down the street to get my fiction published over yours…and that’s just instinct and honesty speaking. I’d expect you to do the same to me as well. That’s a fact of life. I was editor for a very well known publication group who put out magazines like ASTROLOGY YOUR DAILY HOROSCOPE and the like. This was publishing bootcamp! And the writers were always the last to get paid…and they got paid the least, too. You want to wheel and deal? Your book better be FANTASTIC. Or you’re living in a dream world.

  20. Ryan Field said:

    As for the Peterfruend comment. There’s no argument with anything you’ve said. However, the tenacity it takes for any writer to simply get a short story published is beyond belief for most people (sometimes is simply comes down to luck). Just last month I sold a short story to Cleis Press, and the editor sent me a revision. He didn’t just “tighten and edit”; he changed content to the point where the story lost all of my voice. In that case I turned down the contract. But, later that week, I sold the same story to a competitor who didn’t change a word. And, though sad, most shouldn’t be trying to do it in the first place. Between writing and reviewing blogs, I also have a small editorial serivce, Rainbow Editorial. I follow canon eithics, always remain objective and refuse to write query letters or do submissions for payment. Just editing. And most of those whom I edit are only fooling themselves, yet they, too, believe their work is the best…to the point where I’ve actually seen some turn down publishers because they believed the contract wasn’t fair. When in reality they should have jumped at the chance for anyone to publish them. I also review web sites and blogs…most of which are awful, self-indulgent pages filled with limited talent at best. You happen to be a good writer, who has found a niche…most aren’t that fortunate.

  21. Anonymous said:

    RF said:Personally, while I wish you the best, I’d kick you down the street to get my fiction published over yours…and that’s just instinct and honesty speaking.

    Personally, while I think you are a looney, I’d bet you grade school report cards said “doesn’t play well with others.”
    Is your writing so substandard that you have to “personally” assault other?

  22. Anonymous said:

    I’m anonymous #4, the one who accepted the contract and thinks the people who expect me to turn down sales in order to make their futures easier are insulting, and I just want to say for the record that the anon above was NOT me.

    Unlike the other anons, I don’t judge the choices made by other writers.

    I also think Ryan is spot-on, btw.

  23. kis said:

    Yeah, I think Ryan’s got it right. No matter how close you are in a commmunity of writers, it’s your own writing you care about most, and that’s as it should be. And as far as kicking anyone down the street, I believe he was using a literary device known in some circles as “metaphor.”

  24. Anonymous said:

    I’m Anon #2…there are better epubulishers out there with better contracts (and better covers!) who will negotiate–heck even NY publishers negotiate!

    Yes compromise is inevitable but being taken advantage of is a whole nother matter. Sadly one of the Anon’s is right, for every author who turns down that contract because they know it’s not in their best interest, there’ll be 10 more ready to step up and sign. I’ve epubbed, I’ve sold to NY and I’ve sold short stories, but even if I hadn’t already sold to NY, I’d still have turned that contract down.

  25. Ryan Field said:

    Dear Anon….You’re right; my report card always said, “Doesn’t work well with others.” That’s why I’m a writer. And, the comment about kicking someone down the street is a metaphor, deary….when you say one thing but mean another. Go look it up. And, by the way, who could trust a writer who’s unwilling to sign something, Anonymous?

  26. Anonymous said:

    Hmmmm . . .
    I’m a writer because I like to write.
    The SF field has a concept of “paying it forward” where pros help new writers. I was shocked to read that someone would, metaphorically or otherwise, do harm to another writer or their work.
    RE:metaphor — so you won’t kick me? What did you mean to say?
    While you have your dictionary out, look up “ad hominem.”

    Anon 10:53am

  27. kis said:

    Paying it forward does not mean sitting back hugging your manuscript and passing on an opportunity so that some newbie can get his stuff published instead. Anyone (even SFF writers like me, who tend to live in a fantasy world) could tell you that writing is a competitive business.

    Perhaps the “kicking down the street” metaphor was harsh. Maybe more along the lines of “racing someone to the elevator.” RF’s not gonna run slower or hold the door and let the other guy through first, now, is he? And neither will you, I’m guessing.

  28. Ryan Field said:

    Didn’t think I’d write again on this comment page, however…Thanks kis, “racing to the elevator” is probably a better metaphor. It sounds to me as though anon @ 10:53 simply doesn’t have much experience, and will learn the ropes in time. Competition has nothing to do with “Paying it forward” (besides, while I strongly believe in Karma, both good and bad, I don’t hold well with cliches…another hint of inexperience for anon @ 10:53). I’m on many private “calls for submission” lists, and I don’t pass them around to other writers. Why on earth would I want to increase the competition against my own work? It took long hours of work, of learning what editors want, to get on these lists. No one was there to “Pay it forward” (ugh!) to me. I didn’t expect it either. My original point was that I believe new writers (not those who are established…published with at least one book that actually sold in numbers) should do whatever they need to do in order to get published and get the work out into the universe. And if you’ve managed to sell a book without an agent (and I don’t believe this can happen often nowadays)you must be pretty specatular. I was questioning the blog entry itself. While it’s valid and important information for established writers, I think it’s a bit presumptuous and self-indulgent for new writers to actually believe they can turn down anyone who is willing to publish their work. Learn to write a good query letter, learn how to pitch, learn how to get the attention of Kristen’s assistant (who is the one, according to this blog, who picks and chooses the best queries)and learn how to write what they want so you can get published. And then, if you’re actually lucky enough to sell it without an agent, learn how to make book deals.

  29. Catja (green_knight) said:

    If you’re going into business in any other field, you get told a few truths – and among them is ‘don’t sell yourself short.’

    Do you homework. Work out how much you need to charge for your work. If you can’t sell for a reasonable amount, don’t make the deal.

    Writers are told – by some – ‘oh, just accept any contract, you’re lucky to get one.’

    Can anyone spot what’s wrong with this picture?

  30. abass said:

    Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.