Know Your Author Rights

It’s an exciting time when a publisher accepts an author’s manuscript. However, with the celebration comes a contract that discusses ownership rights. Authors and potential authors may wonder what rights to retain and what rights to grant to publishers. Before you make any hasty decisions, you first need to know a little more about ownership rights.

Photo by Albertus Galileo on Unsplash

Copyright laws legally protect original works from being reproduced and credited to other people. When you create a new work, you automatically own the rights to it. These rights include the right to distribute, reproduce, publicly display, and modify the original work.

When you begin a partnership with a publisher, these rights will shift around a bit. Ideally, a publisher will specify the rights they intend to buy. Sometimes, though, the contracts are ambiguous or unclear, often with stipulations for rights muddled by intimidating legal terms. Have no fear! If you do your research about ownership rights, you will be in a better position to retain certain rights to your manuscript and create a beneficial partnership with the publisher.

There are a variety of rights you may negotiate to retain for yourself or grant to your publisher. These rights include first serial rights, one-time rights, and second serial rights.

First serial rights mean the publisher can publish the manuscript for the first time, but all other rights remain with the author. One-time rights mean the publisher purchases the right to publish the manuscript one time. There is nothing stopping the author from selling the work to other publications at the same time. Second serial rights mean you grant a publisher the right to publish the manuscript after it has already appeared in another publication.

The most important rights to be wary of are “all rights.” The publishers’ contract may stipulate that authors sign over all rights to their works. This means your work no longer belongs to you; instead, the publisher owns it and you can’t use it again without their permission. Try to avoid signing contracts with these “all rights” clauses. Instead, negotiate with the publisher for serial rights or one-time rights, which are more beneficial because you may want to revisit your work later.

It’s important to know what ownership rights are available to you, but you may have the daunting task of picking apart the contract to make sure you’ve received a fair deal. You don’t want the experience that many others have unfortunately had. They find themselves in a sticky situation with no rights to their books, a poor relationship with their publisher, and very little success. It’s beneficial to seek assistance from authors who have already worked on contract agreements and can offer insight. It is also recommended to seek legal counsel or someone certified in copyright law to offer advice.

As an author, it’s important to research ownership rights so that you understand what rights will fit your manuscript best. Once you’ve received advice about contracts and picked the contract apart, try to negotiate with your publisher before signing. If you can’t agree on the terms, it may be best to find another publisher who can better meet your needs.

Remember, publishers want your book to be successful, so work with publishers that make you feel comfortable and confident in where your partnership will take you!

This is the first post in a three-part series on navigating book marketing. Check back on September 14 for “Successfully Marketing a Book: An Author’s Role” and September 21 for “Literary Agents: Finding the Best Fit”.

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