Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lesson 4: Subsidiary Rights

The book contract gives the publisher the exclusive right to publish your book in hardback, paperback, and maybe (as is increasingly common) as an e-book. But your dreams are bigger than that. In your mind, you have already cast Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon or Emma Watson to play your heroine when the book hits the big screen. And of course it will be picked for Oprah's book club and translated into every language from Spanish to Russian to Japanese.

These are called subsidiary rights because they are not the main reason you entered into the book contract. Common subsidiary rights include:

  • First serialization, or the right to publish all or part of the book as a series in a magazine or newspaper before the book comes out (following in Charles Dickens's footsteps);
  • Second serialization, or the right to publish all or part of the book as a series after the book comes out;
  • Movies, plays, and broadcasts;
  • Audio books;
  • Book club selections;
  • Translations and foreign sales;
  • Abridgments and condensations (think Readers Digest Condensed Books); and
  • Anthologies.
E-book rights may be either primary rights or subsidiary rights, depending on the publisher's expertise and intent in that area.

Returning to our leasing analogy, who gets to find the tenants to rent these secondary rights? And why does it matter?

A building manager who finds tenants gets paid for the service, and so does a publisher. If the book contract includes subsidiary rights, the publisher gets to keep part of the rent. So if you find the tenants or let your agent do it, you'll get a larger cut.

Still, a small cut of something is better than a large cut of nothing. If neither you nor your agent has connections in the movie industry, you may want to let the publisher find a tenant for the movie rights. The same is true for other subsidiary interests.

Your contract should list the subsidiary rights the publisher can exploit and state that any rights not on the list are yours to do with as you wish. You also want a provision that lets you look for a tenant if the publisher hasn't found one within a certain period of time. (The contract may refer to it as "selling" these rights, but we know better.) Whether you can get the publisher to agree to these provisions depends on the publisher and your bargaining strength.

But if you want to see your Great American Novel come alive on the big screen, know your subsidiary rights.

Kathryn Page Camp


  1. I really appreciate posts like these. I soak these up!

  2. Great info that I need to know and so smoothly presented -- thanks, Kathryn! :-)