Your book can be so much more than just a book!
The publishing industry has been ‘exploiting’ (their word!) the rights of authors for many years, but as indies we can now start to exploit our own and make the most of our intellectual property. In today’s interview, Orna Ross explains the different rights related to your work.
In the intro, I mention the launch of my new book, How To Market a Book.
Orna Ross is the bestselling author of literary fiction, as well as writing non-fiction books on creativity and author guides to the industry. Orna is also the Director and Founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
- Why Orna knows so much about this stuff! She has worked on every side of publishing for nearly 20 years. She started as a journalist and then moved into book publishing with a small press non-fiction book. She had fiction traditionally published and then opened a writing school, which then led to represent authors as a literary agent. Then she started to self-publish and champion indie authors.
On copyright and piracy
- Copyright belongs to the writer and is granted as a protection for writers. It remains with the producer of the work and it is in the expression, not the idea. You can’t copyright an idea or a book title. What we license is the right to get some money for this work for a particular term (how long), and for a particular amount of return (how much). Copyright is yours on creation of the work, and you don’t need to register the work or mail your manuscript to yourself. It is a passive right and the power lies in the fact it exists. It’s unlikely you will take people to court over piracy, and in fact, we talk about authors like Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow and Paulo Coelho who have used piracy as a marketing mechanism, as well as Tim Ferriss launching on BitTorrent. Piracy is not the issue, obscurity is.
On exploiting rights yourself as the author
- In traditional publishing, it is the publisher’s job to get as many rights as possible, but they don’t always exploit them. It’s the agent’s job to sell as many rights, and get them exploited, as this brings in more income for the author. Limiting the terms is also critical so you can get your rights back eventually. But now, in a fast-changing world, indie authors can sell rights themselves. The book is just a starting point.
- Both Orna and I favour a hybrid model, where an author sells rights if appropriate and weighs up each decision per book. It’s always important to put a time limit on it though. The reversion clause is critical with trade deals. Make sure you have your exit worked out, so that if it doesn’t go so well, you can self-publish later. Many authors currently doing really well have a backlist of books they have the rights back to.
Short Story Rights
- Short stories are magical. Serial rights can go to the publication e.g. magazine and you can even sell second serial rights. You can also sell anthology rights and also sell the story yourself as a short story collection. I’ve done this recently with a series of stories for Kobo based around Dante’s Inferno. You can find ‘A Thousand Fiendish Angels’ here. This is a very fair contract and shows how dedicated to authors Kobo is.
- We can all do print and ebook publishing in our own languages. That’s easy these days, but getting into audio is the next big step and it is starting to become accessible to authors. In the past, it has been very expensive but now ACX.com, Audible’s Creation Exchange, makes it possible for authors to collaborate in audio projects with narrators and producers. Orna visited the ACX studios in Newark and saw first hand how Audible are creating audiobooks faster and for lower costs. [As of June 2013, ACX was still only for US authors but hopefully they will open up globally over time.]
- I have recently signed with Gryphonwood, a small press to go through ACX using brilliant voice talent, Veronica Giguere. Pentecost is already available on Audible and Prophecy is under development now. Although I received no ‘advance’, we all receive royalties over time, as joint venture partners in the project, and I haven’t had to pay anything upfront or do anything to produce the work. It’s a win:win as far as I am concerned. This entrepreneurial JV approach is most likely the best way for indies to get their rights exploited.
- These rights last 70 years after the death of the creator, so these are long term rights and you have to think about long-term income. It is truly magical because you are creating assets that continue to earn money your whole life and after you die. AMAZING! So stop being obsessed with that short term sales spike and consider the long-term. “Short-term-ism is the death of the artist.” Focus on creating a body of work that you are proud of. I mention Iain Banks, who recently died young but left an amazing legacy.
Foreign language rights
- Unless you’re bi-lingual, you’re unlikely to be creating books in languages other than your own. You can sell your foreign rights but you can also work directly with translators. I’ve been obsessed with getting my ARKANE books into German, as that is a big market (81 million) who also love thrillers like the ones I write. In the last week, I have started a process of working with a German translator to take that forward.
- A collaborative partnership is what you want, with something in writing, but the contract should only be wielded when things go wrong. It should be simple and explain exactly who is loading the book, where the money goes first, how it is split and how it all works practically. I’m very keen to work in 50/50 joint ventures with translators and am actively looking for partners to work with. [Please do contact me if you are a translator, especially for Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin or Hindi!]
- On language vs physical territories e.g. Spanish translation can be for Spain, South American countries and Spanish in all other languages. The general aim is to keep rights as small as possible so contain it by language and territory. You should also try NOT to sell World English, and aim to sell per territory e.g. North America or North America print English. These rights can break down into smaller and smaller chunks.
When is it worth using an agent for these rights?
- Many agents won’t work on just these sub-rights. It has to be worth their while. Orna mentions PubMatch, the Publisher’s Weekly translation rights service. The Alliance has used an agent for foreign rights but most deals haven’t been big enough to be worth negotiation. But basically, you can get these deals without the traditional agent situation. Yes, it can help, but you can also do this as an indie, and it is happening more and more often. Because the deals we can make are more worthwhile at this smaller scale.
- You probably still need an agent for film rights, since this world is quite different, especially if you are going bigger than a local company. But everything else is becoming more and more possible. It’s an exciting time!
- Orna talks about the Alliance of Independent Authors, which educates and advocates for indie authors. I am a very happy member and particularly enjoy the Facebook group where we share what works and help each other with questions. Orna talks about how excited she is about the self-publishing revolution and how it is transforming the industry. She wants to be in the centre of the revolution! It’s a great way to network with other authors, find friends and hear about successes as well as learning from each other. I mention how isolated I felt at the beginning of my own author journey and how this is a great network to start with.
- Orna talks about how she balances her time between creativity and creation and also the social/email/business side. She needs the entrepreneurial side (as do I!) She does have some books coming out on creativity later this year, including one on free writing and also meditation and developing your creative intelligence.
You can find Orna at OrnaRoss.com and her books at all online bookstores. Her creative blog is HowToGoCreative.com. Her latest novel is ‘Blue Mercy‘, brilliant literary fiction, and she is also on twitter @OrnaRoss.
You can find the Alliance blog at SelfPublishingAdvice.org
Please do leave any questions or comments below, as this is a hugely important topic for authors.