Getting your rights back from a book or story has become an important issue for many writers. People often want to self-publish a book that’s been with a publisher for a few years. Maybe the publisher isn’t doing much for it any more and the writer wants to spruce it up with a new cover and give it a new lease of life. I know a writer who did so well doing this that the publisher came and asked her to sign with them again. She didn’t.
Some contracts have quite complicated provisions for rights reversion, but many will be quite simple – “X number of years from publication date”. After that, you have the option to either renew with them for Y number of years, or to take the rights back and either sell them elsewhere or publish yourself (or do nothing with them because you’re happy to see that book never available again… It happens.)
But the key is telling the publisher in time that you want the rights reverted. otherwise the autorenewal clause kicks in and you’ve lost your chance for at least another year. Some publishers might contact you in plenty of time to say the rights are coming up, do you want to renew? But not all will do that. And don’t assume that because a publisher does it once they will always do it. Don’t rely on them to do it. Only rely on yourself.
I think the best way to keep track is with an online calendar. I use the Google calendar, but there are lots of options. Having it online, rather than say local to a phone or PC means you can never lose it.
I think it needs to be a digital one, because you could be putting things in for several years ahead – and who has a paper planner for the next five years? Also an electronic calendar will send you a reminder, to your email say.
How I do mine
The publisher will likely work on month not specific date. That is, if your book came out on the 15th of August, the rights are due to expire 1st of August in the appropriate year. It’s probably easier to deal with them in batches that way for the publisher.
Check the contract for what the deadline is to tell the publisher you want to renew. Say it’s 30 days before expiry date. In the August example, set your deadline as the 1st of July. (It’s probably technically the second, but working in whole months can he easier.)
Put an entry in your electronic calendar as “Deadline for Rights for Fab Novel #1” or whatever, on 1st July.
Now set a reminder on that entry for a suitable amount of time to get your act together and decide what you want to do and, if you want to, to ask for the rights back in time for the deadline. A month, two weeks, whatever.
When some rights do come up, if you decided to renew, make sure to add in the new deadline for when they next come up.
I also keep a spreadsheet with all this info in, because a) I love spreadsheets. And b) I can use that to recreate the calendar reminders should I need to. But a spreadsheet won’t send me reminders. I could have them just in that, and set a reminder to go and check it every month. But I like the calendar reminders!
If you’re doing catch up on this, adding in entries for several books, check all the contracts to make sure you’re putting in the right dates and time before the autorenewal is due that you have to advise the publisher. It might have been 30 days with publisher X when you signed a contract with them 3 years ago. But the contract you signed last month, it might be 60 days. Check every contract!
Do that and you will never miss a rights reversion deadline.
Remember, these are your rights, so it’s your responsibility to keep track of them.