London Book Fair Seminars: Legal and Contracts

document-428334_1280I went to the Know Your Rights: Legal and Contracts seminar panelled by Nicola Solomon, Alex Hardy, Lorella Belli, and Joanna Penn. The panel discussed how authors, self-published or otherwise, can protect their rights and get the most out of contracts with publishers and agents.

Here are some of the highlights from the discussion:

  • authors should never pay an agent who has not sold the work
  • rights are like slices of a cake: sell the right slice to the right person or company who will make the most of it (ie don’t give your international rights to a publisher who doesn’t work internationally)
  • everything is negotiable
  • you can also think of rights as a house you own: you can sell the entire house, you can rent the entire house for a period of time, or you can rent out particular rooms

Discussion: Selling Your Cake Slices

Before this panel, I had never considered the possibility that a publisher would buy rights for a work but then not take advantage of that opportunity. It seems utterly ridiculous to pay for the audio rights or ebook rights but then not even attempt to create an audio book or ebook. Yet publishers apparently do this all the time, particularly with audio rights.

In the seminar, the panellists strongly encouraged authors to question publishers during negotiations and demand to know how the publisher plans on utilising the rights they want to buy. If the publisher hasn’t come up with a solid plan for producing valuable content with the right, then the author is better off retaining that right for someone who will actually use it. I have to agree with the panel on this point, but I think it is a shame that an author has to question a publisher about this at all; publishers should not be buying rights they do not intend to use. It’s bad for the author, it’s bad for the publisher, and it’s bad for the work all around.

Why do you think publishers buy rights they don’t intend to use? Do you think if an author has sold rights to a publisher, but that publisher has not done anything with those rights, that the publisher is in breach of contract and the author should be able to get their rights back? Be sure to leave your comments below.


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