How to Request Rights Reversion From Your Publisher

Partly in connection with the controversy surrounding troubled publisher Ellora’s Cave, I’ve been getting questions about how to go about requesting rights reversion from one’s publisher.

There’s no official format for a rights reversion request, and if you do a websearch on “rights reversion request” you can find various pieces of advice from authors and others. Here’s the procedure I’d suggest. (Note that I’m not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice.)

First of all, if you have a competent agent, ask your agent to handle it. Especially if you’re with a larger publisher, your agent is more likely to know exactly whom to contact, and in a better position to push for a response.

If you don’t have an agent, or if your agent is not very competent or not very responsive:

1. Look through your contract to find the rights reversion or termination language. Sometimes this is a separate clause; sometimes it’s included in other clauses. See if there are stipulations for when and how you can request your rights back. For example, a book may become eligible for rights reversion once sales numbers or sales income fall below a stated minimum.

The ideal reversion language is precise (“Fewer than 100 copies sold in the previous 12 consecutive months”) and makes reversion automatic on request, once stipulations are fulfilled. Unfortunately, reversion language is often far from ideal. Your contract may impose a blackout period (you can’t request reversion until X amount of time after your pub date), a waiting period after the reversion request (the publisher has X number of months to comply, during which time your book remains on sale), or provide the publisher with an escape mechanism (it doesn’t have to revert if it publishes or licenses a new edition within 6 months of your request).

Worse, your contract may not include any objective standards for termination and reversion, leaving the decision entirely to the publisher’s discretion; or it may include antiquated standards (“The book shall not be considered out of print as long as it is available for sale through the regular channels of the book trade”–meaningful in the days when books were physical objects only and print runs could be exhausted, but useless for today’s digital reality).

It’s also possible that your contract may not include any reversion language at all. This is often the case with limited-term contracts, so if your contract is one of those, you may just have to wait things out. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen life-of-copyright contracts with no reversion language. This is a big red flag: a life-of copyright contract should always be balanced with precise reversion language.

2. Begin your reversion request by stating your name, the title(s) of your book(s), your pub date(s), and your contract signing date(s). I don’t think there’s any need to create separate requests if you’re requesting reversion on more than one book; but there are those who disagree.

3. If you do meet your contract’s reversion stipulations, indicate how you do (“Between August 1, 2013 and July 31, 2014, Title X sold 98 copies”) and state that per the provisions of your contract, you’re requesting that your rights be reverted to you. If the contract provides a specific procedure for making the reversion request, follow this exactly.

4. If you don’t meet your contract’s reversion stipulations, if reversion is at the publisher’s discretion, or if your contract has no reversion language, simply request that the publisher terminate the contract and return your rights to you. If there’s an objective reason you can cite–low sales, for instance, or your own inability to promote the book–do so, even if those reasons are not mentioned in the contract as a condition of reversion.

5. DO: be polite, businesslike, and succinct.

6. DON’T: mention the problems the publisher may be having, the problems you’ve had with the publisher, problems other authors have had, online chatter, news coverage, lawsuits, or anything else negative. As much as you may be tempted to vent your anger, resentment, or fear, rubbing the publisher’s nose in its own mistakes amd failures will alienate it, and might cause it to decide to punish you by refusing your request or just refusing to respond. Again: keep it professional and businesslike.

7. Request that the publisher provide you with a reversion letter. Certain contract provisions (such as the author’s warranties) and any outstanding third-party licenses will survive contract termination. Also, publishers typically claim copyright on cover art and on a book’s interior
format (i.e., you couldn’t just re-publish a scanned version of the
book), and the right to sell off any printed copies that exist at the time of reversion (with royalties
going to you as usual). Some publishers are starting to claim copyright on metadata (which they define not just as ISBNs and catalog data, but back cover copy and advertising copy).

I’ve also seen publishers claim copyright on editing (which means they’d revert rights only to the originally-submitted manuscript). This is ridiculous and unprofessional. For one thing, it provides no benefit to the publisher–what difference does it make if an author re-publishes the final version of a book from which the publisher has already received the first-rights benefit? For another, if edits are eligible for copyright at all, copyright would belong to the editor, not the publisher. If you find a copyright claim on editing in a publishing contract, consider it a red flag. If the publisher makes this claim without a contractual basis–as some publishers do–feel free to ignore it.

To give you an idea of what an official reversion letter looks like, here’s a screenshot of one of mine.

Reversion letter

8. If the publisher registered your copyright, ask for the original certificate of copyright. Smaller publishers often don’t register authors’ copyrights–again, check your contract, and double-check by searching on your book at the US Copyright Office’s Copyright Catalog.

9. Send the request by email and, if you have the publisher’s physical address, by snail mail, return receipt requested.

Hopefully your publisher will comply with your reversion request. But there are many ways in which a publisher can stall or dodge, from claiming that your records are wrong to simply not responding. If that happens, there’s not much you can do, apart from being persistent, or deciding to take legal action–though that’s an expensive option.

One last thing: a publisher should not put a price on rights reversion. Charging a fee for reversion or contract termination is a nasty way for a publisher to make a quick buck as a writer goes out the door. A termination fee in a publishing contract is a red flag (for more on why, see my blog post). And attempting to levy a fee that’s not included in the contract is truly disgraceful.


  1. J. Jaden,

    Please email me at I'm hearing disturbing things about Red Sage and would like to know more. All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence. Thank you.

  2. Make sure there is reversion language. I signed with Red Sage in December 2014 and they didn't publish my book until November of 2016. It was already edited. I already had a hard copy. I just wanted them to help with marketing. They never did. When they published, they only created an ebook. I've begged for hard copies at my expense. I've asked several times to cancel the contract or for me to buy my rights back. They refused. They're holding my book hostage and have sold 3 copies since November 2016, two of those to myself and a friend. Yesterday Red Sage said they NEVER return rights to the author. They stole my book. Has anyone successfully reverted rights from Red Sage or similar shark publishers?

  3. Unknown 3/12,

    Just changing the title and doing some revisions don't make a book a new product, and don't get you around the legalities of an existing in-force contract. The problem isn't just that your current publisher might take action against you if you re-publish your book without first getting your rights back, but that a new publisher will not be happy to discover that they've published a book to which the author doesn't have the unencumbered rights. Self-publishing platforms also require you to warrant that you have the unencumbered right to publish–and if there's an in-force contract for the book, you don't.

    I do sympathize with your situation. A non-responsive publisher puts the author in a terrible position–which the publisher probably knows. But as painful and frustrating as it may be to leave your book with this publisher if it doesn't cooperate with you, I would urge you not to resort to dodgy work-arounds.

  4. I asked them in email and they are not responding. I am thinking of cutting off them and come up with a new title. And some changes in the content. Is that ok ?

  5. Anonymous 4/20,

    Email me: beware [at] If I know who this publisher is and more about the situation, I may be able to give you some advice.

  6. I've asked for my rights on Feb 17th. I was told later in February that my rights would be return by the end of the following week. Well tomorrow will make 9 weeks. She only contacted me that one time. I have written 7-8 times and have written on her FB page in FB email and LinkedIn email since I know if they open it but I also know there is no way for me to know if she read it. I will be calling on Monday and sending a certified letter next week asking again. I think at this point I either wait it our, though she is avoiding me, or get a lawyer I can't afford. I have two books with her. The third is ready to be picked up and the fourth is being written. No publisher will pick up those two books if I can't offer the first two. I feel in limb, frustrated, upset and now just ticked.

    I been polite and respectful in every single email I have sent, don't burn the bridge until you cross kind of thing, but just not getting anyway.

    Just at a lost and feel stuck.

  7. Thanks for the information in this article.
    I've been trying to get rights reverted for several children's books, illustrations and text, from 2 of the big UK publishing houses and they are being far from helpful. Now 11 months on since I first requested the reversions, and the contracts clearly state rights are ours to claim due to no sales and books out of print (pre digital age contracts and no digital rights granted).
    It is a long process and so frustrating when their contracts team decide not to reply to communications even when we have been polite and clear in our requests at all times. We have used email, recorded letter and phone calls to voice mail. Beginning to think a legal advisor might be our only way forward. Sigh…

  8. RE Victoria Vane's breach problem, another resource is the National Writers Union ( Their grievance officers take on problems of this kind and resolve about 3/4 of them in the writer's favor. The service is free to members.

  9. RE publishers claiming copyright on editing. It could be valid.

    Edits can be copyrighted if they are substantial and creative (indexes too). When I was a textbook editor years ago, I sometimes wrote substantial parts of books, especially auxiliary parts like homework assignments, sidebars, summaries, and such. These would clearly be copyrightable in themselves.

    As for who would own the rights to the edits, if the editor is the publisher's employee, the rights would belong to the publisher, not the editor.

  10. Anonymous 2/09/17,

    The Author Solutions agreements that I've seen allow you to terminate at will, so you should be able to just follow whatever cancellation instructions are in your agreement and after whatever grace period they require (I think it's 30 days), you'll be free and clear.

    They send notices out to retailers and printers within 30 days to cease printing, selling, etc. However, they retain a "post termination transition license" that allows them 90 days after termination to keep selling your book. This isn't so much to rip you off (they are required to pay you royalties for any sales during this period) but to cover their butts if any retailer is slow about de-listing your book. (In current AS agreements, the clause covering this is 6.3.)

  11. Hi Victoria!

    I had my book published in 2015 via an imprint of Author Solutions. The sales have been dismal and no revenue was generated. My contract said nothing about reversion, but it stated that "you are the sole copyright owner". Can I request my publisher to release me from my contract and take the book off market?

    And, if released, will they stop printing the book? I don't want online sellers to be selling my book other than from whatever inventory they have left?

    Thank you!

  12. bettrader, this is not the best way for me to answer your questions–please contact me via email, letting me know the name of the publisher as well as your entire experience with them. beware [at] . Thanks!

  13. Contacted publisher, but hasn't responded. hmmm, what is the time frame to take a book off the market? How much more time should I give them? I can't revise the book and release it, if they keep printing the old version. ?

  14. Hmm I think they do print runs…really dunno. They say they will contact me when its sorted…But am going to keep asking as they may not be telling me. Dont like publishers being so incompetent.

  15. bettrader,

    In the pre-digital age, "out of print" had a literal meaning; now it's just a term to indicate a book that is no longer being produced or sold by the publisher.

    It's good that the publisher seems to be responding to your request. But if any books were sold between the time your rights reverted and the time they officially took the book off sale, they owe you royalties. You need to demand an accounting–and payment, if payment is due.

    Digital files (ebooks and print-on-demand books) have no physical existence, so once an author's rights revert, no more should be sold. On the other hand, if a publisher has actually done a print run, and has print books on hand when rights revert to the author, they can sell them until stock is exhausted–but they can't print any more, and they must pay royalties on all sales (many small presses don't do print runs at all; they use a print-on-demand service provider, such as Ingram Spark or CreateSpace, to produce print copies as they're ordered).

  16. Am still waiting for the book taken off book sites as new. I have contacted them again and they are working to get the title off available as new. Would they lie? I mean do they print books in advance..would they try to sell them instead, if they have stock etc? It was their mistake to keep selling my book when i had my rights reverted. Hmmm seems strange. Any advice ??

  17. Thanks for your advice. Yes, I find it very strange, that it is still available as new. I don't get the incompetence of them. What exactly is out of print book? Is that you can see the book cover online but it be out of print? Am not sure if the publisher is making the book out of print or just removing it from sale. I don't know what a DMCA notice is but I will look into it.

    Thanks again.

  18. bettrader,

    If rights to your book reverted to you, the publisher should not still be selling it; that's a violation of your copyright. I'd suggest contacting the publisher again to let them know and demand that the book be taken "out of print" immediately. Also demand an accounting of any royalties that accrued between the date your rights reverted and now.

    If the publisher doesn't respond, you can send a DMCA notice to Amazon to demand that it remove the book from sale. You can also consider taking legal action to get whatever money may be due you–possibly through small claims court, which is much less expensive than bringing a lawsuit. If you email me I'll give you resources for doing all of that. beware [at]

  19. I have heard about this also. How can amazon still have a book for sale, in print and for kindle when the rights have reversed to the author. ?

  20. I got rights reversion to my book. I forgot about it. Now i can still see my book on amazon available as new. Soon to contact the publisher again. ???

  21. Anonymous–

    That's a complicated question (and remember, I'm not a lawyer, so this isn't legal advice).

    – If your contract contains language guaranteeing reversion if the publisher goes out of business, then yes. (If it declares bankruptcy, though, that's a whole other question, since courts don't generally honor bankruptcy clauses in publishing contracts). Unfortunately this can be complicated by the fact that some publishers go out of business but don't stop selling their contracted books online. In that case, you would need to contact the online seller and prove your case that the publisher is dead and the books should be taken down.

    – If there's no such language, then technically, the answer is no. As long as the contact term is still in force, the publisher must officially release rights back to you, through email or a snail mail letter; if it doesn't do this, then–again technically–it still holds the rights. (The issue isn't that your old publisher would get upset or take action if you re-published the book, but that a new publisher probably won't want a book whose rights aren't absolutely, unambiguously free and clear. Even self-publishing platforms require you to warrant that you have the unencumbered right to publish.)

    In practice, however, if your publisher vanishes and there's no sign after a year or so that it's still alive, you can probably safely assume that your rights are yours again. But here again, you need to make sure the publisher isn't still selling your book, and if it is, contact the online seller to get the book taken down.

  22. Hello – just wondering, if a publisher goes out of business, do the rights automatically revert back to the author? Thank you.

  23. Victoria Vane,

    It's hard to comment without seeing the wording of the contract (I'd be glad to take a look if you want to email me — beware [at] But speaking generally…

    If your contract has termination provisions for breach of contract, you need to follow whatever notification procedure is given in the contract. Typically, this will require you to give written notice of the breach, after which the publisher has a stated amount of time to correct the breach; if it fails to do so, there may be further notification requirements or the contract may terminate automatically.

    The problem here is that the publisher can always dispute whatever you've identified as breach (even if it's obvious that breach has occurred) and refuse to acknowledge termination–in which case it's your word against theirs, making your rights status ambiguous enough that another publisher might not be willing to take you on. Even self-publishing can be a problem under those circumstances, since most SP platforms require you to warrant that you own full rights to grant whatever nonexclusive license they require. I've heard from a lot of writers over the years who are in this position–the publisher has clearly breached the contract, yet refuses to honor its own contract terms and cease publication–in some cases, just out of spite.

    If there are no provisions in the contract for termination for breach, you can try notifying the publisher anyway (though the odds are even higher that they'll refuse to acknowledge the breach). You can also consider taking legal action, though this can be expensive and offers no guarantees. On the Legal Recourse page of Writer Beware, there are links to the American Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (a volunteer organization that specializes in providing legal assistance for people in the arts). Either service will arrange an initial low-cost or pro-bono consultation for you to discuss your situation, after which you can decide on what further action to take.

    Hope this is at least somewhat helpful. Feel free to email me, if you want to discuss further.

  24. What about reversion for breach of contract – failure to pay royalties on time? I speak of a publisher that was mentioned in this blog. My contract language is very clear and they have not paid accordingly.How is this best handled?

  25. Anonymous 9/19–

    I'm afraid I can't answer your question without actually seeing the contract, or at least the language of the applicable clauses. Please contact me by email at beware [at]

  26. I am also wanting to get rights reversion, and have asked the publisher. It does say life of copyright and that, but there is also termination language that the author can terminate and the rights do revert. Any advice on this?

  27. Ruthie,

    It's hard to answer your question without knowing more about what happened, but "because my cats peed on it" is not a good reason to draw up a brand-new contract with new contract provisions (and it doesn't make sense anyway, because everything is digital these days–did her cats pee on her computer?). This sounds either incredibly unprofessional or incredibly exploitive.

    That said, a publisher does have the right to issue a new contract, and if the authors signed it, they're on the hook for whatever changes were made.

    Please feel free to email me (everything shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence) at beware [at], and let me know more about what happened, including the name of the publisher.

  28. Question. Suppose she draws up a new one because the old one got soiled by her kitties. All but one signed the new one. Does it make the first one invalid? The difference between the old and the new is the dates. The old one was dated in may last year and this one August of this year giving all who sign it and extra year under her.

  29. I'm seeking further guidance. I recently got the rights back to Books 2 &3 of a series. However, Book 1 exceeded the number of ebook sales stipulated in my contract for the book to be considered out of print (by about 20 books). Anyway, the publisher declined to give me rights reversion on that one, which is within their rights. So, I'd like to try to buy back my rights for this one. Is there some sort of formula for this? Should I make the first offer, or should I ask them to name a price that I can respond to? This is a Big 5 publisher. You would think they would be happy to get a nonperforming title off their books, but apparently not! All guidance appreciated. Thanks!

  30. Cynthia,

    What does your contract say about editing? Unless the contract bars you from using editing (this is a major red flag and something that should always be removed from a contract if you can), they don't have the right to impose that restriction.

    I'll be glad to take a look at your contract and give you a non-legal (I'm not a lawyer) opinion. Contact me at beware [at]

  31. I just asked for rights reversion for an e-book that didn't sell well, and the publisher agreed at once. I was surprised to see that, though I obviously understand I don't own cover art etc,I "may no longer use edits" but "may use the unedited version". Being tidy, I actually no longer have a typed copy of earlier versions; and I am confused as to the extent of the "edits" I must not use, considering that everything was either written by me ("Could you add an extra scene there?") or I agreed to very minor word or phrase changes. Does this mean I need to go back to my handwritten original (yes, I DO write by hand)? What is reasonably mine?

  32. Victoria, you're information is always so helpful and I appreciate you taking the time to share it!

    A question…if your book is a mediocre, digital-only seller (and thus thousands of dollars are not at stake), and the publisher simply won't respond to multiple "as per the contract you now must return my rights" emails and letters, could you take them to small claims court in their town to try and force a judgement that as per the contract the rights have reverted to you? What do you think about this idea, esp if you live close to them?

    I realize this is not legal advice and you're not my lawyer/I'm not your client/we're not involved in a case, I'm just curious about what you think of the conceivability of such an idea in general.

  33. Obviously depends on the types of edits we're talking. Right, if the edit is "I think you need to work on show vs. tell here", and then the author revised that section, then the author has the copyright. But if the edits are line edits, where the editor is providing revised language, the editor/publisher (depending on their contractual relationship) has a copyright interest in that revised language. If authors take this blog's advice and just ignore the IP issue, they're taking a risk. Granted, if the publisher recorded the copyright to the revised work in the author's name, that provides the author much firmer ground to stand on. Either way though, things are more complicated than her simple statement that the publisher can't have any rights to the edits.

  34. Anon, though an Editor would have worked with the Author on the manuscript, the Author did any rewrites and made any changes, not the Editor, thus not the Publisher. The copyright to text is in the Authors name.

  35. This is a minor point, and not commenting on the other issues raised that relate to this, but ownership of the copyright in edits isn't as simple as your post makes it seem. Presumambly, publishers ensure (and should ensure) that arrangements with editors are on a work for hire basis (either as an employee or an independent contractor preparing a supplementary work), so that the copyright in the edits is in the name of the publisher.

  36. >it really relies on the illustrations and if I tried to get the rights back, I'd have to get a new artist and it just wouldn't be the same. And that's another thing for children's writers – the art.<

    Sue, at the time you are getting your rights reverted, so too should the Illustrator be, then you can decide to continue on together, if the Illustrator is willing. All the Authors, Illustrators finally got our rights back from Lobster Press (no easy task, but not as hard as I feared it would be:)
    My books Author and I were requested to renegotiate an existing contract the Publisher had with Tumblebooks Library (ebooks/interactive ebooks) and we both received advances against royalties (and actually only months later got a nice royalty cheque as well:) So, if your Illustrator has also received their rights back and is interested in continuing with the book, it may not be a problem for you to carry on.

  37. Sorry, meant to add.

    e.g. 100 minimum to be considered in print

    book sells 98 copies.

    current price $0.99
    royalty rate: 40%

    2 copies required to keep "in print"

    Under $1.00 due to the author

  38. Do you mean the author paying the difference between what their book actually sold and some kind of contractually required sales minimum? I've seen that too, and if it's the same publisher I'm thinking of, it's a scam. This is not something you should expect to find in a reputable publisher's contract.


    The clause allowed the publisher to pay the difference between sold and the minimum number in order to keep the work considered "in print."

  39. Anonymous, you write: "with respect to publishers dropping them after a certain period of time if the books don't perform."

    I don't know where you're located, but I know of US publishers who have literally dropped a book out of the starting gate. "Not perform" because not allowed to perform. I.e., no promo at all, no distribution for a print book, and the house's publicist stating that "the window is already closed" to promo a print release at 6 weeks after release.

    You name the unconscionable behavior, you can probably find an author to whom these things have happened.

    Another reason for an author to want rights reversion: if the publisher is sending out red flags about financial viability, you want those rights back in your hand BEFORE bankruptcy ties them up as "assets." If you wait too long, your chances are nil.

    I do hope the authors bound up in this latest brouhaha will come out as well as we'd all want to do.

  40. I've also seen the option of the publisher paying the difference between the number of copies sold and the minimum number required.

    Do you mean the author paying the difference between what their book actually sold and some kind of contractually required sales minimum? I've seen that too, and if it's the same publisher I'm thinking of, it's a scam. This is not something you should expect to find in a reputable publisher's contract.

    Though the norm, rights reversion should not even be a thing. They are terrible terms agreed to by agents with more loyalty to publishers than authors.

    There are certainly terrible reversion clauses, and I've seen a lot of them. But I don't agree that they are terrible by definition. They're only terrible if the reversion clause isn't specific enough. A good reversion clause makes reversion automatic on request once sales fall below a stated minimum. Above that minimum, the book is still selling, so–as long as everything else is OK–reversion probably isn't desirable.

    I do agree that a fixed term (which expires after X number of years) is preferable to life-of-copyright for a small press or a digitally-based publisher. However, a fixed term can screw you as well. Suppose you sign a five year contract, and the publisher starts to go downhill after only two years. Your sales tank. With a life-of-copyright contract and a good, specific reversion clause, you may be able to get your rights back after, say, three years. With a fixed-term contract, you're stuck for the full five years. And if the publisher goes bust without returning rights, you're in a pickle either way.

  41. Though the norm, rights reversion should not even be a thing. They are terrible terms agreed to by agents with more loyalty to publishers than authors.

    Rights should always be licensed to expire. Under specific circumstances they could be renewed for another period, after which they would expire – and so on. Rights should never leave the author and licenses should always expire.

    (It should come as no surprise that I've been self-publishing for a long time. I've never seen house contract could ever be negotiated to something that I would sign.

    Pro tip: Your agent only 'sort of' works for you. IP lawyers for me.

  42. I've also seen the option of the publisher paying the difference between the number of copies sold and the minimum number required. 100 copies a year if the book is sold at $0.99 with say a 40% royalty rate is only $40.

    If the publisher did have a grudge, it likely wouldn't require much $$ to keep the rights.

  43. Thanks Victoria, that makes sense. If a publisher is dishonest at the very start, they're not likely to be all sweetness and light if you want to dump them or tell tales.

  44. Lyn C-

    Sometimes they're trolls (I have a pretty good sense of when this is). We also have a couple of regular trolls who visit us every now and then. Sometimes I delete anonymous troll posts, if the troll is really persistent with multiple comments or comments that have nothing to do with the topic. Mostly I leave them, because I think most trolls discredit themselves much better than I ever could(and one way they do that is precisely by being anonymous).

    But also, because of the nature of this blog, many of the people who will visit any particular post are people who've been directly affected by what I write about. So more often, I think it's as you say–authors don't use their real names because they fear retaliation or embarrassment. This is why I allow anonymous comments.

  45. Why are there so many comments by "Anonymous"? Are people so afraid of publishers that they won't use their real name or a user name? It's a little difficult to decide whether "anonymous" is genuine or just having a go.

  46. Anonymous 3:45:

    I saw a contract (not going to name the publisher) where you can pay them at the end of the contract period to use the edits. The price was higher based on word count. Curious what you think of that. Would you sign that contract?

    No, and I wouldn't suggest anyone else sign it either. Like termination fees, that's a really disgusting and unprofessional way to make a fast buck off of a departing author. Plus, it can be used abusively (and I've gotten many complaints from authors whose publishers used the threat of termination/departure fees to intimidate them).

    I would love to know the name of this publisher. Feel free to contact me (in confidence) to let me know.

    I agree that Life of Copyright is not ideal for a small press or a digitally-based publisher–a limited term is much more desirable. However, many good smaller publishers do have Life of Copyright contracts. As long as the life-of-copyright grant is balanced by a precise reversion clause that ties "out of publication" to specific sales minimums and makes rights reversion automatic on request once sales fall below those minimums, it's not a problem.

    I agree about right of first refusal–unless the author can refuse an offer if the publisher makes one. (Also bad: a right of first refusal or option clause that states that the publisher's offer will be on the same terms and conditions–i.e., the same contract.) Ditto for an option clause: the author should have the right to refuse the publisher's offer, and take their work elsewhere without having conditions imposed (such as the publisher claiming the right to match any offer made by a different publisher).

  47. I saw a contract (not going to name the publisher) where you can pay them at the end of the contract period to use the edits. The price was higher based on word count.

    Curious what you think of that. Would you sign that contract?

    I swore to myself when I got into this business that I would never sign Life Of Copyright. I can sit out a 4 year contract if the publisher turns out to be underwhelming, but LOC can be a long time if the publisher decides they don't want to give… Not to be a smug douche though, because the EC authors don't deserve what's going on at all. I really do hope Dear Author gives EC an expensive butt-kicking in court.

    The other thing I'd consider a no-no is right of first refusal, if it's for all titles by an author. The right to leave a publisher or not submit your next work when things don't work out is important, IMO.

  48. Mine was relatively straightforward. My book wasn't selling (mostly my fault, very long story) so my former publisher offered to cut their losses one year early. I wanted to try one last thing with it, so they allowed me to wait six months. I eventually e-mailed them a couple of months early (after I bought a few extra copies using the discount) asking for the rights and they happily replied.

    I still talk to my former publisher whenever I have a particular question (like copyright) that I need clarification on.

  49. Anonymous 10:46 and 11:00:

    I don't know which aspects of publishing you're referring to, but I've seen many cases where the response of a publisher to a valid reversion letter is either dragging of feet or no response at all. Some of these cases may simply be that reversion has an extremely low priority among overworked staff, some of it because the request is sent to the wrong person and it never gets to the right one, but it's a very real phenomenon.

    As for writers being harmed by unwanted reversion of rights, I find it difficult to believe that a publisher who wants to be rid of an author would do them any favors by retaining their rights until the copyright expires. Remember, too, that if the book hasn't earned out its advance, the author won't benefit from additional sales made through the publisher. Reverting the rights cancels the unearned portion of the advance and allows the author to either resell the rights or self-publish. Another benefit of reversion is that termination of the contract also usually terminates any rights held by the agent of record, so any future earnings are free and clear of encumbrance.

  50. Anonymous 10:46:

    I've been in publishing for a very long time too. And I've been doing Writer Beware for a very long time. We'll have to agree to disagree.

  51. Just one more thing. I'm starting to wonder if authors should focus more in this topic with respect to publishers dropping them after a certain period of time if the books don't perform. In other words, authors believe they've found a home for their books with a publisher and they tend to believe that will be forever. As it turns out, that's not the case at all. Digital books don't last forever unless the author learns how to indie publish, because any publisher can drop an author or a digital book and give the rights back. It's the exact opposite of authors who can't get a reversion of rights, but just as serious to many authors who don't indie publish. And very few non-performing books will ever be picked up by another publisher in the future.

  52. I wanted to add that there's now a trend of which you may or may not be aware of where many digital publishers are giving rights back to authors, and this reversion of rights is completely unsolicited by the author.

    Now that the digital boom is over and so many of those books turned out to be duds, no one wants them. And these publishers don't want them clogging up their back list if they aren't performing. So they are giving all the rights back to authors, with best wishes.

  53. "However, while I wish you were correct about reports of recalcitrant publishers being exaggerated, I can tell you, based on the volume of documented complaints I've received over the years, that they're not–especially in the small press world."

    And I don't buy that. I can tell you from experience that although it happens sometimes it's not the norm. If a book's not performing the publisher is more than happy to give back the rights because they don't care about non-performing books…or the authors. It's easier to get rid of them than it is to fight them. And I've been in publishing for a very long, LONG time.

  54. I'm one of the many EC authors caught up in this mess. My specific problem is that I signed contracts in December of 2013, three of them to be exact. The first of those books just recently released, and the second will be out this month. I'm afraid I'm stuck, but I wonder what might happen if I asked for a cancellation of those contracts? There's no way my books are going to sell now with all the bad juju surrounding EC.

  55. Anonymous,

    I'm glad your publisher was reasonable and responsive to your request for reversion. I too have had good experiences with rights reversion–in part because I'm repped by a savvy agency that knows how to negotiate reversion language. Ditto for many of my colleagues.

    However, while I wish you were correct about reports of recalcitrant publishers being exaggerated, I can tell you, based on the volume of documented complaints I've received over the years, that they're not–especially in the small press world. Too often, publishers are unresponsive to reversion requests, refuse them even for non-performing books, or trump up reasons for refusing even when authors fulfill contractual reversion stipulations.

    You're right that sometimes a "nasty little grudge" is responsible (this happens more often than you'd think). But other reasons are just as, if not more, likely to play a part–such as inexperience, unprofessionalism, and the digital revolution, which has incentivized publishers to hold on to rights. Digital publishing makes it possible to profit from a big backlist, even if the individual books aren't selling many copies.

  56. The fact is that most publishers don't mind reversion of rights if a book's not performing. And if book is performing well it's hard to parse because why on earth would an author want to stop a book from making money? That doesn't make sense and if something doesn't make sense there's a flaw somewhere.

    I've also seen digital publishers who shuttered after almost a decade of being in business and all rights were reverted back to authors without question. They've even give back cover rights, and editorial rights. Without question.

    I think I remember reading where one well known male author got all his rights back, too, from one of the big five. Many authors now are getting rights back to indie pub back lists.

    The only time a publisher ever refuses to give back rights from what I've seen is when there's some nasty little grudge going on between the author and publisher. But in most cases, when you read about publishers not wanting to give back rights, it's exaggerated, exploited, and only done for pure sensationalism. In fact, I just got back the rights to eight books myself with one simple polite e-mail to my publisher. The books weren't performing anymore and I wanted to release them as indie books on my own. I have many other books with this same publisher and they are all performing, so there was no need to get the rights back. I also know of many other authors who have had their rights given back. This is first hand knowledge, not hearsay.

  57. I haven't tried to get rights reversion, but I don't think any of my publishers to date would make a fuss. The Australian Society of Authors long ago warned about digital rights – technically, you could be "in print" forever, even if nobody has bought a copy in the last year or two or three. One of my books is now POD. Think about it. I don't worry about it, though – it really relies on the illustrations and if I tried to get the rights back, I'd have to get a new artist and it just wouldn't be the same. And that's another thing for children's writers – the art.

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