The UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), responsible for authors’ rights and licenses in Britain, shared an interview with Crystal Mahey-Morgan, creator of the digital publishing platform OWN IT! And while the former Penguin Random House staffer has much to say about digital publishing, and storytelling in new media, she also has some universally useful comments to make on publishing rights – and what authors should hold on to.
According to ALCS, Mahey-Morgan put in “time working in contracts at Random House before the company merged with Penguin.” Based on this, she states that authors need to be on top of the whole rights process. “You need to be able to negotiate, draft your own contracts, understand terms and the commercial side of things.” And she warns authors to be on their guard. “Are you giving away your world rights? Unless a publisher has plans and can demonstrate how they are going to exploit your rights in other territories then you’re justified in retaining those rights: don’t give them away as a standard part of the contract,” she cautions. “If you do decide to give away those rights then you should try to negotiate a higher percentage, or even a bigger advance. Think about all the subsidiary rights… as a writer you need to be benefiting from them.”
Mahey-Morgan adds that: “Every publisher is going to hate me now! But someone has to say these things. As an independent publisher I’m in a position where I can.”
This certainly chimes in with prior comment that publishers are benefiting hugely from subsidiary rights – at authors’ expense. So if you want to avoid that erosion of your income, authors, follow Mahey-Morgan’s advice, and know your rights.
[Picture courtesy of Crystal Mahey-Morgan via ALCS]
— Ebooks are a world product, and while it’s easy to segment things by language, it’s not easy at all to do so by countries of sale. Retailers make good faith efforts, but one has to question how much legal mess will be created by our attempts to divide the world on national borders.
— I have almost never seen an author actually exploit sub rights. It happens, but far less frequently than sub rights sales by publishers do.
— Authors almost always get 50% of all sub rights sales, except first serial rights, where they get 90%. Given that publishers do almost all the work of making those sales happen, in almost all cases, I don’t see it as unfair. In fact, given how much effect the difference between being well published and badly published can make, I think that cutting them in on all of the resulting benefits and payoffs is very fair.
In short, the idea may be one of those things that sounds like it’s obviously right and fair but ends up not working well for anyone.
I suspect that, if this were a good idea, it would already be done by everyone with any negotiating power at all, and every agent would try for it on every contract. And that’s not happening. I know that some of the very top authors, who have a staff working only on their projects, do this. But if you can’t afford that level of attention, I think it’s unwise.