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The Ultimate Guide To Rights Licensing For Indie Authors

The Ultimate Guide to Rights Licensing for Indie Authors

Over recent months, the Alliance of Independent Authors’  ran a six-month rights program, to open up translation rights licensing for more self-publishing authors. Below is a summary of the program and, together with our book on the topic, it forms the ultimate guide to rights licensing for indie authors.

With thanks to all those coaches and authors on the panel for giving up their time to participate in this collaborative program: Michael and Judith Anderle of LMPBN Publishing, Ethan Ellenberg, Jon Malinowski, Joe Cawley, Barry Hutchison, Dakota and Danielle Krout. The program was hosted by Orna Ross, ALLi Director, and Sacha Black Self-Publishing Advice Blog Editor.

Rights Licensing for Indie Authors: About the Indie Author Publishing Rights Program?

 rights licensing for indie authorsThe Indie Author Publishing Rights Program was an Alliance of Independent Authors program that educated and encouraged authors to selectively license publishing rights to trade publishers at home and overseas, TV and film producers and other rights buyers.

The program aimed to open up the rights industry to indie authors through publicly accessible education and coaching services.

Based around ALLi’s guidebook, Selective Rights Licensing: Sell Your Book Rights at Home and Abroad, the program worked with indie authors for a six month period to properly pitch translation rights at London Book Fair 2020, with the hope those meetings and potential deals lead to the sale of translation rights.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions meant that in the end, the London Book Fair was cancelled. However, our authors continued their journey, as you can see below.

As a result of the program, ALLi now offers a dedicated rights support desk and literary agent for its members. Members can also download this free guidebook in the member zone: Log in and navigate to this page. (Non-members can purchase a copy from our bookstore here.)

You can find out more about our rights services for members here.

Rights Licensing for Indie Authors: What is Selective Rights Licensing?

Licensing is the term to use, always, in discussions with rights buyers. They may speak of “granting” or “assigning” rights but as indie authors, it's vital you keep control of as many of your rights as possible, which is why ALLi advocate authors don't sell all their rights. Instead, ALLi recommend selective rights licensing. Specifically, licensing non-exclusively and selectively, rather than handing across the whole suite of rights to a buyer who has no real plan.
This means that rather than granting or assigning all the rights in a title to one publisher, you understand that each right is a separate package, which may be separately licensed in exchange for compensation in the form of a flat fee or royalties (a percentage of sales revenue). Your watchword as a selective rights licenser is “non-exclusive”. Licensing all rights to one buyer, without due consideration, is an expensive mistake we’ve seen too many authors make.
Licenses to publish come in many flavors. They may be:
  • Exclusive (meaning only the licensee has permission to use the work)
  • Non-exclusive (meaning more than one person may use the work at the same time)
The license limits what can be done with the rights, meaning you retain more control over the different licensable aspects to your intelligent property. A license may be limited to a particular use for example, (editorial, noncommercial, educational), or format (print, e-book, web), or duration, or territory.
The key is to weigh up each decision per book and per right, while limiting:
  • Limiting Format
  • Limiting Term
  • Limiting Territory
We talk about “selling” our “book” to a publisher, but what we’re actually doing when we sign a publishing contract is licensing the right to publish in exchange for an advance, royalties and some publishing services (editorial, design etc). Selective rights licensing involves making sure that the license you are offering is exclusive to that rights buyer only for publication in a specific format (e.g. print only), within a specific territory (e.g. USA only) and for a specific term (e.g. five years).
A rights license is not a transfer of ownership. “Use it or lose it” is the proper attitude for authors to have toward publishing rights buyers.
Rights buyers will push hard to acquire world ebook rights, audiobook rights and print rights. You will hold hard to limit the format, territory and term. These three are your mantra as a rights seller: format, territory, term.

A Licensing Analogy

Imagine your book is a shopping center, and you are the landlord. Each empty shop represents a set of rights. One shop might be print books (p-books) in English, another might be audiobooks (a-books) in Spanish, another might be e-books in Mandarin, another might be selling movie tickets and downloads. If your book goes mega and is amenable, your center might even, like Harry Potter, include a theme park.

Since your rent depends entirely on how much each shop sells, you want to rent to companies that have the wherewithal to use those particular rights to make money for you both. In other words, you shouldn’t grant rights to the French translation of your book to an English-only publisher that is unlikely to exploit them.
As you learn about, and begin to exploit, licensing opportunities, keep the landlord analogy in mind.

Rights Licensing for Indie Authors: Sell Your Book Rights at Home and Abroad

As a general rule of thumb, the savvy author attempts to negotiate each sub right individually, making separate decisions based on market size, reach of the publisher, and potential value of the right. The aim is to limit licenses to publishers who have the wherewithal, a strategy, and a plan to exploit those rights.
If a publisher wants to license rights from an independent author, it needs to offer terms that are better than those offered to a novice writer who brings no experience or existing readership to the table. It needs to be open to splitting ebook, print book and audio rights. And it needs to permit author input into marketing, metadata and other publication decisions.
The book is just one of the formats that can be generated from an idea or concept. Instead of thinking of the book as central, and the other properties, formats, assets as spin offs  of the book, consider the book as just one realization of that idea, and intellectual property licensing opportunities magnify … perhaps even explode.

Rights Licensing for Indie Authors: The Guiding Principles

1. Understand the Contract

Take the time to understand publishing agreements and contracts. Even if you plan on engaging an agent or attorney to negotiate on your behalf, you need to understand contract terminology in order to have intelligent conversations with them and with producers, a publisher, and other rights buyers. ALLi offers various services that can assist its members.

2. Capitalize on as Many Rights as Possible

As you get your work into more retail outlets, regions, formats, and languages, you'll build a stronger foundation for generating long-term income. The challenge is finding the best way to take advantage of all these options. Can you do it yourself or should you sell rights to publishers and producers? The most successful authors do some of both.

3. Limit the Term, Territory, and Formats

Limit the rights you sell to those who have the wherewithal to exploit them and generate income. Undoubtedly, this creates tension in any contract negotiation. As the author, you want to license as few rights as possible, while the buyer wants as many rights as possible. This is healthy business tension and not something to avoid, as so many authors do.
It's a negotiation. Publishers, agents, and producers expect to negotiate, and they respect those who enter the negotiation as an equal trading partner. This is not the time to be a grateful artist, seeking validation. There's a place for that, but it's not when negotiating the licensing of your invaluable intellectual property.

4. Do your Research

Research the market climate and potential partners, and imagine the rights potential for each title. Set up a database to record details of your titles, submissions and sales, and details about your rights buyers.
The database should help you keep track of submissions and negotiations. A well-designed system will enable quick decision-making.

5. Strategize your sales efforts.

Identify priority markets and key titles to sell.

Rights Licensing for Indie Authors: The Program Members

  • Michael Anderle, as well as being President of LMBPN® is a multi-genre bestselling author on Amazon and founder of the popular indie author group 20BooksTo50K.
  • Sacha Black is a fiction and non-fiction indie author, Manager of the #AskALLi Self-Publishing Advice conference and blog. Sacha also writes advice guides for authors.
  • Joe Cawley is an award-winning travel writer and best-selling author of five books. His first memoir, More Ketchup than Salsa: Confessions of a Tenerife Barman was voted ‘Best Travel Narrative of 2007’ by the British Guild of Travel Writers.
  • Barry Hutchison, a former trade-published author-turned indie, has written childrens’ books (under a pen name), a comedy sci-fi series which has sold more than a quarter of a million eBook copies worldwide, and in 2019 began publishing bestselling crime thrillers.
  • Dakota and Danielle Krout run Mountaindale Press, which focuses on LitRPG and GameLit titles, drawing on Dakota’s experience in the military to create vast terrains and intricate systems in his bestselling books.
  • Orna Ross is an award-winning novelist and poet and Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors

Rights Licensing for Indie Authors: The Videos 

The Indie Author Publishing Rights Program: Introduction

The Indie Author Publishing Rights Program: Session Two

The Indie Author Publishing Rights Program: Session Three

The Indie Author Publishing Rights Program: Session Four

Final Indie Author Rights Program Meeting

Indie Author Rights Conclusion (audio only)


LMBPN joined the Indie Author Rights Program to expand on the relationships with rights buyers that they have been actively developing for the past three years and to share the expertise they’ve acquired, across 40 series and five audiobook publishers, with 70% of these rights agreements entered in 2020. LMPBN have also translated and published over 30 books in German, some of which include acquired rights from best-selling authors. They are assessing the viability of Spanish translations and are beginning to enter into Italian licensing rights and movie/TV pitch agreements.



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