So you've self-published ebooks, paperbacks, and possibly audiobooks too – the usual order in which indie authors make their work available to readers – and you'd like to explore opportunities for other formats, such as translation, TV and film? This post provides a persuasive case study of how one indie author, Andy Weir, did just that, and lists ALLi's three guiding principles for selling rights to get you heading in the right direction.
Imagine your self-published novel as an Amazon number one seller in its category, then being translated into thirty languages and transformed into a major motion picture starring Matt Damon. For indie author Andy Weir, this dream came true.
Many people don't know that before Hollywood discovered his novel The Martian, Weir self-published the book. First he published it as a serialised story on his website, and later as a £0.99 ebook on Amazon. When his sales took off, the audiobook publisher Podium Publishing sought him out to license the audio rights, and the audiobook went on to win a ton of awards. Weir was then approached by an agent, and together they sold the publishing rights to a major publisher for a six-figure sum and film rights to 20th Century Fox.
Weir's story illustrates how a writer's imagination and persistence can create a property so valuable and so compelling it makes millions for others – agents, translations, publishers and film and audiobook companies, as well as the author.
It could happen to you – but to stand a chance of securing the best deals, you need a good understanding of how selling rights works. ALLi's three guiding principles, set out below, will set you off on the right track – and if this post whets your appetite to seek out rights sales, at the foot of the post, you'll find a link to the ALLi guidebook, How Authors Sell Publishing Rights, by Orna Ross and Helen Sedwick, for a comprehensive introduction to selling rights of all kinds.
1 Understand the Contract
Whatever kind of rights you wish you to sell, you will have to sign contracts. Most indie authors are used to signing contracts for publishing ebooks and paperbacks via distribution platforms such as Amazon and IngramSpark – these may be online forms in which you tick boxes, rather than physical paper contracts on which you sign physically on a dotted line, but these are contracts all the same.
If you publish your books via a self-publishing services company, who upload your books to those platforms on your behalf, you sign a contract with that company rather than the distribution platforms. Either way, included are the agreed commission and royalty rates.
You may also be approached by literary agents with agreements to represent you in negotiations with trade publishers and television and film producers.
In all of these cases, to ensure you get the best deal you can, you need to take the time to understand those 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, publishers, and other rights buyers.
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 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 a 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, not something to avoid, as so many authors do.
It's a negotiation. Publishers and agents and producers expect to negotiate, and they respect those who enter the negotiation as an equal trading partner.
So this is not the time to be a grateful artist, seeking validation. There's a place for that: it's when you're talking to your loved ones or other authors or artists, but not when you are negotiating the sale of your valuable publishing rights.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SELLING RIGHTS
- Read ALLi's guidebook, How Authors Sell Publishing Rights, by Orna
Ross and Helen Sedwick, available in paperback and ebook on all the usual platforms.
- If you are a paid-up ALLi member, you may download the ebook for free by logging into the membership website – one of 21 benefits you receive in return for your modest annual membership fee.
- Not yet a member but interested in joining? Find out more here: www.allianceindependentauthors.org
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