Publishing Contracts: Subsidiary Rights

Welcome, you superb beings made of star-stuff, to another blog post about publishing contracts!

Now that we’ve had a long conversation about advances and royalties it’s time to move on to subsidiary rights.

Yes, I’m sure you know it’s coming, but before we begin we must have our disclaimer (do you know it off by heart yet?): these posts reflect my own experience with contracts and are intended for guidance and informational purposes only. They should not be taken as iron-clad advice for all publishing contracts and if in doubt you should seek specific advice. There are organisations, like the Society of Authors in the UK, who will be able to help with this and if you have an agent they should also be able to help.

Right, now let’s start with the burning question…

What Are Subsidiary Rights? 

In a publishing contract Subsidiary Rights refers to an additional set of rights that the publishers can license to other people to reproduce the book (or part of it) in different ways. Some are more commonly licensed than others, but I’ll give you a brief run down of the ones that commonly crop up in publishing contracts.

Throughout this post I will refer to ‘head contracts’ and ‘sublicences’. A head contract refers to the contract you have with your main publisher and the sublicence refers to the contract between your publisher and whoever they have sold the rights to. For example, if you have sold rights in your book a publisher called ‘Velociraptor Press’ then the contract between you, the author, and Velociraptor Press is the ‘head contract’. And then when Velociraptor Press sells Hungarian language rights to a Hungarian publisher (let’s call them Piros Books) the contract between Velociraptor Press and Piros Books is called a ‘sublicence’.

In a nutshell a head contract is: Author –> Velociraptor Press.  And the sublicence is: Velociraptor Press –> Piros Books

I’ll go through the list in the rough order of how likely it is the rights will be sold (i.e. translation is most commonly sold, then maybe US or audio, etc) and then at the end we can have a brief talk about how the money will be split. It’s your book they’re selling so they should always be giving you money if they sell the rights in it!

A quick note before we dive in: although we’re talking about these rights in the context of the publisher licensing these rights on your behalf there is nothing to stop you from trying to license them on your own. The reason that you may want to let your publisher do these things is that they should have a whole team of people whose job is to sell rights – the Rights team! They will have contacts all over the world and head off to book fairs all over the world in an effort to sell the rights and make both you and them more money!

Okay, let’s get on with it!

Translation

This one is nice and straight forward! It’s the right to translate and publish your book in another language.

Many publishers will have direct contact with French, German and other publishers throughout the world (I couldn’t list them all here!) but they may also work with co-agents. A co-agent is an agent who works for the publisher to sell their books in their language so your publisher may have a Spanish co-agent or a Japanese co-agent.

A contract for translation rights is usually for a more limited time than your head contract would be. As we discussed most big publishers will ask for full term of copyright when they buy the book for themselves but when they’re selling to foreign publishers it’s likely that the term will be ten years or fewer. The terms will be limited to the specific language and often to specific formats so it is possible you could only licence paperback rights to a foreign language publisher.

As well as selling the language rights for a set period of time, there’s another kind of translation contract known as a ‘co-edition’. In the contract this will usually be defined as something like a ‘royalty-inclusive Translation Rights’. A co-edition is essentially when a publisher will print the translated version of the book for the foreign publisher and will charge the foreign publisher per copy and the price per copy will include all the printing costs and will also include your royalties! This is most common for picture books rather than fiction as it’s easier to swap the text in a picture book and reprint than it would be for a book filled with text. 

US & Canadian Rights

Again, this one is nice and straight forward. This is aimed more at UK based publishers selling the rights to a US or Canadian publisher who will then be able to take the book as is (or they’ll make very slight tweaks to it like changing ‘colour’ to ‘color’ but this should be outlined in your contract and definitely can’t make any other changes without your consent). 

This contract is likely to be for a longer period of time than a translation contract, and it’s common for them to be full term of copyright. This is, as far as the US/Canadian publisher is concerned, a head contract and they will want the rights for as long as they can get them. You will see similar royalties on this as we went through in the Money! post, and the US/Canadian publisher will likely ask for all the formats they can get as well. 

Audio & Straight Reading

I’m lumping two sets of rights together here because they’re similar, although not the same, and both are considered ‘non-dramatic’. When we talk about dramatic versus non-dramatic it essentially refers to whether or not the rendition has been ‘dramatised’ rather than the person reading it just doing so with a certain dramatic flair. So if the reading is just one person reading it out, although they might give the reading some oomph, it should still count as a non-dramatic reading.

First we have audio rights, which – as I am sure you have figured out – is the right to create an audiobook of the book. Nice and straight forward. These contracts are often for limited terms, similar to the translation contracts, and it’s worth reading them through as it will be specified whether or not you have approval over the narrator of the audiobook. 

You may have given your publisher the right to produce an audiobook – which is not uncommon – as publishers will appreciate the importance of the audiomarket and may well want to do their own. If you have that will be covered in the Royalties section with wording elsewhere in the contract with your publisher, but as a subsidiary right it gives the publisher the right to sell on the audio rights to a specialised audio publisher. You may or may not want to allow the publishers to do this. As I mentioned above, publishers have entire teams dedicated to selling subsidiary rights and they know their business so it is possible they will be able to get a tremendous deal for you. On the flip side of this is that you could go direct to the audio publisher and sell these rights yourself, although if you’re just starting your author career I imagine it will be harder to sell audio rights than it would be for your publisher to sell them. There are pros and cons to each so whether or not you want to allow your publisher to be able to sublicence audio is up to you.

The second right we come to is a non-dramatic straight reading, most often for radio or television. A good example of these will be the BBC Book of the Week, or the alternative for young children, CBeebies Bedtime Stories. A single person reading out the work for broadcast (or perhaps in front of a live audience) will fall under this.

Here’s an example clause that sets it out nice and clearly:

(x) Radio, Television and Public Performance Undramatised Readings (i.e., the right to read from the text of the Work or to show still illustrations from the Work, whether as a public performance or on radio, television, by Internet streaming or other broadcast other than provided for elsewhere in this Agreement)

Dramatisation

We’ve looked at undramatised rights, it seems only fair now we look at dramatised rights! 

This is something you will be familiar with, even if you don’t know. Dramatisation is, in a nutshell, the right to turn your book into a film (or TV show, or stage show, or even puppet show!). As far as we’re concerned for this blog post it’s nice and simple and doesn’t really need any further explanation!

(i) Dramatisation and Documentary Rights on stage, film, radio or television thereof, including transmission by cable, satellite or any other medium.

First and Second Serial

Serial rights are essentially selling the right for a newspaper or magazine to publish a small chunk of the book either before publication (which is First Serial) or after (which is Second Serial). The likelihood of these rights being sold will change wildly depending on your situation. Many big newspapers would be happy to buy First Serial rights to a celebrity autobiography (and they may try and select a juicy portion to use) but if you’re writing in a niche market then it’s less likely a newspaper will buy Serial rights (but never say never!).

Again, I think popping an example clause in here to show how they might be defined in a contract helps define them a bit better:

(i) First Serial Rights (i.e., the right to publish one or more extracts from the Work in successive issues of a periodical or newspaper including in any online version beginning before the Publishers’ first publication of the Work)

(ii) Second and Subsequent Serial Rights (i.e., the the right to publish one or more extracts from the Work in successive issues of a periodical or newspaper including in any online version beginning following the Publishers’ first publication of the Work)

Anthology and Quotation

Where some of these other rights can bring in nice big chunks of money, Anthology and Quotation – or A&Q – is something that happens little and often. If you have ever asked for permission to use a quote by another author in your book/website/podcast/etc then this is the right that would wall under. This is also often called ‘permissions’ within a publishing house as a sort of shorthand to cover the wide range of requests that come in. A publisher will often have hundreds if not thousands of permissions requests in their queue (which is why there is often a hefty wait time). Big and/or quotable authors will probably have a variety of these requests sitting with their publishers at any given moment, so it can be a nice area to earn some money without much further effort on your part.

Anthology and Quotation are two different rights, although will most likely be lumped together. The right of Quotation is just that – the right to quote portions of the book in other people’s work. And again, the right of Anthology is just as it sounds – the right to include the book as part of a larger anthology of works.

Reprint

I’m going to bundle a load of reprint rights together for this one. The following are likely to be under separate rights in the clause, but they all amount to the same thing: various kinds of reprints with restrictions on the formats. So you may see ‘Paperback Reprint’ rights alongside ‘Hardback Reprint’ rights. Here’s a quick list of the most common ones:

  • Paperback
  • Hardback
  • Educational Reprint (this is likely to include notes to help students understand the text)
  • Large Print (often printed in size 14 font or above and aimed at the visually impaired)

Other Rights

Now we come to a bunch of other rights that are rarely sold so I thought it would be easier to bunch them together with a quick explanation so that you know what they are.

  • Book/Magazine Digest Rights: this is the right to publish an abridged version of the book in a single issue of a magazine, newspaper or other periodical.
  • Book Condensation Rights:  this is similar to Digest rights, but it is the right to publish an abridged version of the book as its own smaller book.
  • One Shot Periodical Rights: again, this one’s similar to the above, but is the right to publish the complete work (i.e. unabridged) in a single magazine, newspaper, etc.
  • Graphic Novel / Strip Cartoon / Picturisation: This one does what it says on the tin. It’s had a few names over the years, but turning the story into a graphic novel or a version with pictures would fall under this right.
  • Electronic Rights: This is the right to reproduce the book in electronic form. This isn’t often sold on its own but bundled together with translation, or US rights.
  • Electronic Version Rights: Similar to the above, but electronic versions are basically ebook versions that include extra bits, like moving images or music that go along with it. This is rarely sold as it’s an expensive process to do and, I imagine, doesn’t make enough sales to warrant the expense. One example of this is Amazon’s ‘Kindle In Motion’ books, which includes Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Wind in the Willows. Maybe this will become more common as technology advances, but for the moment it’s a very rare thing.
  • Merchandising Rights: This is another one you might be familiar with. This is the right to exploit the characters and book with things like clothing, games, toys, calendars, drinks. All that good stuff. I’ve put this one in the ‘rarely sold’ category because it’s unlikely that a publisher will sell these unless the book lends itself to it (like a picture book) or is a pretty big hit. This one is an easy one to retain as a lot of publishers aren’t set up to make their own merchandise and as it’s not common they’re not too worried about losing it, which means you could make your own merchandise! 

And that is pretty much it. Phew!

There’s a couple of other points I want to touch on before we move on from this topic: approvals and money!

Approvals

Now that you’ve seen these rights you might be wondering whether your publisher can run off and sell as many as they like without consulting you. Well, the answer to that is: maybe!

As part of the subsidiary rights clause, as well as setting out the split of the money (more on that in a moment) it should also set out whether or not you have approval over the sale of the rights. If you have approval over the sale of any and all subsidiary rights then the wording will likely look something like…

The Publisher shall have the right to license the following rights and shall pay the Author the percentages of their receipts as set out below. No such licence shall be completed without the prior written approval of the Author (such approval not to be unreasonably withheld or delayed).

Or alternatively, you may not have approval over everything but instead only some subsidiary rights. Sometimes this will be denoted by placing an asterisk by a particular subsidiary right and then having a note at the end of the clause that rights with an asterisk are subject to approval. For example:

(i) Translation rights *

(ii) Quotation Rights

(iii) Dramatic Rights *

* No such licence of this right shall be completed without the prior written approval of the Author (such approval not to be unreasonably withheld or delayed)

In my example above your publisher would need to seek your approval before finalising the sale of Translation or Dramatic rights but would be able to sell Quotation rights without your approval. This is the most common situation – i.e. that Quotation rights can be sold without approval – and this is mostly down to practicality. As I mentioned before, due to the sheer number of requests that a publisher receives it can often take weeks for them to process a request. If they then also have to seek your approval before they are able to give permission it could slow down that person’s request by another week or so.

Having said all this, in my experience a publisher will ask for your approval before selling most subsidiary rights as a matter of courtesy anyway. If you are worried about not being able to approve rights before they are sold be sure to check your contract and ask for the approval wording to be included (their Contracts team should have a template for this so you don’t need to supply it, don’t worry).

Subsidiary Rights Money

So, how much money are you going to get out of these sales?

You’ll be pleased to know that typically the author split on subsidiary rights income is much higher than the split of royalties (with the exception of co-editions which will be about the same). This is because you will be receiving a split of the total income your publishers receive and the publisher doesn’t have to produce any of the books (again, with the exception of co-editions).

The subsidiary rights clause will set out the percentage of the income you will receive for each licence they might make and it will be listed nice and clearly by each subsidiary right, like…

(i) Translation rights: 75%

Typically the share given to an author for Translation Rights, US rights, Dramatic Rights, Serial Rights, and Merchandising end up being in the 70%-85% range. Whereas the various Reprints and Quotations will be closer to, if not exactly, an even split.

You should be receiving at least half of this income, but there are fairly set industry standards that your publisher is unlikely to waver from, so they should be offering you a fair split from the off.

Any income that you make from the sale of subsidiary rights may also go against your advance. You should take a look at your advance clause to see if that’s the case, it will likely say something like that the advance is offset ‘against any and all income under Clauses 4 and 5’ where clause 4 sets out your royalties from sale of the book and clause 5 sets out what subsidiary rights can be licensed (and of course your share!). This means that is possible, although unlikely, that your advance is earned out before your book is even published!

And finally, your publisher may also pay subsidiary rights income on a different schedule to your royalty payments. Where your royalty payments will likely be paid through once or twice a year they may pay your subsidiary rights income through straight away (well, as soon as their Accounts team can process it, anyway), which means you could potentially have a nice steady income from subrights deals throughout the year!

That about sums it up for subsidiary rights. I hope that it all made sense as it’s quite a wide range of rights for a single clause in the contract. As always, if you have any questions please do let me know.

Until next time: be well, be kind, and have fun!


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