The Writer, Small Press, and eBook Rights: A Dilemma

Here’s the thing: no one makes much money from small press in Australia.

Writers don’t get rich publishing through small presses, and the small presses are run for love not money. Some of them simply implode after being run by well-meaning and enthusiastic amateurs who don’t understand things like the need for marketing or covers that don’t look like someone’s three-year-old did it.

There needs to be a balance, a partnership between writer and small publisher and part of that needs to be an acknowledgement of rights and their worth.

If your story is being purchased for a hard copy anthology, then the purchase price for that instance of publishing must be separate from the purchase price of the rights for an ebook publishing instance. If you’re being offered the same amount of money for both, together, as you would be for the hard copy anthology, then think long and hard before you accept the deal. You’re putting a bargain-basement price on yourself and your writing. You’ll set a precedent and if you question it for a later publication, you may well get ‘Why are you asking this now? You were okay with it last time!’ Of course, no one can buy your right to change your mind.

Here’s another thing: if a writer sells a book or story to a large publisher, the large publisher will offer two separate sums for the two separate rights they are wanting to buy. Equally, if a writer publishes their own work on Smashwords or such other such DYI electronic publishing platform, they take all the profits.

eBooks aren’t an opportunity for publishers (regardless of size or financial backing) to offer the writer nothing for those rights while taking any and all profits that may result from an ebook.

Am I saying screw everything you can out of your small publisher?

No, absolutely not. But I am saying there is the principle of being paid for your work – for all of it. There is the principle of not signing away your various rights in a blind and desperation desire to be published. Publishers, small and large, must acknowledge that writing and the production of saleable items is not simply a hobby for writers.

Realistically, an ebook is probably not going to make heaps of money, but there should be an acknowledgement from the publisher that they are buying rights, not just getting the digital rights thrown into the doggie bag for free. Even if it is a token amount for the ebook rights – $10 or $20 – it says to a writer that their professionalism is being recognised. It says that a publisher isn’t trying to go ‘Huzzah! We get to have all the ecake profits’. Having an ebook AND a hard copy means a publisher has two artefacts for sale, not just one, and it increases the number of potential buyers – you don’t just have the folk who like hard copies, you get the people who are after soft copies for their Kindles, Kobos, iPhones, etc.

Keep in mind that this is probably more important in the case of an original publication. When it comes to reprint anthologies for something like a ‘Best of’ collection, you’ve already been paid and a ‘Best of’ is the icing on the cake. The principle remains, though of being acknowledged for the value of your work.

 

 

 

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2 Responses to The Writer, Small Press, and eBook Rights: A Dilemma

  1. Jonathan Strahan says:

    Hi Angela – I’m a little confused. You write that: “if a writer sells a book or story to a large publisher, the large publisher will offer two separate sums for the two separate rights they are wanting to buy.” Do you mean a different royalty rate? I’ve been published in three different countries by a goodly handful of large independent and major publishers and they’ve never offered a separate payment for e-rights. These days including e-rights with your print rights is absolutely standard and pretty much taken for granted. The only thing that you usually would negotiate is the different royalty rates for print and ebook. I realise this might be different for small presses, but I’d be surprised if it were. Most of the people I know who’ve sold to small presses report that this bundling is absolutely standard as well. Jonathan

    Equally, if a writer publishes their own work on Smashwords or such other such DYI electronic publishing platform, they take all the profits.

  2. Angela says:

    Hi, Jonathan.

    Sorry I didn’t express myself clearly. Yes, a publisher offers one sum for a bundle of rights, so, one advance. Within that sum, however, each format should be purchased at a
    different royalty rate depending on the licencing conditions for each format.

    With print books, standard print royalty is 10% of the cover price. While there’s no standard at this stage for ebook royalties, large publisher tend to most commonly offer 25% of net receipts.

    The point I was trying to make is that the sum the publisher offers should change depending on how many rights in the bundle. If they want standard pint then the sum will follow the standard. If they want to add ebook rights, movie rights, any possibly game rights, then the sum should go up depending on which rights are added.

    Offering the same sum for a bundle of print and ebook rights as you would for the print rights alone is a bit like going to the shop, paying for the eggs, then saying to the grocer ‘I’ll just take the bacon, too, for no extra charge – let’s call it a bundle!’

    It’s in a publisher’s interests to offer as little as possible for the broadest set of rights they can get an author to agree to. It’s in an author’s interests to get paid for each right they give up to a publisher.

    In addition – ebook (or any digital rights) should be offered on a limited licence. This means no one sells their electronic rights in perpetuity, and that if the publisher hasn’t done anything with the ebook rights (possibly because they have no actual plan for ebooks, but thought it a good idea to take the rights), then you can get your rights back in 12-18 months and do something with them yourself.

    Multiple income streams for writers are a good thing.