This weekend one of the Sisters saw the premiere performances of the stage adaptation of her picture book. I’m hoping Diane will share her experience and some pictures soon. For Mentor Monday, however, this wonderful event raises the subject of subsidiary rights.
“No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
I think Samuel Johnson was wrong – there are lots of good reasons for writing that have nothing to do with money, but if you’re working on developing a writing career, then publication, and getting paid for your work, are or should be a significant factor. They may influence what kinds of things you write. They should influence the forms you choose and the way you send out your work. And when, at last, your work finds its way to the person who wants to publish it – you find yourself immersed in a question of rights.
The “Rights” in question are the rights to use your work, and each possible use of your work represents a distinctive right. As the creator, you have the right to control the ways that your work is published, until and unless you choose to transfer that right to someone else.
If your work is a picture book and you’re in the US, you are most likely going to be offered a contract for “First North American book rights.” If it’s a magazine article, it will be “First North American periodical rights” – although in either case it might be “English-language rights,” in which case if your work winds up being reprinted in Australia or in the international edition of the magazine, your publisher will receive the payment. (Some publishers will split or pass along reprint rights income, but if you sell “All rights” or “reprint rights” they are not obligated to do so.)
But subsidiary rights covers uses far beyond reprints. Subsidiary rights include adaptations of your work in other forms (like the stage version of Run Turkey Run), translation rights (my “Little Jesus” and “Little Mary” books were translated and published in Poland), and, perhaps most importantly today, electronic or digital rights, from the picture-book-on-the-ipad to a video game version of your book. Some contracts contain language covering “any current or future media or format” in order to try and include technologies not-yet-imagined. (A subset of subsidiary rights fall into the category of licensing – stuffed animals, educational products, breakfast cereal advertising, etc.) For each of these uses, you, the creator, deserve to be compensated or to have the choice of whether to allow the use. So after you get over your excitement over that first contract, take the time to read the fine print. Ask your writer friends about the language. Consider having it reviewed by a lawyer who works with “intellectual property rights.” (If you belong to the Author’s Guild, they have a contract review service – lots of writers first join the Guild expressly for that benefit.) Because you never know!
Fantasy writer Mindy Klasky offers this great list of subsidiary rights on her website.
And of course, HaroldUnderdown’s Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books addresses the subject in much more detail.