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Book Rights and Book Royalties

Reader Q & A About Book Publishing Rights and Royalties

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Man signing document

Be sure you understand your self-publishing or book contract before you sign.

Jesper Elgaard/E+/Getty Images

Book publishing is a business and, whether you're an author or a publisher, intellectual property rights (such as film rights or translation rights) and book royalties are considerations when you're determining the profitability of publishing--or self-publishing--a book.

Following are some actual factors about self-publishing fees, different book rights, and book royalties that readers have had to consider when making the decision to publish or with whom to publish. Keep in mind that this general advice, not official legal or contractual advice, which would best be handled by a lawyer or agent.

Q. I'm an aspiring author searching for a book publisher and I recently got an e-mail from a publisher suggesting I invest money to publish my own book with them. They go on to say that published books rarely yield a profit. Is it true?

A. The email you received was likely from a self-publishing service or a subsidy publisher, not a traditional publishing house.

Read more about:
The different types of traditional publishers.

Vanity presses and self-publishing services

Some different self-publishing services.

As a general rule, the average self-published book sells an estimated 150 copies (mostly to friends and relatives of the author). Of course, if you have an author platform or are great at generating publicity and creating marketing opportunities, you may be able to sell many more. Or, if you wrote the book for your own pleasure or as a family keepsake, you may not care how many copies you sell.

Therefore, when you look at how much money the self-publishing service will charge to publish your book, the cost versus benefit is something you need to think about carefully. The article on the various reasons why people self-publish might help you to establish whether self-publishing is right for you.

Q. Is [name of publisher] reliable and reputable in dealing with authors? Could you tell me something about them? Is there any other publisher you could recommend to me?

A. As different people have different experiences with publishers and self-publishing services, there's no way to know what your experience could be with a particular publishers. Therefore, it's not our policy to recommend them. For an idea of other peoples' experiences with self-publishing services, see our Reader Reviews (And, fyi, to review of your own self-publishing experience, click here--readers would very much welcome your input).

Q. How much does it cost to self publish?

A. The initial cost to self-publish a book varies from zero (to electronically self-publish with services like Barnes & Noble's NOOK Press or Amazon.com's CreateSpace or some print-on-demand book services), to tens of thousands of dollars (if you want lots of physical books with all the "extras" like book marketing and publicity).

Review carefully what your self-publishing service offers and make sure you understand your contract. This will tell you what rights you're keeping, what rights your self-publishing service might be retaining. If you're paying to publish your book, your contract will also stipulate what you're getting for your fees. Again, to avoid being disappointed, be sure you understand what you're getting before you sign.

Q. The booklet I received from a self-publishing service you percents which are the author's gains from every book which is sold (from 40% in American sales to 25% in international sales). The maximum amount of books you anticipate being sold numbers the thousands of copies. What happens if the book is bestseller, and sells millions--twenty million, thirty million?

A. You should be so lucky--and, if that happens, you will have no problem finding an agent or hiring a lawyer to give you more specific advice on how to handle it.

Seriously, again, most self-published books do not sell in the millions or hundreds of thousands--or even tens of thousands--copies. Still, if you have a solid platform and truly expect to sell more copies of your book than the maximum stated in your contract, you may be able to negotiate with your publisher to add a higher "bucket" (for example "25,000+ copies"), with a more favorable royalty percentage, to the royalty schedule.

Q. The booklet also states that the author gets from you regular reports of book sales and the monies he or she is due. Does it mean that the author has to believe the publisher just because he/she says so? Is there any chance that the author can audit the sales of his book?

A. Book sales and royalty statements are generated on a regular basis from the publisher, and (if you're lucky) are accompanied by a royalty check. This is standard industry practice, and authors and agents generally rely on the information that is provided to them. If you are dealing with a reputable book publisher or self-publishing service, you should be able to trust the book sales figures they give you. You should review your statements carefully — and you should be able to get an explanation for any of the figures you don't understand.

Q. The publishing company I've been corresponding with tells me, if I sign with them, they will have the right to sell the rights to my book to the film companies or to sell the rights of the book in other languages, if such a situation presents itself. Shouldn't such right be the author's right, and not the publishing house's right? I am a film translator and have some connections in those areas.

A. Regarding film rights to your book (or translation rights, or any other rights), with a traditional publisher your agent would negotiate these rights up front and the details would be covered in your book contract. If you feel that, with your connections in those areas, you could do a better job of finding rights buyers, your agent might be able to negotiate for you letting you keep the rights.

Whoever your book publisher--whether a traditional publisher or a self-publishing service--the book contract you sign with them should cover the amount of the book rights sale proceeds that you, the author, would be entitled to if the publisher is successful in selling the film, translation or any other rights.

And whatever type of publisher you publish your book with, you need to read and understand your contract very carefully before you sign--if you don't have a literary agent to represent you, get a lawyer to look at the contract if you have questions about anything (and don't forget to add the legal costs to the cost of your self-publishing venture!).

Read more about:

Book contracts - where copyright and author's rights are assigned

The elements of book contracts - spelling out author's copyright, delivery of manuscript, etc.

Author's and money - book advances and royalties

• Author's rights in the publishing process.

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