Subsidiary Rights: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on subsidiary rights! In Part 1, on February 6, we discussed foreign rights — translations and British commonwealth rights. Today we’re going to discuss book club rights, first serial rights, second serial rights, and large print rights.

To recap, subsidiary rights are like that old Dire Straits song — money for nothing. You’ve already done the work in writing and revising the books, so failing to leverage your subsidiary rights is just leaving cash on the table. Please keep in mind that the rights I’m discussing today are not necessarily something that all authors will be able to sell, or should be expected to be able to sell. These particular rights aren’t “biggies” in the romance world. But today’s discussion is still important to understand.

Think of it as a primer on some of the various terms you may find mentioned in your contract.

Book Club rights

We’ve all seem them — offers enticing us to select 5 hardcover books for 99 cents (or some other type of ridiculously low price). If you read the fine print, you discover that the special price is only good for that initial deal, and it requires membership in a book club for a certain period of time. Usually you are sent books every month and can return them (at your own expense, of course!) if you decide not to keep them, and you’re obligated to buy two or three books at full book club price (which is also a discounted price in its own right). The monthly book mailings will continue until you cancel your membership in writing 30 days in advance. (for example)

So how does a book get added to a book club lineup? It depends. Some smaller book clubs focus exclusively on a niche topic, but Doubleday includes titles across all genres, but generally focuses on the “big” books that they feel their readership will enjoy. In a standard deal, book clubs request exclusive rights in a specified territory for a defined period of time, usually five to ten years. Book clubs generally borrow the publisher’s film and coordinate their own jacket/cover and text production. Financially speaking, this is usually the preferred book club arrangement. The book club pays an advance to the publisher, who then splits the royalty income with the author according to the publisher/author contract.

Generally speaking, in a standard publishing contract, an author will grant the publisher the right to distribute the book through book clubs, rather than reserve the right for herself (through her agent), because the publisher is generally in a better position to exploit these rights. Publishers like book clubs because it’s another avenue to reach readers — the book club does the work.

But not all book club deals are structured that way. For smaller niche book clubs, they may actually buy a set number of finished copies directly from the publisher, in which case it’s strictly a distribution deal as opposed to creating a club-only edition.If the publisher manufactures the book club’s edition, then the author generally gets 10% of the price received by the publisher. But either way, you’re reaching readers you likely wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

Our own Hope Ramsay‘s books are published by Grand Central Forever in mass market paperback (priced at $7.99), but are available through the Doubleday Book Club in hardcover (priced at $12.99, or just 20 cents if you buy it through the initial 5-books-for-99-cents deal).

The hardcover edition is only available through Doubleday, and it uses the identical cover as the mass market version (available everywhere else). But you must join Doubleday in order to buy the hardcover.

Some publishers, such as Harlequin, have their own in-house book clubs, referred to as subscription services. In these cases, the publisher doesn’t sell the right to a third-party book club to create a new edition, but rather uses the copies already printed by the house. It’s a way to ensure that the publishing house will always have a readership.

Book club rights don’t generally earn most authors a lot of money, but remember our mantra — “Money for Nothing.” This is money that likely would have gone untapped, and if it exposes you to new readers who otherwise would not have discovered you, all the better.

First Serial rights/Second Serial rights

First serial rights (FSRs) are the first rights to publish excerpts from a book in serialized form in a periodical, usually before the book’s publication date. Second serial rights (SSRs) refer to publication of the book in a periodical after the book has been published.  Although FSRs are excerpts of a book to get readers excited , and thus are used as a form of promotion, it’s actually a right that can be sold, like other subsidiary rights, although it tends to be used more in the non-fiction world than for genre fiction such as romance.

Incidentally, first serial rights were actually the subject matter of an important “fair use” case in copyright law, Harper & Row . v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985). This Supreme Court decision that determined that fair use is not a defense to the appropriation of work by a famous political figure simply because of the public interest in learning of that political figure’s account of an historic event. Former President Gerald Ford wrote his memoir, including explaining his decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Ford sold the manuscript to Harper & Row to publish in book form, who then licensed the publication of excerpts in TIME magazine (ie., first serial rights). However, before TIME could publish the excerpts, The Nation magazine (which had an advance copy) published roughly 400 words of verbatim quotes out of the 500-page book, under the guise that since both Gerald Ford (the author) and Richard Nixon (who he’d pardoned) were public figures, the American public had a compelling national interest in knowing about the events. Needless to say, TIME wasn’t happy, because they’d paid good money for the first serial right to publish the excerpts, so they withdrew from the contract since it was no longer the first serial publication. As a result, Harper & Row filed suit for copyright infringement.

Writing for the Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated that the right of first publication (including in serial form) is a particularly strong right and that “the promise of copyright would be an empty one if it could be avoided merely by dubbing the infringement a fair use ‘news report’ of the book.”

Large Print rights

This one is pretty self-explanatory — the right to publish large print editions of the work. If your house does not produce their own large print editions and your book is deemed to appeal to a market that would appreciate it, large print rights can be a nice way to earn some “free money.”

Hope Ramsay’s Welcome to Last Chance has a large print edition, published by Kennebec Large Print, has a very different cover than the mass market paperback, and retails for $26.99, as opposed to the $5.99 list price for the paperback.


(Mass market paperback)                               (Large print edition)


Contrast this with braille editions. Many authors know that large print rights can be sold, and thus believe that the same goes for braille rights. However, the right to publish the book in braille or in a specialized audio format specifically for the blind are generally granted without compensation. The 1996 amendment to the Copyright Act carved out a special exemption that said it is not infringement to create specialized formats (defined as “braille, audio, or digital text which is exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities”). In other words, large print editions are not exclusively for use by the blind or other persons with disabilities, and thus do not receive protected status.

Okay, that’s it for now. I’ll be back in April with the next installment of my subsidiary rights series: film and TV rights!


13 responses to “Subsidiary Rights: Part 2”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Very cool, Amanda!!

    How fascinating that braille edition don’t provide compensation to the author. It makes sense in terms of access for people with a disability. Anyhow, it would be cool to see your book in braille!

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I’m also surprised at the high price of the large print edition!!!

      I’m assuming that’s because of the smaller size of the market.

      But it seems sort of unfair that legal blindness is a disability (and braille is made available without extra compensation to the author) while difficulty seeing that’s not legal blindness makes you pay such a premium.

      Ah, the contradictions of capitalism!

  2. My head is spinning. I wish I could just write the book and be done with it, but in this day and age, that’s no longer an option. Thank you so much for this, Amanda. Clear and concise explanations are such a boon.

  3. Gillian says:

    As always, Amanda, thanks so much for such a concise explanation! Will be bookmarking and reviewing this series again.

  4. What Gwynlyn said! I’m glad to hear braille versions are exempt. I learn something new every day. I wonder what a braille book cover looks like. Hmmm?

  5. Hope Ramsay says:

    Amanda this has been a great series. I’ve bookmarked both articles. I have to admit that its been a real learning experience for me. And its also very nice to see a few dollars in my royalty statements every time one of thses rights is sold.

    Oh and thanks much for featuringbmy covers. 🙂

  6. Rita Henuber says:

    Thank you for this and your past informative posts. I am amazed and truth be told a bit dismayed at how little I know about the publishing industry. If it weren’t for other generous authors such as yourself I’d be on the dark side of the moon. I remember the good old days when I thought writing the book was the hard part of all this. Thanks again. Looking forward to future posts

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      You can say that again, Rita!

      Can you imagine if we were all trying to go this alone????

      It always amazes me the depth of knowledge Rubies have!

  7. What wonderful information, Amanda – thank you.

    I was pleasantly surprised to learn my debut e-book (from Carina) was chosen to be released as part of Harlequin’s Direct-to-Consumer program this July. Don’t know much about it, but reviewing my contract did show they’d already set up percentages of payment for that kind of thing. I’ll be curious to see how it all works out…and, of course, I’m thrilled to reach some new readers and see my book in print.

  8. What a great post, Amanda!!!! I learn more every time you do one of these. I love that you’re sharing your knowledge. It’s like nuggets of gold. Now I don’t have to kidnap you and syphon it out of your head. LOL.

    Hugs! ~D~


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