Book Rights and Licensing: 10 Crucial Tips

    book rights

    You’re delighted that your self-published book is selling well.

    But what if I told you that no matter how good your sales, you’re still leaving stacks of cash on the table?

    You might not believe me. But think of your book – on bookshelves around the world. And why only bookshelves? Your writing can sell on e-book readers, i-devices, radio stations and screens, both big and little.

    Do you see how much earning potential your writing has? All you need to do to earn more from your writing is to employ a simple yet neglected secret.

    Book rights and licensing.

    Rights hold a huge and renewable revenue stream. The fact is, self-published authors don’t own just a potentially valuable book, they also own the rights to their work.

    These rights can be licensed to produce the same book, in English, in different territories around the world – be it the United States, Canada, Australia, or India.

    Rights can also be licensed for the book to be translated into different languages. With books being published in over 400 languages worldwide, that is a significant potential income.

    Self-published authors lose thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars – simply because they don’t know how to maximize the opportunities that book rights and licensing offer them.

    Here are ten questions self-published authors commonly ask on how they can use rights and licensing to earn more.

    #1. What rights do I have over my self-published book?

    You own your Intellectual Property (IP). A paperback book is just one product in the universe of IP that you own – other products include the hard-cover, e-book, and audio-book versions of the same book.

    Then there are translations, new formats, media rights, permissions to quote from your work, and so on. You can keep selling the book you’ve published, while still having an ocean of IP left to license and monetize.

    #2. I’ve been told my book is perfect for film – should I concentrate solely on those rights?

    I hear this question a lot, especially with so many successful book-to-screen adaptations in recent times. The fundamentals remain the same.

    It’s good to know what film companies are looking for. Most are quite specific about the kinds of books they’re interested in. Contact individual film companies to understand exactly what they want from a book, rather than starting with “my book would make a great film”. For many authors, this is the ultimate goal.

    You can – and should – pursue film rights for your book, but it’s essential that you continue to investigate all potential rights and licensing options.

    #3. Don’t I need contacts to sell book rights?

    Contacts help, but they’re not a necessity. When I began my first publishing company, I had no contacts at all. I made a list, contacted as many publishers as I could, and licensed our second novel, which was then published in seven editions and four languages.

    That was a result of research and persistence – nothing else. Today, it is easy for you to contact publishers around the world. But it’s up to you to do the groundwork.

    As a self-published author, it pays to think of yourself as a small business, with rights and licensing as your main sales tools.

    #4. How can I sell book rights when I can’t afford to travel to book fairs held the world over?

    Some major publishers have to participate in major book fairs to secure certain rights and licensing deals, but this is no longer essential.

    There are many forums available for you to showcase your work, and contact potential publishing partners across the globe.

    You can also be represented by rights professionals, or include your titles in rights magazines distributed at book fairs all over the world.

    #5. Can I sell rights before I’ve finished writing my book?

    Yes, if you’re Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, but certainly not as a debut writer, particularly in fiction.

    Your sole focus should be to work on your writing, getting it as polished and ready for publication as possible. Only then is it time to showcase it and send it out to potential licensees.

    #6. Do I need to understand international markets and adapt my work accordingly?

    Yes and no. Write the book you want to write. Aiming your work at specific markets is more likely to distract you and weaken the overall book.

    If your work is good enough and you do manage to get it in front of the right people, then it will have a good chance of being licensed.

    Having said that, it’s worth thinking about how, and why, your work might appeal in different territories, languages, formats and so on, as appropriate. Think about the places that feature in the book, the origins of the characters, and anything that might connect your work to other countries. This will show you a potential connection and hook for a specific territory or audience.

    #7. If I have self-published, will this put off potential licensees?

    Not at all. Self-publishing, rather than being frowned upon, is finally being embraced, with many mainstream publishers actively focusing on acquiring self-published manuscripts.

    For example, Mary Wood, one of our self-published authors, recently received a seven-book deal from Pan Macmillan.

    #8. Would it help to get into certain markets if I had my book translated first?

    Not usually. Publishers typically work with a previously vetted set of translators. Also, they may wish to take advantage of available grants, if any, for translations.

    Getting your book translated yourself with a view to licensing it is most often a waste of time and money.

    #9. How will I know if the company buying the license is reputable?

    Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find information about any individual or organization.

    If you’re evaluating a publisher as a potential licensee, see what else they’ve published. Find out how long they’ve been in business. Do they have an office address? Are they easy to contact?

    Do your research thoroughly, and you will know whether or not you should consider licensing your work to them.

    You can also contact organizations of potential licensees who meet certain key criteria. Because they meet a minimum cut off, you can be relatively assured of their authenticity.

    #10. If I receive an offer, how will I know if it’s any good? How will I deal with the contract?

    If you’re an author and don’t have an agent to advise you, there are many places you can seek – and get – good advice.

    In the UK, the Society of Authors advises across a wide variety of offers and contracts.

    Organizations like the Alliance of Independent Authors are introducing standard licensing terms, which will hopefully make the rights process a lot simpler.

    Wherever you’re based, a good lawyer will help you negotiate a favorable contract.

    The message is clear: your rights are not limited to the physical book you author – they are much greater than that.

    As an independent author, you now know how to earn more from your writing. You need to be aware of the rights you hold, and their potential to net you many times the income you’ve been bringing in thus far.

    Apply what you’ve learned above, and you could easily have a six- or seven-figure global business at your fingertips.

    Do you have any other questions on how to use book rights and licensing to earn more? Ask me in the comments below.

    About the author

      Tom Chalmers

      Tom Chalmers is Managing Director, IPR License. IPR License was launched in 2012 and is the global, digital marketplace for authors, agents and publishers to list and license book rights. Feel free contact us on [email protected] for more information.

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    • Really a great work…I am really happy to see this types of work.

    • Sorry Steven, I should add I was focussing on you selling the translated version yourself. Personally, I don’t think having it translated in order to attract a publisher, apart from maybe a sample, is usually worth the investment as if they buy in that language they should have the resource to read it and translate it themselves if required.

    • Steven Speece says:

      “#8. Would it help to get into certain markets if I had my book translated first?”

      At what point should translations be considered?

      • Thanks Steven – a difficult one to answer as can vary so much. My own view would be when you have highlighted there is a language market you believe there will be demand in, you have submitted to many relevant publishers in that language market without take-up, you have access to and confidence in the translation options and you have a distribution route, whether print digital or both, in that market.

    • Marcy McKay says:

      Wow, Tom. I’ve been writing for YEARS and this is the first I’ve heard of this. VERY informative and well-written. I’m bookmarking you, buddy. Thanks!

      • Thanks Marcy and that is just the response we are looking for! We are trying to spread the word of the opportunities there are in licensing for authors – print and digital are now understood but licensing is the third key element in the process. Feel free to get in touch if you have any more questions.

        • Marcy McKay says:

          I just may take you up on the offer to get in touch re: licensing questions. Many thanks and take care.

    • charles thiesen says:

      This reads like an infomercial. The writer is hyping an idea that his firm supports (for a fee I assume). Selling rights is simply the old-fashioned way of publishing books. If you don’t self publish, you sell your rights to a publisher, hopefully for an advance and for eventual royalties.

      Some of us still do business that way. And if the writer’s picture of the publishing world were accurate, we’d all be rolling in dough. But the truth is that there are very few publishers out there hungry for an author’s rights. Authors compete for publishers’ attention by writing the best book they can (or, for non-fiction, crafting a terrific proposal), then writing an even better cover letter. Then, since few publishers are open to direct author submissions, using that to try to interest an agent in representing them.

      There are conservatively hundreds of thousands of authors who want a publisher to buy the rights to their book, that is to publish it. This is the business we’re in and it’s alarming that there are so many writers out there now who don’t understand this and are thus vulnerable to cynical scams.

      • Thanks Charles and sorry if it sounded like an advert – we are in the area, but that started because we are passionate about the opportunity. I also founded and own six publishing companies – including traditional publishers, a self-publishing company and a writer community (not another advert but to emphasise that I am aware and pleased by the number of options out there now for authors).

        You’re right that publishers, with rare exceptions, are still too conservative but book output isn’t dropping, there is more of a need for great new work than ever before to break through the market and the stats back up the size of licensing possibilities. £1.5bn of licensing was completed in a single publishing sector in 2012 (PA), 43K authors in UK educational publishing alone received income from secondary licensing last year (CLA) just as examples – the size of the licensing market is vast and growing.

        I would add it is not just in selling print and digital rights to publishers – there are also permissions to quote, film/TV, reading, media, apps rights, and so on. Our aim is to spread the word directly to authors of the possibilities that can exist in licensing.

    • Good post Tom, and an excellent reminder for authors.

      I used to work with indie musicians before going full-time as a writer. And the musicians I worked with who were the most successful were the ones who looked beyond song downloads and album sales. They were the ones licensing their music for commercials, TV shows, etc. Several of those indies went on to sign with major labels afterwards, and even those who didn’t saw a huge up-tick in their fanbase.

      While licensing options for writers are certainly different than those for musicians, the basic concept is the same. If you want to earn more, you have to learn what your rights are and how you can put them to work for you.

      With authors, they can choose to license out their work. But understanding the rights they have in their books might also open them up to new ways they can exploit those rights themselves. For example, they might come up with ancillary products that would increase their income and help promote their books. Or they might take their books to other media types themselves, or by partnering with other independent creative professionals.

      • Thanks Jennifer and really pleased you liked the blog. And, yes, a very good point – I often refer to the music industry when discussing licensing. As it had its issues first, with internet, piracy, removal of physical product etc, it worked on getting its house in order and is now furthest ahead in the creative sectors. The ways it centralises rights information and the splitting out of creative work different rights to monetize – there is much to learn for it for the book publishing industry.

    • Jevon says:

      Interesting. I suspect that you only scratched the surface on this topic as I’m still a bit confused about how rights and license work.

      Is there a difference between rights and license, or can you use them interchangeable?

      If I self-publish a book and sell a license (or rights, not sure) to a publisher, will I continue to make money from book sales generated by that publisher?

      And why do I need to use rights and license to make money from translations or e-books, instead of just having it translated or converted into an e-book and selling myself (since that’s what self-publish authors do)?

      • Thanks and you’re right – there are many levels of depth that can be gone into on this subject. Rights licensing is the one action – you are licensing the rights that you hold. An an author you have automatically created many rights by having created the work and the licensing is the action of trading those rights.

        In terms of deals, they obviously vary but you should always be receiving income from your rights – note, license them rather than giving them away. Normally if a publisher buys the rights they will pay a royalty to you and sometimes an advance payment or a fee to cover the royalty that would be due on the sales of certain amount of copies.

        If you haven’t licensed exclusively world rights, all languages then you can still publish and sell the work directly through the rights that you still hold (for instance if you sell rights for a US edition, you can still publish and sell a UK edition etc).

        You can translate and distribute the work yourself, but there are costs and risks to this, such as quality of translation, knowledge of market being sold in. Many authors prefer to license to a publisher who has experience and infrastructure in that market, plus they will cover all of the costs.


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