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Friday, November 5, 2010

Freeing Hostages

Recently I had dinner with a literary writer friend. She has slipped, so to speak, from Little Brown to another mid size publisher until finally her last book was published by a small press known for literary fiction. It never appeared in paperback. In fact, none of her books have. And forget about digital availability. We were talking about the possibility of her letting me reprint one of her books on my new tiny publishing list. But her agent is about to market her new work and the possiblity of annoying the publisher with the right of first refusal nipped the conversation in the bud.

Recently the estate of Ian Fleming refused e-rights to his publisher (whichever flag Penguin flies). Agent Richard Curtis is buying back his authors' e-rights and publishing the digitals (is that a word?).

My literary writer friend doesn't have these options though she has representation. She is powerless. My kneejerk reaction is to admonish conventional publishers for their abuse of power over the meek and mild. I once worked for a publisher who accused me of "being on the authors' side" (!). Whose side was a publisher supposed to be on, I wanted to ask. Instead I resigned.

I guess that's why I am an independent editor. Free Writers Rights. I wonder if I can sell the tee shirt.

1 comment:

  1. It's really difficult to accept when publishers sit on rights and don't exploit them. A contract allows the publisher, for whatever financial and deal terms are agreed on, to "borrow" the rights in a property for the in-print life of that property. Unfortunately, what's considered "in-print life" can be very long. Of course, contracts can be modified to specify what "in-print" means in more narrow terms. And sometimes agents can negotiate for time limits on certain rights, which then revert to the author if not exercised in that time frame, but getting that requires an author with clout (high sales, high profile, great writing that everyone is salivating over, or some other major upside potential) and an agent with similar clout. And I don't know if that's something anyone could get right now for digital rights, which publishers naturally want to hang onto. I've been an acquisitions editor and I am an author, and I see both sides. But given how long the life of a book can be, and given the size of publishers' lists, and given the realistic view that not every book on a list so large can effectively have its rights exploited, especially in today's world of pared-down staff, and given the opportunities authors have now to exploit these rights for themselves, sitting on them seems ever more problematic to ponder.