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What Are Subsidiary Rights in Publishing?

Subsidiary rights in publishing

One of the questions you might get asked about a manuscript you’re developing is about the granting of subsidiary rights. In basic terms, subsidiary rights mean that the writer grants the publisher the ability to publish their manuscript in different formats. If a publisher has publishing rights in different countries, then they may wish to translate your manuscript and publish it in multiple languages. They might wish to publish the book in hardcover, paperback, or as an e-book.

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Once the author grants permission for these subsidiary rights to be owned by the publisher, often in exchange for royalties or other payments, then the publisher can sell those rights to other publishers if they wish. Let’s say you write a manuscript in English and you’re asked to sign an agreement for worldwide rights to the book in that language. The publisher with subsidiary rights could then sell those rights to a UK publisher, an Australian publisher, and any other English market around the world.

What Are the Different Subsidiary Rights That Are Available?

There is virtually no limit to the number of subsidiary rights that can be granted to a publisher. There are different languages, different book formats, different publishing styles that can all be included with these rights. With that being said, there are certain subsidiary rights that are generally treated as “standard.” Here are the ones that generally see the most attention in today’s publishing contracts.

  • E-book rights. This is a battleground where some authors have been able to negotiate royalties of up to 50% or more on sales of their manuscript.
  • Different print formats. Large print format books can be something that earns some extra cash for everyone involved. Some print formats, such as Braille, are usually granted for free. Publishing quotes from your book may also be considered subsidiary rights in this category.
  • Serial publishing rights. Although serials aren’t as popular as they once were, it is still a subsidiary right that must be considered. This is especially true outside of the US where the national press is considerably stronger.

There are other rights that must be considered outside of the hardcover, trade paperbacks, and standard paperback formats as well. Audiobooks would be considered a subsidiary right, as would any other type of publication that is different from the standard format in which the publisher generally operates. When signing a contract, you’re agreeing to all of these rights, so you [and your literary agent if applicable] must make sure you get your fair share of the sales that are generated by these rights.

Why Is It Important To Know About Subsidiary Rights?

For many authors, subsidiary rights are just another way to earn some revenues from a manuscript they’ve worked hard on for awhile. It’s another paycheck and they don’t really have to do anything to earn it. Yet sometimes the income earned through these rights can be enormously important because the sales might generate additional interest in developing a manuscript. How your payments from sales through these rights is split must be carefully considered.

Here’s why. Let’s say you sell a manuscript to a publisher, who then sells subsidiary rights to secondary publisher. In the secondary market, you have a filmmaker who wants to purchase movie rights through the subsidiary market based on the manuscript. Depending on how your contracts are developed and revenues split, you could wind up with a smaller payment than you deserve in the selling of those rights.

How Subsidiary Rights Are Paid

For most authors, the subsidiary rights are generally credited against the royalty advance that is paid out. This means the author is “earning out” the money that has been paid to them by the publisher already. Only when the advance has been fully made whole will the author earn the ongoing royalties from those rights. If that royalty advance is never made whole, then additional payments from subsidiary rights may never come out.

It is also important to note that subsidiary rights are almost always granted to the publisher in today’s contracts. There are some that may be negotiable, but the industry has standardized this process for the most part and only unusual rights that are not part of the regular package may require some negotiation.

Subsidiary rights in publishing are an easy way for everyone to make some extra cash from your manuscript. Make sure the deal you receive is fair, even if the language is considered “standard” by everyone involved, and you’ll be proud to see your work in print whenever you walk into a bookstore or look up your book online.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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