What are Subsidiary Rights and Why Do They Matter? - article

Subsidiary rights cover every form of the book that is not the physical book itself. When you make a deal with the publisher to publish your book, you give them the right to print, manufacture, and distribute the physical book. Every other form of the book is optional. It’s something that can be licensed to someone else. Someone else can be granted permission to create a foreign-language edition. Someone else can create an audio book. Someone else can create a book-club edition of the book. There could be an excerpt in a magazine. You may have seen an excerpt of a forthcoming novel in the New York Times or your local paper or a magazine like Popular Science. Those are all deals that can be made, and so subsidiary rights are a way of making money above and beyond sales of the physical book produced by the publisher.

Selling subsidiary rights is an excellent opportunity to get exposure for your book. For publishers, all the risk is generally up front—they pay you, and until they actually see how the book does in the marketplace, they don’t know for sure whether they’re going to make a return on their investment. If they can license rights to a book, they have a much better chance of being successful. As an author, if someone likes your book enough to make an audio version of it or select it for a book club, it’s a little like having the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Every additional bit of recognition for your book is a huge advantage, and that recognition often comes in the form of subsidiary rights. Not only does it help the bottom line but it also helps publicity. It gives an agent or editor more talking points when they set out to promote your book—if they can say your book is going to change the world, and that it’s going to attract movie attention, and that it’s going to be sold in forty-seven different languages, that makes a big difference.

Agents and subsidiary rights directors are always sitting down with salespeople, scouts for movie producers, magazine editors, book club editors, and especially foreign editors, and they’re talking about what matters to them. Having the opportunity to sell the rights to your book gives them that much more impetus.

As an author, you can give subsidiary rights to your publisher. You can allow them, in your contract, to handle rights for things like audio books and large-print editions and so on. If you have an agent, the agent will probably hold on to those rights, because they’ll want to make sure someone is capitalizing on them. The important thing is to make sure someone is getting the word out about your book and looking for the ancillary opportunities that come with it. You, your agent, your publisher—everyone gets a little more money and benefits from the increased exposure that comes from having your book talked about.

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