Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekend Musings: First Publication Rights

I met someone the other week who talked about their publishing plan. That's par for the course, I run a writing group, this thing tends to come up from time to time. The plan is to self-publish the first book, so that when the second book is shopped to a publisher, they'll buy the first, like John Grisham did it.

Now I can't verify this is what happened with Grisham and a vanity press. I don't have the time to waste, so let's go with it being true, because it doesn't change the equation one bit.

Let's talk about first rights, as these are kind of a big deal to publishers. The name may change, but the heart of the matter is publishers want to be the first to release a book to the public. They generally don't want to be the second, or third, or fourth in line.

Once upon a time, agents and publishers used to pick up successful self-published books on Amazon, they still do, except things changed. They learned you can't recreate lightning in a bottle. Look to self-published authors who signed contracts with publishers. Those books sell well, real well, but the sales are not the astronomical giants publishers expected. Think Scrooge McDuck swimming in his safe of gold. Here's a picture for reference.

Those deals in 2011 and 2012 don't happen anymore, new deals have taken their place. If publishers pick up a book, they want to chain the author to them for a prolonged period of time, because, you know, investments and all that. Publishers will usually go for a two or three book deal. I'll save this for Saturday's post, as it's a bit off topic here.

What's the truth about first rights and being picked up? The chances are not good, unless sales are high. This is true for anything, but especially true for self-publishing on Amazon and elsewhere. Low sales and it won't be touched, with the detriment of the book being easily searchable. Everything stays on the Internet, the trail never disappears.

This doesn't mean publishers won't work with middling sales. Some will. There are editors and agents out there who know a book may fail, not because the quality is terrible, but the author isn't a marketer. That's what one editor told me, and she said she was working on rebranding an author's paranormal romance series in response.

I wouldn't hold out hope for that to happen. Most editors and agents won't work with picking up middling-selling self-published titles, because publishers don't pay for them. I bet there are a few series being read by them that they would love to contact the author, but reality would stop that from taking place.

First rights are incredibly important, and something everyone should take seriously. I don't know if you want to shop a more mainstream series to an agent, and keep a separate series for self-published, or if you feel a book needs a publisher's push, or if none of these really matters at all. Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. I'm just a fantasy author.

If there is something to take away from this post, is take your first rights seriously. This is the world we live in, and they mean a lot. We haven't hit a completely amorphous publishing world quite yet.