Adventures in Reversion – Getting the Rights Back

Reversion, noun. the act of turning something the reverse way.

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I recently received the rights back to my first novel, The Watch on the Fencepost. Since many writers either have gone through this process or will in the future, I thought it might be valuable to share my experience.

DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice. It’s just a list of a few of the lessons I learned while navigating this new pathway in the writing journey.

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First, let me say I was happy with the company that published my first book. The publisher was easy to work with, and I had fully intended to leave the book with them. For several reasons, though, my husband and I decided to publish the next books in the series independently through our Wordstar Publishing Company. So, in order to promote the series as a whole, I needed to have the rights to the first book.

Once I had met the obligations required by my contract with the publisher, I requested the reversion of the rights to me, and the publisher agreed. That was the easy part of this whole process.

Note: This is still a work in progress, but here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Cover – I had to get a new cover since the original one was licensed by the publishing company. No problem here – I wanted a new cover anyway.
  • ISBN – a new publisher requires a new ISBN.
  • Content – I didn’t change any of the story content. The only changes were to the Copyright page and the About the Author page. However, this is an opportunity for authors to make significant changes to the content if they like.
  • Formatting – Since the publisher had made a few changes to the manuscript after I turned it over to them, I didn’t have the latest copy on my laptop. I requested and received the latest copy from them and they sent me a PDF. I had to convert it to Word in order to work with it in Vellum. There were a few “gotchas” along the way that made this the most time-consuming part of the process.
  • Reviews – I wanted to retain all of the 200+ reviews the book had on Amazon, so I contacted KDP Support and Author Central to make sure I was doing everything needed to keep the reviews. Basically, they told me the title, author, and metadata in the new edition had to be exactly the same as in the old edition. They suggested I publish the new edition while the old one was still online so that they could be linked.
  • KDP requirements – I decided to publish on Amazon first. When I had all the files in place, I let my publisher know the plan and I published the ebook and paperback through KDP. Everything went well until KDP did the content review and discovered the content was like the old version of the book which was still live on Amazon. I supplied them with an email the publisher had sent me that verified he was returning the rights to me. Then they linked the new edition with the old one so that the reviews would appear on the new detail page. There are still a few issues left to be resolved, but the new Wordstar version is available and can be purchased on Amazon.
  • Other retailers – I also published, with varying degrees of success, to the other retail platforms: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, and ingram Spark. As of today, there are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. The publisher has not yet unpublished the first edition, and a few other issues need to be addressed.
  • The Audiobook – This is still uncharted territory to me. I’ll have to work with Findaway Voices to have the rights transferred to me and to change the cover image. The audiobook has more than 250 reviews on Chirpbooks, and I hope to find a way to keep those.
  • Miscellaneous – If you decide to get your book rights back for a book that was traditionally  published, be sure to save all the information from the former version, including ASIN and ISBN.
  • Major lesson learned – Be ready to deal with unanticipated problems.

Like most other things in life, this has taken a lot longer than I thought it would. And I discovered different members of support staffs had different answers to my questions. At least KDP will talk to the customer. The other retailers would only work through email, and that slowed things down considerably.

All in all, the reversion process has moved ahead reasonably well, and I’m still optimistic that we can resolve the rest of the issues.

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So TkZers: Have you gotten rights back to a previously published book? Do you have any insights or advice to add to this list?

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In celebration of having gotten this far, The Watch on the Fencepost ebook is available on Amazon all week for 99¢. Click here to get your copy.

 

THE WATCH ON THE FENCEPOST – A PUZZLE OF A MYSTERY.

“I started it … and to my surprise, I couldn’t stop. Nice job!” – Will Shortz, New York times crossword puzzle editor and NPR Puzzlemaster.

 

 

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About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three cozy mysteries, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at https://kaydibianca.com.

25 thoughts on “Adventures in Reversion – Getting the Rights Back

  1. Good morning, Kay. Interesting post.

    I’ve not gotten my rights back on a previously published book. I did get my rights back on a book between signing with a small publisher and before it was published. The publisher was filing for bankruptcy. My IP attorney – Joe Hartlaub – who had reviewed my contract, learned that I was patiently waiting for the publisher to “get things straitened out” and lit a fire under me to demand my rights back before someone else bought the company and I would never be able to retrieve my book.

    Lesson learned: check the financial status of a small publisher before you sign with them, or (I suppose) demand a clause that under similar circumstances rights would revert to you.

    Thanks for sharing all your lessons learned. Good luck with resolving the rest of the issues.

    • Good morning, Steve! Thanks for sharing your experience.

      I’ve heard horror stories from authors who signed with a small publisher that went bankrupt. I’m glad you had Joe as your attorney.

      New authors, eager to sign with a publisher, are especially susceptible to finding themselves in a bad position. Your advice is excellent. Authors should always check the financial status and insist on a clause in the contract so that rights automatically return to the author if the company goes under.

      Have a great week.

  2. Glad you’re making progress, Kay. Last December (I think) I got the rights back to two novellas, and still haven’t found the time to re-release. Because they were in two different Kindle Worlds, I need to change the World’s characters, so it involves some rewriting. Not a lot, but it will make the process even longer. Oy.

    • Good morning, Sue.

      Sounds like you’re in the same situation I was. Getting the rights back was the easy part. Doing all the steps required to republish was time-consuming and always fell to the bottom of the to-do list. 🙂

      Holding on to the reviews was very important to me, and that required some extra time working with KDP.

  3. I’ve been fortunate that my publishers had ‘easy’ reversion clauses in their contracts and everything went off without a hitch. One was so long ago that they were still selling books on their own site, nowhere else, so no duplication issues. (They’re out of business now.) Amazon was barely a thing then. As I recall, it was the same with the other publisher, which is still going strong. Either that, or they removed them right away. Again, this was quite some time ago. Since I publish myself and never set up a company, I’ve had no issues.

    • Good morning, Terry.

      Glad you had an easy experience. I was also fortunate that my contract with the publisher was very straightforward. It stated either party could cancel the contract after three years from the date of signing. (They’ve changed their standard contract since then.) The publisher was extremely supportive and easy to work with.

      I feel more comfortable than ever being self-published.

  4. PDF to Word
    I am an IT guy Converting from PDF to Word should be straight forward. It isn’t always. If you have to do this, and I did it for a client, Look for typos. The client needed to recover about 180 pages. Fortunately there were only two typos after the conversion.

    • Good morning, Alan.

      You’re right: converting from PDF to Word *should* be straightforward. I found an app to do the conversion, but one problem was the file the publisher sent me included the drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. Those caused a problem. Also, words that were split at the end of a line sometimes showed up in the Word document as hyphenated words.

      In retrospect, maybe I should have spent more time finding a better conversion app. As it was, I had to carefully read through the converted doc and fix the errors. That took a long time. (I am now so familiar with the story, I can probably recite it from memory. 🙂 )

      Have a great week.

  5. Good, systematic outline, Kay. Well done.

    Back in the “gold rush” days self-publishing, about eleven years ago, I started getting my rights back from four publishers. There was a lot of uncertainty back then, people predicting the death of “legacy” publishing. Agents in a panic over clients wanting to go indie; publishing houses wondering where all this was going. Thus, most houses were reluctant to revert rights, often relying on the “electronic editions” part of the rights clause. Only problem: what was meant by electronic in the old contracts was CDs, not what would come to be known as ebooks. Yet there was the language! This became an issue with a couple of my publishers. So I put my lawyer hat on and did some research and put together a killer legal memo arguing some basic contract law, e.g., that when an essential contract term is ambiguous, and the offeror and offeree have different subjective understandings about the ambiguous term, there is no contract because there is no mutual assent; and doubtful language in a contract should be interpreted most strongly against the drafting party, etc.

    Respectfully submitted, that did the trick for the recalcitrant publishers. Now I’ve got all my rights back. And, indeed, I’ll have some news along those lines next Sunday.

    Lesson going forward if you sign with a publisher: negotiate an OOP clause tied to a minimum income per royalty period.

    • That minimum income clause did it for me. The publisher had started a new imprint and used the same contract wording. The new imprint didn’t come close to the popularity/sales of the others, so it was easy to invoke that clause. A rare instance of where the publisher got contract wording “wrong” and the authors came out ahead without having to resort to any legal intervention.

    • Good morning, Jim.

      Bravo! I love the fact that you used your brain to outwit the folks who were holding on to the rights. It’s a real-life example of one man against the system.

      Thanks for your advice. Although I had thought I would never sign with another publisher, I’m thinking about writing a Middle Grade series, and my understanding is I really need a publisher in order to be successful because of the contacts publishers have with schools and libraries. Lots to think about.

  6. Good morning, Kay. Congratulations on being able to move forward on this. It’s obviously a lot of work. I’m glad to hear that most of the work is behind you now.

    When Amazon closed down the Kindle Worlds program back in July 2018, I had a novel set in Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire science fiction universe. Not only that, but the novel, “Spice Crimes,” featured Lindsay’s principal characters from her eight-book series. It was set immediately after the serious concluded. She was extremely gracious and encouraged me to republish the novel without changes, just acknowledge in the book’s front matter than this was published with her permission.

    It was a very straight-forward process for me to republish that book in September 2018 on all platforms and I was able to reach some new readers that way.

    Have a great day!

    • Good morning, Dale.

      Great to hear you were able to republish Spice Crimes without any issues. And reach new readers! That’s all good news.

      The landscape changes daily, so who knows what issues we may encounter in the future.

      Keeps us on our toes, eh?

    • Good morning, Debbie.

      You would think this would be simple, right? There must be a lot of authors who are working through this same process.

      Also, keeping the reviews was very important to me, but there isn’t an obvious way to handle this. I wish the retailers would address this directly.

      Have a great week.

  7. Very informative post!

    “Silver Dream” was published by a small outfit. At some point, their marketing model, such as it was, had stopped working. A year in, I was offered (a) to stay with them, but pay an annual maintenance fee, or (b) to take the book back. They offered to sell me their artwork for a few hundred dollars. I chose (b) and declined the artwork, since I planned a new cover.

    I reverted to my final upload DOC and edited it to match the hard copy. This was educational. Their relatively few pre-publishing edits had been excellent.

    • Good morning, JGuenther!

      Sounds like you had a good experience. In retrospect, I wish I had simply edited my final Word doc since the publisher had made just a few changes. It would have been easier than converting the publisher’s PDF and having to change all the issues that came up through that. Lesson learned.

      Have a great week.

  8. Great subject, Kay. Thanks for the info. I’ve never sold any book rights, but this is an interesting article for those who have and want to recover their backlist. Enjoy your day!

    • Morning, Garry!

      There’s plenty to think about as we write and publish. Glad this is one thing you won’t have to worry about. 🙂

      Have a great week.

  9. Nathan’s Run was published in 1996 by HarperCollins, and At All Costs was published in1998 by Warner Books (now Hachette). I got those rights back with no problem at all, and Kensington subsequently bought them and republished the books. Even Steven and Scott Free, however, were pubbed by S&S, and my agent at the time neglected to negotiate a reversion clause, so those are gone forever.

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