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What is the easiest way to sell books?

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A lot of new writers love to create stories, but they don’t understand very well how those stories are purchased. In fact, I’ve seen more than one writer run away from a publishing contract in fear simply because they didn’t understand the process. Just yesterday I heard an author say that she didn’t want to “give up her copyright” on her short story, so she walked away from a pretty standard contract.

So let me see if I can make this simple. Let’s say you write a novel. When you do, as it’s creator, you own the “copyright,” the right to print the work and sell copies of it. Under US law, you don’t need to necessarily register that copyright, but it is helpful if you do. (Registering copyright isn’t hard. Just Google the topic. I saw a scammer last week telling authors it was a complex process and he wanted $80 to do something that would actually take the author only a couple of minutes.)

When a publisher wants to purchase the rights to your story, the publisher usually is only buying limited rights—and often asks to restrict the purchase based upon language or territory, time period, or publication medium.

Languages and Territories.

When a publisher asks to “buy” your story, the publisher will pay you money for that right. Almost always, the publisher will pay only for certain rights. For example, if the publisher wants to buy the right to publish in North America, the publisher will offer money for “North American rights.” Alternately, they might want to buy rights for the entire world, or perhaps for only certain languages—say German or French.

Of course, the larger the territory, the more the publisher typically pays you. If a publisher wants “world rights,” then they are asking for the right to publish all over the world, selling translations, and so the author asks a premium for that.

Because of this, it isn’t uncommon for an author to sell the rights for a hit novel twenty times over. For example, with my Runelords books, I sold first in the US, then went to the UK, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, China, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, and so on.

Time Period.

In addition to buying the rights to publish in a certain language or territory, the publisher might ask to “license” the purchase for a certain time. It’s not uncommon to have contracts in many countries that limit the publisher’s rights for seven years. If they want to publish more thereafter, they would need to negotiate a new contract.

Medium.

Many times, you will have contracts that cover different mediums or formats for a novel. You might publish a book in hardcover, and then the publisher wants a contract to put the book in paperback or as an e-book or an audiobook. Books might also be translated into graphic novels, comics, plays, rock operas, trading-card games, paper-based roleplaying games, and so on.

Selling a film option to your novel can be even more lucrative, since this often allows the story to be translated to the screen where it gains new notoriety. Even more popular than movie options nowadays are the possibilities of creating a television series based upon your work.

If you’re selling videogame rights to a story, we very often try to limit the game to the type of device and the type of game that you will be creating. For example, you might sell the rights to create a PC-based computer game, or one for use on smartphones. The computer games can then be further divided into types of games—role-playing games, fight games, manipulative games, real-time strategy games, and etc.

All Rights.

Sometimes a publisher will ask for all rights to a work. For example, if you write a novel based upon a Star Wars property, it’s common for Disney to ask for all rights to the work. They have to. They can’t have you out selling t-shirts based upon your novel when they’re licensing those rights to others. So when I wrote “Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia,” Lucasfilm Ltd. bought the rights to publish the work in all languages, in all mediums, for all time. They own it, even the new characters and worlds I created. They all become part of the Star Wars Universe.

In conclusion: As a creator, you own the copyright to your work, unless you sell it. If you have a decent imagination, you can see how you might write one book but have a hundred streams of income arising from it. So you need to learn how to manage your intellectual properties to give you a good return from them. As an author, you never know where the property might “explode” in popularity. I’ve seen authors whose work did poorly in the US make millions in some small country overseas.

When you sell the rights, there are a lot of questions you need to ask. For example, will this publisher do a good job of publishing the work? Will it be a high-quality publication that is well distributed? If I have a filmmaker who wants to make a television series based upon a book, I have to decide if that filmmaker is likely to enhance the value of my IP or detract from it. The same is true of a novel publisher or a comic book artist or a game publisher.

But remember, you’re in control.

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 ***Important Announcements ***

David Farland will be teaching a Masterclass at Fyrecon on November 12-14 on “Strategies for Success—presales, launches, and long-tail strategies.” For more details, go to 

https://www.fyrecon.com/master-classes/david-farland-master-classes/ 

Dave will be teaching at 20Booksto50K in Las Vegas LIVE on November 10-12! More details to follow. (Please wear a mask and practice social distancing).  

http://20booksvegas.com/

Apex is growing! This Saturday we will be talking to Echo and Lazarus Chernik, two world-class artists and illustrators, and judges for the Illustrators of the Future Contest, on what to look for in the cover design of your books and stories.

Next week we will hear from Terry Brooks and Orson Scott Card.  It’s like a traveling conventions with bestselling authors, editors, publishers, agents, and artists. Throw in thousands of dollars in free writing workshop and live writing groups, and we’re trying to create the best value for writers on the web, at only $209 per year.

Go to www.apex-writers.com to learn more or to register.

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