By Donna Fasano
I spent nearly 20 years writing for a big name publisher. My 32 published romance novels won awards and sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide. I am forever indebted to the editors who helped hone my craft, and the royalties I earned put both my sons through college, paid for an unforgettable family trip to England, and garnered me some bling. With all of that said, working for a publisher wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Although I signed my contracts with eyes wide open, I had no idea just how paltry those 2-6% royalties were, and I didn’t receive a single raise in all the years I wrote for them.
Let’s jump forward a decade and a half. Four years ago my father was diagnosed with cancer and I became his primary caregiver. Watching a loved one slowly become sicker isn’t conducive to writing happily-ever-after fiction; however, at the same time I desperately needed the diversion of work whenever I could get it. I read about authors who were acquiring the publishing rights to their backlist titles and self-publishing those books, and, even better news, they were finding readers and making money. I immediately became interested in the idea. I requested the reversion of rights (more on that later) to my first 11 books and my publisher complied, so I have spent the past couple of years updating, editing, and expanding those manuscripts, and I’ve succeeded in self-publishing nine of those backlist titles as well as one never-before-published novel. I’ve become an Independent Author—an ‘indie’—and I haven’t looked back!
How has the title Indie Author altered my life? There are good changes and not-so-good ones. Some of the best:
Freedom. I can write whatever I want.
Money. I earn 35-70% royalties (compared to 2-6% that I’d been paid before).
Developing new talents. I’ve taken a self-taught crash course in book formatting, marketing, blogging, and social media; and I’ve discovered that I’ve got quite a knack.
Some of the worst changes:
No deadlines. No boss. I don’t have anyone telling me I can’t go shopping. Self-discipline has become an absolute necessity.
Doing it all. As exciting as being an Indie Author is, doing it all—writing, finding editors and beta readers, overseeing cover design, formatting, marketing and advertising, blogging, seeking out book reviewers, socializing with readers, etc.—is extremely difficult.
I don’t regret my years as a traditionally published author; to the contrary, I feel blessed by my success. But I am having a blast at this stage in my career, and I’m proud to call myself an Indie Author. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I’m a firm believer that the destination is much less important than the journey…and I’m determined to enjoy every second of this wild and amazing adventure.
A Chat About Reversion of Rights
Every publishing contract contains a Reversion of Rights clause, which defines the criteria under which a book is deemed ‘out of print’—in other words, when the licensing term expires and all rights revert to the author. The clause also outlines what actions must be taken in order to have the rights reverted. Years ago, authors rarely requested reversion because the chances of finding a publisher willing to accept a previously published book were slim. However, in this digital age and with the boon of self-publishing growing by the hour, that has drastically changed.
If the contract language is confusing, I recommend hiring an expert to lead you through deciphering the often convoluted terms found in publishing contracts. I hired Literary Attorney David P. Vandagriff and found him extremely knowledgeable. He treated me with honesty and fairness. You might know David from his popular blog, The Passive Voice.
Once you have discovered that one of your books has been deemed Out of Print, immediately follow the terms set forth in the clause. Usually, this means sending your publisher a letter of request. Here’s a sample:
JP Wiseman Fabulous But Fictitious Publishing 123 Main Street New York, NY45678-9000
September 23, 2012
Dear Ms Wiseman:
I am writing to request reversion of rights to my book, [Title], which I wrote for FbF Publishing in 1998. I believe this novel is out of print.
Please include the original certificate of copyright for this book when you acknowledge that reversion has been granted.
Thank you for your swift attention to this matter.
Sending the letter ‘return receipt requested’ will best protect your rights. Hopefully, the publisher will act in a professional manner and you won’t need to use this legal-in-a-court-of-law evidence.
Upon receiving a request, the publisher probably has the right to reissue the book within a certain time frame. If this happens, the reversion clock (be it 5 years, 7 years, etc) will be set to zero, but if your book isn’t reissued, then all rights should revert to you.
Every author should fully understand the Reversion of Rights clause. I urge you to pull out those old contracts and begin charting those out-of-print dates. I can attest that the effort will pay off. You see, I have sold over 120,000 copies of my self-published otherwise “out of print” books – at a royalty rate far beyond my wildest dreams as a traditionally published author – however following this path will be impossible until you successfully reclaim the publishing rights to your work. Get going! The effort in reading the legalese will be worth it.
Donna Fasano sold her first manuscript in 1989, and since then has become a bestselling, award-winning author of over thirty novels and four audio books. She writes under her own name, Donna Fasano, as well as under the pen name Donna Clayton.
Some of Donna’s books: