Going Indie: from OOP to self-pub bestseller

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.

Regards,

[Author’s name]

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:

Take Me, I’m Yours

His Wife For a While

Taking Love in Stride

11 comments

  • This is great information and very interesting. Over 3 million books? Mind-boggling! Keep up the great work!

  • This information perfectly outlines what has become “the best revenge” for traditionally published authors with a backlist. Here was the old sequence: a year to write the book, six months for your agent to place it with a publisher, a year to publish the book, a month on store shelves and then the remainder bin. Now, I can write what I want, format it in an afternoon, and have it up on Kobo by dinner time. Those good books, too quickly abandoned, are now selling 24/7. What’s better than that?

  • Great information, Donna. I am sure you have helped many other writers with this. I have read all your books and I am excited for more!

  • What an inspiring journey you’ve had as a book author, Donna! Thanks for sharing. I began my writing career working at publishing companies and I’ve published with major houses as well as through my own small press, Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc. From my work and author experiences, I knew about how to go about asking for the rights back to a book but other authors might not have been aware of how to go about it. How generous of you to provide that sample reversion of rights request letter, and even sharing the name of potential literary lawyer for authors to consider contacting. That turned your personal essay — which still would have been informative — into a genuine “self-help” piece on how to make the leap from being published by others to getting the rights back and republishing your previous works. I also appreciated your pluses and minuses of becoming an “indie” author. Selling more than 120,000 of your “out of print” novels is praiseworthy indeed! Bravo!

  • Great stuff, Donna! Super congrats on your success 🙂

    Like you, I love the fact that I’m in complete control of my writing destiny. Life is sweet 🙂

    I’ve also used David and he saved me a potential whole heap of trouble with a contract. PLEASE get them checked thoroughly by someone who’s used to negotiating publishing contracts or an IP lawyer.

    Happy Writing! xx

  • Pingback: Going Indie: from OOP to self-pub bestseller | The Passive Voice

  • Congratulations on all of your success, Donna. I so appreciate you sharing your story and helping other authors make the decision to go “indie”.

    I love the complete control from start to finish in writing, producing and releasing my novels. It must be the type A personality part of me! LOL

    Best,
    Katherine Owen

  • Great piece, Donna! You’re an author I watch because you’ve been on both sides of the trad/self-pubbing experience. You seem to be doing a great job of managing your career. I’m always inspired by your posts (and those great recipes on your blog 🙂 )

  • Donna, this is a wonderful piece. I’ll ask a dumb question: I’m assuming that once Random House re-published my book (Remember The Time) as an e-book, I lost my reversion rights? Or can there be reversion rights won back for the print version? (I’m not sure if I’m making myself clear, mainly because I don’t know how to phrase the question.) Thanks!!

    • Annette, I believe I understand what you’re asking. You never lose your reversion rights. Your reversion clause should spell out the the stipulations for reversion even for an e-book. Digital (e-book) rights reversion are usually based on both time span and amount sold. (Example: Your book must sell 500 copies in 3 years; if it does not meet that criteria, you can then request reversion.) If your contract does not stipulate e-book or digital publication rights, then it’s possible that Random House may not have the right to publish your book digitally. If you don’t understand your reversion of rights clause, please seek the advice of a literary attorney.

  • dimitra ekmektsis

    This was like a recipe of how to prepare a gourmet meal with my leftovers from yesterday. I prefer to eat my leftovers just as they are, and if I’m still hungry, cook another meal. It’s like this: if my books are out of print, I send my publisher a note to reverse the rights back to me, and without their note, I go and self-publish my book. It is 100% out of the question that the publisher has any rights if he isn’t printing the book, and the rights ALWAYS belong to the author, anyway. Rather than warning authors, you should be warning publishers, especially now, with all their unethical practices and whatnot.

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