About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Terms of Endearment

Maybe my blog readers can have a bit of a vote.

As a rule, most foreign translation licenses are for a set period of years, and usually require that a book also sell x copies per year or have y copies actually selling for each of those years else the book would be considered out of print or off market and the agreement would terminate.  A few contracts were for a set period of years, but with the prospect of the term extending indefinitely so long as the publisher was selling q copies or paying r dollars in royalties.

One of my agents abroad revised boilerplate recently.  Instead of requiring publishers to have 500 copies in stock (and in truth, that was kind of harsh to the publisher, and increasingly so in the POD age) the new boilerplate defines in print as simply being able to supply a copy of the book within 21 days.  This could enable the term license to last for the full five or eight years of the term regardless of how many copies were actually selling.

From my US perspective, I worry that every publisher would happily take advantage of this and keep every book available in POD for the full term of license.

My agent abroad thinks people would be somewhat more gentlemanly in his market and not abuse this.  He also remembers back many years when most licenses in this market had indefinitely extendable term licenses.  Yes, you know you have some minimum activity in the book each year, but there are risks, like if you move the author subsequently to a new publisher but can't unify the backlist in one place because those older books are still meeting their sales or earnings thresholds.  

If you as an author had the two choices below, which would you choose:

A.  to have your book licenses in this foreign market for 7 years, with the risk you would have 3 or 5 years of unhappiness when the book was available only as POD and not selling worth a darn

B.  to have your license for 7 years, but with the possibility that you might be able to end it early if the book wasn't selling 100 or 200 copies a year or earning $150, or perhaps never be able to end it for 7 years or 27 years so long as it was selling or earning those 150 copies?

Yes, there are other choices, but as I ponder how to respond myself to the new boilerplate I would be curious which of these options would be more worrisome to you.


Maria said...

Probably B.

The main thing for me is that if a book wasn't selling much, I might want to be able to POD it myself (I know a few authors have done this--it allows them to make their backlist available to fans without worrying about yearly sales or whether it's this or that.)

When an author PODs a book that was published via normal routes, I think it can do well (or just as well as it would under the publisher that is no longer pushing it.)

And technology changes. And perhaps I'm a control freak, but I would think getting those rights back sooner (or in the case of not selling) always makes more sense. Keeps my options open, so-to-speak. While a publisher probably wouldn't abuse the notion on purpose, how many times would they just not answer the emails or calls and send the proper paperwork to let the author out? They are busy people and why should they bother to prioritize some author that wants rights back...

If the author has an opportunity (or wants to create one) it would sure be nice it they could take advantage.

Maria said...

Although in re-reading the choices, I don't think either one is great. Perhaps the real key is that it depends on the current relationship with a particular publisher. If all was well, I might just go with A--knowing that it would eventually end and hoping to get a certain number of good years out of it.

Sorry. It's confusing...

green_knight said...

I'd worry about eternal in-print status - it's much better to know where you stand and to be able to take back the rights nd, if need be, do the POD publishing _yourself_ at some point in the future.

And forgive my cynicism, but expecting multinational conglomerates to act in a gentlemanlike fashion and to do the right thing? Ain't gonna happen.

Mark Teppo said...

Ditto on Maria's and Green_Knight's comments. Neither is great, and I'd rather have a concrete license--one that relies on the availability of physical copies. Once you go the POD route, you might was well write it off for the term (or be pleasantly surprised when the publisher opts to not execute the POD option to keep the book "in print").

I guess I default to the idea that if the book is selling copies, then why not let it continue its life in that way? If not, then having the option to take the rights back would be preferable.

Tim Akers said...

I'm not a big fan of POD yet. And as long as the book is selling copies in a market, I guess I'm okay with that.

Maria said...

and other thought...it may depend on the author! Some authors are not going to want to do anything with the rights (ie take them over and do POD). Some authors will be more than happy to "own" the project.

Perhaps there is not one cup of tea for all players! Your job is sooo easy, isn't it!