“Say you keep the electronic rights,” my publisher said. “What are you going to do with them?
I had no idea.
The year was 2004, and while the buzz among authors was that you should try to hold onto your e-rights if you could, I was among those—the majority, I suspect—who had not a clue as to what that really meant.
Flash forward ten years. While I’d signed away those particular e-rights, I recovered all rights for two other books that had gone out of print (back when such a thing was still possible) and have brought them back into print on my own, as e-books and with print-on-demand (POD) print editions.
Now I’m a hybrid author, publishing both traditionally and independently. And I even have a hybrid book, one for which the rights are divvied up between a traditional publisher and me. The publisher has English language print rights. With their reputation and distribution network, the softcover of my latest novel, Cold Spell, is showing up all over, especially after reviews came in from places that would have punted it right out the door had the book been entirely self-published: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Foreword Reviews (though the latter does feature indie books, Cold Spell was a selected rather than paid review)
As for the rest of the rights—digital, audio, foreign—I’m working those in ways the print publisher can’t; they simply don’t have the resources. For the e-book, I run giveaways and specials. The audiobook is in production with a well-known radio host. Worldwide, a go-getter agent is representing the translation rights on my behalf.
Like so much else in publishing these days, the hybrid book is an experiment, one that works with the right combination of publisher, author, and book. Publishers want authors to sign over all rights; that’s how they do business. If you want to propose a different arrangement, you need to bring something special to the table—ideally, a book that the publisher couldn’t otherwise get. With large crossover potential—it's literary, and it's women's fiction, with book club appeal—I knew a well-marketed digital edition of Cold Spell would find its way to readers who might never consider picking up the softcover from the university press that holds the English language print rights. More readers mean more buzz, which means more sales in both digital and print, a win-win for the publisher and me.
There’s no way a Big Five Publisher would negotiate a hybrid arrangement with a small-time author. But in a changing market, small presses have the advantage of being nimble and forward-thinking. Some will understand this and use it to their advantage—those are the publishers you want to approach if you think you and your book are right for a hybrid deal. It also helps to have a previous working relationship; in my case, I’d done two prior books with the press.
And this time, when asked what I’d do with the rights I wanted to keep, I had a long and detailed answer. I had proof that I knew what I was doing, and I shared particulars about how I’d promote the non-print editions—and how that would mean a greater return for the publisher on the print edition, to offset the potential revenue lost from sales of the e-book.
If you propose a hybrid deal, keep in mind the publisher’s investment in bringing your book to market. Your book will benefit from the efforts of professional editors, proofreaders, and designers. Expect to generate your own digital files. Discuss contract language to ensure that the content of the book is the same in all editions. Decide whether cover files will be shared.
Sales figures will tell the full story, but so far, everyone’s benefiting from the hybrid arrangement for Cold Spell. The book is getting far more exposure that it would have under a traditional arrangement, and readers are enjoying access to the book (at competitive prices) in editions that wouldn’t otherwise have been made.
After thirteen previous books in print, I’ve finally got an answer: yes, I know what to do with those rights.
Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored more than a dozen books. Her most recent is Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. This post first ran at the blog of ALLI, the Alliance of Independent Authors.