Why Get the Rights Back to Your Work?

Posted July 16, 2019

Readers familiar with Authors Alliance’s work will know that we’ve created a suite of resources to help authors get the rights back to their works, including a guide to Understanding Rights Reversion, templates and guidance on how to craft a persuasive rights reversion letter, and information on termination of transfer under U.S. law.

One question we’re often asked is “Why would I want to get my rights back?” The most general answer to this question is “To increase your work’s availability and reach more readers.” Within the context of this broad goal, there are as many specific motivations to revert rights as there are authors. We’ve collected some of these motivations (and outcomes) here to inspire authors to consider whether their books’ availability might benefit from reversion.

Making an Out-of-Print Book More Widely Available to Readers
After James O’Donnell’s book, Augustine: Confessions, fell out of print, its use was largely limited to library copies, which were often non-circulating. By reverting rights, James was able make his book openly available online where it maintained a vibrant readership. In fact, James feels that the continued availability of his book online created the market for a print version, and he subsequently negotiated two new agreements to reprint the work.

Repackaging Earlier Books with a New Book to Complete a Trilogy
Tracee Garner had written two novels in a planned trilogy, but never finished the series. After fans requested that she finish the series, Tracee reverted rights to the first two books so that she can edit and repackage them with a new book to complete and self-publish the trilogy.

Increasing Opportunities for a Book to be Used in the Classroom
Dale Cannon’s religious studies textbook, Six Ways of Being Religious, wasn’t selling very well and he wanted the book to become better known and more widely used in university classrooms. Dale reverted rights to his book and made it available in his university’s online repository under a Creative Commons license where it has been downloaded more than 2,500 times in two years. Dale is currently exploring offering a low-cost, print-on-demand version.

Reducing Costs for Learners
David Ullman was motivated to revert rights to his textbook, The Mechanical Design Process, after his publisher had steeply increased the price of his book over his protests. David felt that the price was harming sales of the book, so he reverted rights. With his rights back in hand, David self-published a new edition of the book at a price point that is more affordable to practitioners and students. Even though he drastically cut the list price, David now makes more per book than when the book was sold through his former publisher.

Making a Book Available in a Format Requested by Readers
Katie Hafner’s publisher had stopped printing her book, A Romance on Three Legs, instead making it available only as an e-book. Her readers were constantly reaching out to her, requesting information on where they might purchase a physical copy of her book. Katie felt strongly that, in order to reach her target audience, her book had to be available for purchase in print. By explaining to her publisher that her audience was more likely to purchase a traditional print copy than an e-book, Katie successfully persuaded her publisher to make her book available for purchase in print again.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” motivation for seeking a rights reversion. We encourage authors to position themselves for success after obtaining a reversion of rights by considering their motivations for reversion and developing a plan for increasing their book’s availability before they initiate a reversion request. For more inspiration from a range of authors, browse our reversion success stories.