Category Archives: RR Successes

Rights Reversion Success Story: James O’Donnell

Posted February 12, 2019

Head shot of James O'Donnell

James J. O’Donnell is the University Librarian at Arizona State University Libraries and has published widely on the history and culture of the late antique Mediterranean world. He successfully reverted rights to his 1992 edition of Augustine’s Confessions and made the book available in an open access digital version. Continued interest in the online book led to a subsequent reprint and later an additional paperback print run. Professor O’Donnell shared his rights reversion experience with us in the following Q&A.

Authors Alliance: How did you first learn of rights reversion?

James O’Donnell: In the course of becoming involved in digital publishing in 1990 and after (and founding the oldest open access online journal in the humanities, Bryn Mawr Classical Review), I had been around conversations about rights and about signing away as little as you need to [in a contract]. The book in question, Augustine: Confessions (Oxford University Press 1992, 3 volumes) was in my mind at the time, so I familiarized myself [with rights reversion].

My book was expensive and specialized, with a first print run of 1,000 copies and a provision that I would get royalties if it sold more than 600 copies. The book sold for $300, or about $550 in 2018 dollars. I figured this meant that OUP expected to sell 600 copies, or a few more. In fact it had a reprinting of 250 copies and sold out all of those. In 1995, my editor at Oxford told me with regret that she had been unsuccessful in getting a paperback edition, so the book was going out of print. I was remarkably cheerful about this prospect [because it made the book eligible for reversion].

AuAll: What motivated you to request your rights back?

JJO: I had been speaking of digital “postprints” for some time and had in fact posted an earlier book of mine from 1979 (long out of print) in that way. The Oxford volumes of Augustine’s Confessions were meant to be of high value for scholarly users, from student to researcher, and I was well aware that use was naturally limited to library copies, often non-circulating. I wanted better.

AuAll: Were you eligible to exercise a clause in your contract granting reversion rights?

JJO: Yes, I wrote a simple letter to Oxford University Press. There was a clear clause in the contract.

AuAll: How has the reversion helped you? What have you been able to do with your book since reversion?

JJO: First, I worked with a consortium of scholars doing Internet publishing in classics to create a digital online version of my edition of Augustine’s Confessions, now hosted at the Stoa Consortium and at Georgetown University (my former institution) on mirror sites. This resource has been available for about twenty years and is regularly praised as a teaching and research tool of considerable value.

Then, in about 2000, OUP decided to have another publisher, Sandpiper Books, do limited run reprints (not yet print-on-demand) of some of their “greatest hits” of scholarly publishing in classics, and chose to include Confessions in the series. When they told me they intended to do this, I reminded them that the rights were now mine, and we proceeded to agree on terms for licensing this specific use for a modest stipend.

Around 2012, OUP decided that the book indeed had legs and made it available in paperback. It has been in print in that format since 2013 for $179, or about one-third the original hardcover price. It was surely the case that the digital presence with open access on the web kept my book in mind and created the market for those who decided they needed a print copy. It is highly unlikely that the book would have had better sales without the e-version (and quite likely that it would not have done as well).

AuAll: What advice do you have for other authors who might want to pursue a reversion of rights?

JJO: Authors should know what they want out of their books, other than the traditional thin stream of royalties that academic books receive. They should inform themselves about their rights, sign rights away carefully at the outset, and then keep an eye on just what outcome they are looking for. My sense is that with the ease of print-on-demand technology, many books may effectively never go “out of print,” requiring a different kind of strategy and vigilance for authors.

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We couldn’t agree more! Authors should be informed about their rights, and have strategies in mind for using them wisely—not only at the time a book deal is signed, but in future years, as well. To that end, we recommend two of our educational resources to help authors understand what exactly rights reversion is, how reversion fits into a book publication contract, and how to successfully secure a reversion of rights.

If, like Professor O’Donnell, you have previously published books and wish to learn more about regaining your rights, visit our Rights Reversion resource page, where you’ll find our complete guide to Understanding Rights Reversion, letter templates for use in contacting your publisher, and a collection of reversion success stories from other authors who successfully regained their rights and made their works more widely available.

If you currently have a book in progress and have not yet placed it with a publisher, we also recommend visiting our Publication Contracts resource page, which features our new guide to Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts. Knowing about rights reversion and reversion clauses before you sign your publication contract can help to clarify the conditions for reversion and pave the way for a successful reversion of rights in the future.

Rights Reversion Success Story: Jessamyn West

Posted April 17, 2018

Headshot of Jessamyn WestAs part of our occasional Q&A series on alternative publishing models, we talked with librarian extraordinaire Jessamyn West, who successfully reverted rights to her book Without A Net, and released it under a CC-BY license on unglue.it, a website that uses crowdfunding to support the release of e-books that are made freely available by a variety of rightsholders.

Authors Alliance: Why did you decide to make Without a Net freely available, and how did you decide to use unglue.it to achieve this goal?

Jessamyn West: When I wrote Without A Net in 2011, I was a reluctant author. I like to share my writing as widely as possible, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if the best way to do that is through a major publisher or by reducing barriers (i.e., costs) to access. While I adored my editor, I had a frustrating experience with my publisher—a lot of pushback on minor issues, a lot of extra work on my part for a product where I was ultimately not the primary beneficiary—and would not choose to publish this way again.

I wanted to make the book available, but did not really know or understand the process of getting my rights “back” from the publisher. I’d known people who did it in one way or another, but had always assumed, somehow, that it was prohibitively expensive or would involve arguments or lawyers.

I’ve always been a fan of opening up access (my work with the Internet Archive’s Open Library project was primarily geared towards this), and when Eric [Hellman, unglue.it’s founder] approached me to try out Unglue.it, I was excited to help out. It combined my two loves, which are (1) open access, and (2) improving user experience design for community tech tools. I was pleased with how it all worked.

When I worked with the Authors Alliance to help authors share their books on Open Library I got more interested in finding a way to do this with my book. In conversation with Eric Hellman, whom I’ve known through library circles since the early library blogger days, I learned that it wouldn’t be as expensive as I’d previously thought. So I figured, “Hey, what the heck?”

AuAll: Can you walk us through the process of regaining rights from your publisher in order to make the book openly available?

JW: It was so simple! I just sent them an email saying, “Hey, I’d like to do this,” and they said, “OK, it costs $2,000.” We had to do a little bit of back and forth since they had to send me an official contract for all of this, but the bottom line is they are a business, my book was seven years old and not really all that current, and this was just another (good) business deal for them. The hardest part of the whole thing was obtaining an EPUB version. When they made a digital version of the book, it was just a PDF and they sent the book away to an ebook jobber to make the Kindle version. So they didn’t have an EPUB version to give me, and Eric had to do the EPUB creation on his own which was, honestly, probably the most difficult part of the whole thing. EPUB creation is challenging to do right.

AuAll: How did you decide which Creative Commons license to apply?

JW: I opted for the least restrictive I could be without putting it in the public domain, so it’s CC-BY. I wanted my name to stay attached to it, but I didn’t care if people remixed it, sold it, whatever. This took a little bit of thinking on my part, because we’ve all seen publishers who basically repackage public domain materials and sell them to people who are not savvy enough to realize they can get the same content for free . I dislike this, but I didn’t feel like it was my crusade with this particular activity. I also think there is a good argument to be made for CC BY-SA (a share alike) license, just to pay it forward, but again I feel like I was working with digitally divided folks and I wanted the license restrictions to be as easy to understand as possible.

AuAll: Is there anything that surprised you, or that you wish you’d known before you started?

JW: I tend to dive in first and read the fine print later. While it only cost $2,000 to get the rights from my publisher, there were some ancillary costs (sending out “premiums,” cash processing fees, etc, associated with the unglue.it crowdfunding model) that added up that I should have taken into account as part of this process. I had a very supportive community behind me, and could have crowdsourced more of the associated expenses if I had been more deliberate on how I went about it. I was also somewhat surprised how little my publisher cared, which made me feel better about severing my business relationship with them. Not that I had negative feelings about them, but their primary concern is money and not helping ease the digital divide. I’m the opposite, so this approach made sense for me.

AuAll: Have you received any feedback from readers who have benefited from finding your book online?

JW: Most of the people I have heard from are people who were involved in the process, people who helped support it or people who helped me go through this process. I feel in some ways like we’re in an age of aspirational texts. People like having books around “just in case,” or because they’re interested in the topic, and they’re certainly easy to accumulate, but I haven’t heard from anyone who has actually READ the book recently, though I’d certainly like to.

AuAll: Do you have any words of wisdom for other authors who are thinking of “ungluing” or otherwise making their books available under a Creative Commons license?

JW: I am happier not worrying if it’s going to be okay for me to send a PDF of my own book to someone who asks me about something in it. My book came out in 2011 in the same week my father died suddenly, so I was sufficiently distracted that I didn’t really give it the send-off that it deserved. This gave me a second chance to make a modest big deal about the work that I’d done and the ideas that I was hoping to spread, and I was glad I got a chance to do that. Eric was an incredibly engaged and helpful steward of this entire process, so if someone is thinking “I’d like to do this, but how?” I strongly urge them to get in touch with him.

Jessamyn West is a librarian and community technologist who lives in Central Vermont.

 

Rights Reversion Success Story: Dale Cannon

Posted March 27, 2018

Photo of Dale CannonDale Cannon is Professor Emeritus of philosophy and comparative religion at Western Oregon University. In March of 2017, he reverted rights to his religious studies textbook, Six Ways of Being Religious and made the book available under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC license in Western Oregon Library’s Digital Commons open access repository. During the past year, the book has been downloaded nearly 600 times. Professor Cannon shared his rights reversion experience for us in the following Q&A.

Authors Alliance: How did you first learn of rights reversion?

Dale Cannon: I first learned of rights reversion at a workshop/conference I attended for textbook authors the year after my book was published (1996).  It was all new to me.  The one thing that particularly stood out was the claim that absolutely none of the polished contract that I had received from Cengage Learning (at the time it was operating under the name Wadsworth Publishing) was “written in stone;” every word of the contract had been open to negotiation. (That, of course, doesn’t mean that Cengage would have readily accepted a rights reversion clause that favored my interests.)  About such matters I was completely naïve when I signed the contract.

I believed at the time that Cengage/Wadsworth was the best publisher I could have secured, as they had a track record of publishing several books closely related to the orientation and content of my book, and their publishing campaigns for those books seemed ideal.  So I’m skeptical that I would have had much leverage to get them to include a rights reversion clause, especially one favoring my interests.

AuAll: What motivated you to request your rights back?

DC: Several factors motivated my request.  One is that the book wasn’t selling well, due to a failure on Cengage’s part to mount a major sales campaign (as had been promised by my editor, who left the company shortly after the contract was signed).  The editor subsequently assigned to my book had no interest in books on religious studies and ignored the previous editor’s enthusiasm and promises.  On top of that, the original price of about $27.00 had long since been left behind and was 3 and 4 times that by the early years of the 21st century.  But I was very interested in having the book become better known and more widely used in university classrooms.  It wasn’t simply a textbook in the comparative study of religions; it was distinctly different and broke new creative ground in the theory of religions.

I have since learned more about self-publishing and how attitudes among academics toward self-publishing have changed a lot and become much more positive.  Of course, I could not consider any such option until I had rights reverted to me.

AuAll: How did you go about requesting a rights reversion?

DC: I simply wrote to the editor (14 years after publication) requesting reversion of rights, explaining how sales had been very low for quite some time (especially for a textbook), with no prospect of that changing.  Clearly my publisher wasn’t making any money on the book, so warehousing remaining copies was becoming a problem, not to mention the prospect of a reprinting.

AuAll: Were you eligible to exercise a clause in your contract granting reversion rights?

DC: There is a clause in the contract entitled “Reversion of Rights,” that seems to be entirely conditional upon the book being “declared out of print in the United States” plus 90 days after such declaration.  I did not appeal to this clause of the contract when I wrote requesting reversion.

AuAll: Did you face any obstacles in getting your rights back?  Is there anything you wish you’d known going into the process?

DC: I did not face any obstacles.  I received communication back from my request within a week, as I recall, and the official reversion of rights within about a month.  The persons with whom I had communication regarding reversion were all cordial and easy to work with.  There is nothing I would have preferred doing differently regarding the process.

AuAll: What advice do you have for other authors who might want to pursue a reversion of rights?

DC: There are several different circumstances that need to be taken into account.

Before the contract is signed, by all means try to have a reversion of rights included in the contract.  Do some research and have some alternative models at hand for how it might be worded.  Do take the publisher’s interests into account and, if possible, provide reasons for reversion that not only will be understandable to the publisher but also make it attractive to them.  Be prepared to go to another publisher.  It would be best if you have another acceptance offer in hand, or at least the strong likelihood of one.

After publication, a reversion of rights, in a situation where there is not a strong reversion of rights clause with clear conditions that are met, there should be no problem.  If there is no such clause, then you would need to establish that it would be in the publisher’s best interest to revert the rights to you—which could be a very tall order, unless the future prospect of sales, etc., is very dim, as was the case for me.

AuAll: How has the reversion helped you?  What have you been able to do with your book since reversion?

DC: Reversion has given me freedom to do what I want with Six Ways of Being Religious, including publishing it myself, and possibly finding another publisher. Currently, I have chosen to have it digitized and published on my university’s digital commons.

Since doing so, it has been downloaded more than 500 times in many different countries around the world.  I am considering offering print-on-demand and possibly an ebook version, both for a small price.

Rights Reversion Success Story: David G. Ullman

Posted January 31, 2018

Headshot of David UllmanDavid G. Ullman is Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering Design at Oregon State University and an expert on product design and decision-making best practices. After securing a reversion of rights, Ullman published the sixth edition of The Mechanical Design Process, a leading text used to teach mechanical engineers the processes of product design. We asked Professor Ullman to share his rights reversion success story with us.

Authors Alliance: What motivated you to request your rights back?

David Ullman: When The Mechanical Design Process was first introduced in 1992, I insisted that it be priced at less than $50. I felt this was a fair price for a university text on the topic. McGraw-Hill, the publisher, agreed and released it at $49. Over the years, McGraw-Hill steadily raised the price over my protests. By 2017 the list price was $166. University bookstores sold it for $149. I contacted McGraw-Hill, protesting the price increases. I told them that I did not understand their business model, the price was usury, and they were killing the sales of the book. Where inflation would have taken the book to $85, they had nearly doubled that. Finally, in early 2017, when the annual sales for the fifth edition (2015) had dropped from 4,000 copies per year to 1,000, I offered to buy the copyright, and they agreed, at no cost to me. Thus, in November 2017 I released a new edition of the book at a price practitioners and students can afford: $49.95. It is interesting to note that as soon as the agreement was signed, McGraw-Hill’s list price was lowered by $30.

AuAll: How and when did you first hear about rights reversion?

DU: I always knew that it was possible to buy back rights. When I decided to request the rights back, I did a lot of online reading to be sure I understood the ins and outs.

AuAll: Could you walk us through the process of requesting your rights back?

Continue reading

Spotlight on Open Access and Academic Publishing:
A Q&A With Eric von Hippel

Posted August 15, 2017

headshot of Eric von Hippel

Just in time for the 2017 back-to-school season, we’re featuring a series of posts on alternatives to traditional publishing models. Earlier this year, Authors Alliance advisory board member and MIT professor Eric von Hippel released his book Free Innovation under a Creative Commons license—the newest addition to his online collection of freely available works. We asked him about his experiences with rights reversion, open access, and how academic authors and publishers can help to make books openly available.

Authors Alliance: You successfully regained the rights to your 1988 book The Sources of Innovation from Oxford University Press (OUP). How did you secure a reversion of rights? What have you been able to do with your book since reversion?

Eric von Hippel: When I contracted with OUP for my first book in the 1980s, I was not aware of open access as a possibility, so I simply signed a standard contract giving all rights to OUP. About 20 years later, I had become very interested in open access. I therefore asked OUP to allow me to conduct an experiment. OUP would allow me to post a free electronic version on my MIT website. If hard copy sales declined in the next period, I would pay OUP $1,000 as compensation for lost sales. If they went up, OUP would keep the profits and allow me to keep posting the free version. OUP agreed to these terms. Happily, sales of printed copies went up, so I was able to keep posting the free version from then on.

With respect to actually getting back the copyright for Sources of Innovation so I could go fully open access: About 5 years ago, my excellent activist OA colleagues (thanks especially to Ellen Finnie Duranceau of MIT) told me that I had a window of time in which I could get the copyright returned to me. That window was fast-approaching in the case of my 1988 book, so I simply wrote to my editor at OUP, asking him to give me back the copyright without my having to go through the formal process as dictated by the law. Sales were low at that point, so he simply said “fine,” and wrote me a letter transferring all rights back to me.

AuAll: We’ve written previously about MIT Press’ pioneering approach to open access. To date, you’ve published two books with MIT: Democratizing Innovation and Free Innovation. Your publication contract with MIT gave you the right to post free ebooks from the very beginning, ensuring that both books were “born open access.” Based on your experience, can you offer some advice to other authors—and publishers—who want to embrace this model?

EvH: In response to your question, I talked to my editor at MIT Press to see if they had by now evolved a standard set of OA practices. Turns out they have not. They are still experimenting. Sometimes, depending on specifics of a book—for example, is it a textbook?—their experiments result in negative financial consequences for the Press relative to their sales projections. Sometimes the consequences are financially quite acceptable. Things are also changing quite rapidly in terms of book-reading behaviors. Specifically with respect to my own books with MIT Press, the 2005 book had very acceptable print sales despite the availability of a free eBook version. The jury is still out on my new 2017 book.

Frankly, these days authors have to insist on an open access eBook option if they are to have a hope of getting a publisher to agree. And, they very well might be turned down even if they do insist. As we know, academic presses are not hugely profitable, and they cannot afford to take big risks. I have a feeling that a standard OA option that may emerge in the end will be something like the model now increasingly offered by publishers of academic articles: If authors want open access, they may increasingly have to agree to pay a fee to compensate publishers for (possibly) lower print copy sales.

AuAll: How did you select which Creative Commons license to apply to these books?

EvH: I really did not know which one to use—I just sort of chose the license others seemed to be using without really understanding the pros and cons. I will be able to make a more informed choice using information supplied by Authors Alliance by the time decision-making for my next book comes around. [Chapter Four of Authors Alliance’s guide to Understanding Open Access has additional information about selecting an open access license.]

AuAll: What results do you see from publishing your books openly? What do you see as the pros and cons of embracing this model?

Like most academic authors, I write books to have them read, not to earn royalties. The increase in readership I have experienced by going OA is really worth it to me—it makes me very happy. Evidence to date is that about 10 times more eBooks are downloaded than print copies are sold, so I guesstimate that I am reaching about 10 times more people with the ideas I find exciting than I could have done in the pre-OA era. It especially makes me happy that now teachers can assign even a single chapter of one of my books in a class in a developing country if they wish, without worrying about burdening students with any purchase costs.

Personally, I don’t see any negatives with respect to going OA—only positives. I actually feel very proud that I can contribute to my colleagues and to scholarship in this enhanced way. I am very grateful to the Authors Alliance for making it easier for me and many others to accomplish an Open Access outcome.

AuAll: Do you have any other suggestions for authors on how they can make their works available in the ways that they want?

EvH: Open Access is a wonderful goal—but as a young academic, please don’t feel guilt or failure if you cannot negotiate open access agreements right from the start. At the beginning of an academic career, very few of us have much leverage with publishers to negotiate for open access. Certainly, in the case of my first book I was at the start of my academic work and had zero leverage. In fact I was just very happy to get published by a good academic press like OUP, and would have signed pretty much any “standard terms” they asked for.

If this is your case too, I would urge you not to feel badly if you have to sign a traditional contract assigning all rights to your publisher. Better to survive the academic rites of passage. You will have a long academic career, and will have increasing abilities to demand and negotiate open access for your work as your reputation grows.

AuAll: We are honored to count you among the advisory board members of Authors Alliance. Thank you for sharing your experiences with our readers!

EvH: I am totally proud to serve on the Advisory Board. Pam Samuelson, as we all know, was a crucial founding member of Authors Alliance. She was the one who asked me to join. In my experience, Pam has wonderful instincts about what will help scholars and scholarship with respect to openness, and I signed on to support both her and this wonderful idea.

(As a side story in closing—I should mention that I tend to regard Pam Samuelson as akin to an unstoppable force of nature when she gets behind something she believes in. I still remember hearing about and worrying about the (ultimately defeated) proposed settlement between Google and commercial publishers a few years back. At a certain point, Google felt the agreement was in the bag. They then began sending lawyers around around the country to inform academic authors and others about how we could expect to function in the new world they envisioned. Indeed, they said, they were sure we would learn to love that new world over time. In fact, many academics were strongly against that proposed settlement for very good reasons, but things looked very bleak for the resistance at that time.

Then one day I heard that Pam had taken up the cause and was working hard against it with a few others. To the inexperienced eye, Pam and her colleagues were a small and lonely academic crew against mighty Google legal phalanxes that extended to the horizon like an endless sea of Orcs. However, as soon as I heard Pam was in the fight I immediately relaxed. Indeed, I remember thinking as I listened to a talk at the Boston Public Library by the very confident Google lawyers: Can’t they see what is coming next? Don’t they know they are now the walking (actually, limousine-riding) dead—about to experience the equivalent of the Lord of the Rings Ghost Army?)

So, in sum: Right on Pam, and right on, Authors Alliance! Keep it up! We are proud to be in this battle for Open Access with you!

Eric von Hippel is T. Wilson Professor of Innovation Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and is also Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT.  von Hippel graduated from Harvard College (BA), MIT (MS), and Carnegie Mellon University.  He is the recipient of three honorary doctorates, and numerous honors and academic prizes, such as the Humboldt Foundation Research Prize (2013), and the EU “Innovation Luminary” Award in 2015. 

von Hippel is known for his research into the sources of and economics of innovation. He has written three books on these topics, and also has published many articles in innovation management, ranging from the theoretical to the very practical.  Digital copies of all his books can be downloaded for free online from his MIT website at https://evhippel.mit.edu/books/

Rights Reversion Success Story:
Tracee Lydia Garner

Posted April 19, 2017

Just in time for the second anniversary of our Guide to Understanding Rights Reversion, we’re pleased to feature Authors Alliance member Tracee Garner’s success story. Since gaining back the rights to two of her previously published novels, she’s resumed work on her Jameson Trilogy, due to be published next spring. We met with Tracee at the AWP conference in Washington, DC, earlier this year, and she generously shared her rights reversion experience with us in the following Q&A.

Novelist and Authors Alliance member Tracee Lydia Garner

AUTHORS ALLIANCE: What first motivated you to get the rights back to your previously published novels?

TRACEE LYDIA GARNER:  I hadn’t really thought of reversion until I heard other authors asking how to go about it. Then I went to a conference in 2015, and a young woman came up to me and asked me if I would ever write Jojo’s story [the continuation of a character featured in her previous books.]  I admit that at first, I was annoyed—not so much at her, but more at myself, because I hadn’t finished with him, and I secretly did want to!

Then I had to look at how I could make it happen. If I was going to write Jojo’s story, I wanted to fold it in with my earlier books, update the covers and content, and release them as a new set, since any marketer will tell you that sets do very well. But in that case, I had to ensure that I could get the rights to those earlier books back. And then I had to get new ISBNs and do a bit of reload and relaunch to make it all work. All of that was the catalyst for formally requesting my rights.

AuAll: How did you go about requesting a rights reversion?

TLG: First, I researched online about writing a reversion letter to my publisher. Then I had to dig out my almost twenty-year-old contract and figure out whom to contact. (When you have one of the largest publishers in the world, with offices in NYC and Canada, it seems like real investigative journalism!) Contracts are very intimidating, and you have no desire to revisit it at all. You resist (and our creative minds can even make it more difficult than it has to be).

Once I figured out the jargon, found a sample letter online, and tracked down the right contact people (or their replacements), I e-mailed my request to my publisher. Then I waited (a good little bit)! I think I re-sent the letter at least once, saying “Hey, over here.” It took months until I got the letter saying that I had, in fact, fulfilled my seven-year contractual obligations. Very official!

AuAll: So you were eligible to exercise a clause in your contract granting reversion rights?

TLG: Yes, my contract was for a term of seven years. After seven years had passed, they were my books in theory, but it’s never good to assume, so I made the request to ensure that I received appropriate documentation to that effect. With the influx of digital rights and an ability to make use of ebook versions and audio versions, it’s important to be certain you are cleared for these kinds of rights, too. Be sure there was no addendum to your contract that permitted your publishers to hold onto these rights, and only revert some of the parts back to you.

AuAll: Did you face any obstacles in getting your rights back? Is there anything you wish you’d known going into the process?

TLG: The hardest part was finding the words to use and finding the appropriate persons to contact. Reversion doesn’t seem commonplace, at least not yet. Who would’ve thought we could ask for our rights back, repackage, edit, slap on a new cover (after design headaches, of course!), add new ISBNs, relaunch…and voila! New audience, new eyes, new readers. But there is also something intimidating about rights being returned to you. Rights back? For what? What do I do with them?

I imagine that at least some writers might have thought that ABC Publishing Company would publish forever and we’d all be fortunate enough to collect royalties like the estate holders for Michael Jackson and Elvis and all the popular TV shows and radio artists—only to find out that no, it doesn’t work like that!

AuAll: What advice do you have for other authors who might want to pursue a reversion of rights?

TLG: Remember that someone has already been through every incident you could possibly think of. Even though we sometimes feel like we write alone in our little caves, there are people out there to help. And it is worth the effort!

AuAll: How has reversion helped you? What have you been able to do with your book since reversion?

TLG: I had written two books in a planned trilogy, but I never finished the series. So I will be editing and repackaging the two books that I have back. I am finishing the third installment now. Fixing the books is no small feat, but the excitement of having a new trilogy propels me toward completion. It’s very exciting that, thanks to reversion, your characters get a second life, as does your career overall.

Tracee Lydia Garner is a bestselling, award-winning author. Her sixth book, the romantic suspense novel Deadly Affections, was released in March 2017. Born and raised in a suburb of the Washington DC metro area, Tracee works in health and human services, and is a speaker and advocate for people with disabilities. Her forthcoming Jameson Trilogy—made possible thanks to rights reversion—is scheduled to debut next spring. Find Tracee on the web at www.Teegarner.com.

Authors, if Tracee’s success story has inspired you to consider reverting rights to your previously published work, you don’t have to start from scratch! We’ve already done much of the preliminary work for you. Visit the Authors Alliance Rights Reversion Portal, where you’ll find our complete Guide to Understanding Rights Reversion, as well as letter templates for use in contacting your publisher, plus a collection of reversion success stories.

If you value our work and are not yet a member of Authors Alliance, please consider joining today. Basic membership is free, and our members are the first to hear about our latest tools and resources.

Joseph Nye: A Rights Reversion Success Story

Posted January 22, 2016

We are pleased to feature the following guest post by Brianna Schofield, a teaching fellow at UC Berkeley Law and co-author of our Guide to Understanding Rights Reversion.

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Joseph S. Nye is an Authors Alliance member, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and former Dean of the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He is the author of over a dozen books in the field of international politics and coined the term “soft power.”  In a recent survey of international relations scholars, Professor Nye was ranked as the most influential scholar on American foreign policy.

Notwithstanding Professor Nye’s significant contributions to the fields of political science and international relations, his 1971 book Peace in Parts: Integration and Conflict in Regional Organization fell out of print long ago.  When Professor Nye learned of his colleague Robert Darnton’s success securing the necessary rights to make two of his early books openly accessible, Professor Nye was inspired to see what he could do to get Peace in Parts back in the hands of readers.

Professor Nye was hopeful that his original publishing contract for Peace in Parts might include a reversion clause and that the book’s out-of-print status would trigger a right of reversion.  However, like many authors of decades-old books, Professor Nye could not locate a copy of his publication agreement.  With the help of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law, Professor Nye contacted the book’s publisher to request a copy of the original contract.  The publisher was also unable to locate a copy of the publication agreement after searching its internal databases and offsite storage facilities.

Happily, the publisher issued a letter making it clear that it claims no rights or interests in Peace in Parts and that it has no objection to Professor Nye making his book available in the ways he wants. After confirming that a subsequent reprint license to a different publisher had expired, Professor Nye was armed with the permission and information he needed to make the book freely available to readers.

Since Peace in Parts was already scanned as a part of the HathiTrust collection, Professor Nye filled out a form asking HathiTrust to unlock the full text of Peace in Parts.  Now, after decades languishing out of print, Peace in Parts is available free of charge online to all readers.  In the interest of reaching as many readers as possible, Professor Nye additionally opted to dedicate the work to the public domain using a CC0 license.

Share your own success story! If you’ve already used our Understanding Rights Reversions guide to make your work more available, please contact us at reversions@authorsalliance.org. We’d love to hear about it.

John Kingdon: A Rights Reversion Success Story

Posted December 8, 2015

We are pleased to feature the following guest post by Nicole Cabrera and Jordyn Ostroff, students at UC Berkeley Law and authors of our Guide to Understanding Rights Reversion.

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John W. Kingdon is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is the author of several books on political science and public policy, including the influential Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, which received the 1994 Aaron Wildavsky Award from the public policy section of the American Political Science Association.

In 1968, Random House published Candidates for Office: Beliefs and Strategies, a revised version of Professor Kingdon’s dissertation. Although the book was well publicized at the time, Candidates for Office has been out of print for several decades now. Professor Kingdon learned about Authors Alliance’s rights reversion campaign from his former University of Michigan student, Authors Alliance co-founder and board member, Molly Van Houweling. Eager to make Candidates for Office available to readers once again, he decided to work with Authors Alliance and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley to regain the rights in Candidates for Office so he could make it openly accessible to readers online.

Professor Kingdon sent a letter to Random House requesting reversion of rights and was pleased to receive notification just two weeks later that Random House agreed to revert all rights in Candidates for Office to him. Since Candidates for Office had already been scanned and was discoverable through HathiTrust, Professor Kingdon then approached HathiTrust with confirmation that he held the rights in his book. Using this form, he requested that HathiTrust unlock his book to make it fully readable online for free. He also chose to apply the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND license to his work so that even more people could discover and read Candidates for Office.

Now, several decades after its initial publication, Candidates for Office is once again available to students, scholars, and all readers, ensuring that Professor Kingdon’s work can continue to contribute to the scholarly discourse for years to come.

Share your own success story! If you’ve already used our Understanding Rights Reversions guide to make your work more available, please contact us at reversions@authorsalliance.org. We’d love to hear about it.

Everybody Wins:
Jeff Hecht’s Rights Reversion Success Story

Posted October 26, 2015

We are pleased to feature the following guest post by Nicole Cabrera and Jordyn Ostroff, students at UC Berkeley Law and authors of our Guide to Understanding Rights Reversion.

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Jeff Hecht is an Authors Alliance member and the author of several books on a wide variety of topics pertaining to science and technology, including lasers, fiber optics, and dinosaurs. Faced with the declining availability of his book, Understanding Fiber Optics, Mr. Hecht worked with his publisher to make it more affordably available to his readers. Mr. Hecht’s story is yet another example of how rights reversions and negotiations with publishers can benefit authors and publishers alike, as well as current and future readers. Part of Mr. Hecht’s experience is featured in the Authors Alliance guide to rights reversion, but since then Mr. Hecht has pursued new ways to increase his book’s availability, and we are excited to share this update with you.

We first spoke with Jeff Hecht in the fall of 2014, while conducting outreach to authors and publishers in preparation for the Understanding Rights Reversion guide. At that time, Mr. Hecht explained to us that Prentice Hall published the fifth edition of Understanding Fiber Optics in 2005. With time, sales of Understanding Fiber Optics slowed and Mr. Hecht was approached about collaborating on a sixth edition. Mr. Hecht brought this proposal to Prentice Hall, but it declined to publish a sixth edition because it did not believe that it could effectively market any new editions of the book. Instead, Prentice Hall agreed to revert to Mr. Hecht the rights to all future editions of Understanding Fiber Optics so that he could try to bring a sixth edition to market independently or with another publisher. Prentice Hall retained the rights to the first five editions, and Mr. Hecht happily got to work on a sixth edition of Understanding Fiber Optics.

This initial success did not mark the end of Mr. Hecht’s and Prentice Hall’s efforts to ensure the continued availability of Understanding Fiber Optics. After reverting rights to future editions of the book, Prentice Hall eventually stopped selling full-length versions of the fifth edition. Instead, Prentice Hall limited distribution of Understanding Fiber Optics to licensing individual chapters of the book for use in college course packets. Since it was important to Mr. Hecht that his book be available in a full-length edition, Prentice Hall agreed to allow him to independently sell full-length copies of the fifth edition subject to one caveat. According to the terms of their agreement, Mr. Hecht must make clear that Prentice Hall had previously published Understanding Fiber Optics but that it is not publishing the full-length version that Mr. Hecht is now selling. Mr. Hecht is happy to oblige, and has created his own small press to publish full-length digital and print-on-demand versions of Understanding Fiber Optics.

Mr. Hecht is quite pleased with how his negotiations with Prentice Hall worked out. Not only does he continue to earn royalties on Prentice Hall’s licensing of individual chapters of Understanding Fiber Optics, but he has also achieved his vision for making his book widely available at an affordable price. In fact, the first purchaser of the digital version of Understanding Fiber Optics was a student in Botswana searching for an affordable introduction to fiber optics. Mr. Hecht told us that he couldn’t think of a better symbol of achieving his goal of making his book more broadly accessible than ever before.

Share your own success story! If you’ve already used our Understanding Rights Reversions guide to make your work more available, please contact us at reversions@authorsalliance.org. We’d love to hear about it.

Robert Darnton and Authors Alliance:
 A Rights Reversion Success Story

Posted September 11, 2015

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We are very pleased to announce that two books by Robert Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment and Mesmerism and the End of Enlightenment in France, are now freely available in their entirety online. Darnton, an Authors Alliance Advisory Board member and an emeritus Professor of History and outgoing University Librarian at Harvard, has, with Authors Alliance assistance, secured the necessary rights to release two of his books under Creative Commons licenses.

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