Small Publishers and Rights


Looking for a bit of advice here. I’ve always been interested in publishing with a smaller publisher, since it’s more intimate than full on traditional, but you still get some of the traditional perks.

When it comes to the contract, what are some rights you should make sure to keep?

Do foreign rights work the same for small publishers as it does for the big traditional ones (I’m assuming yes, since it has to do with copyright).

One of my main concerns are my followers being able to buy my book internationally, which is where my question about foreign rights comes from. Would people be able to buy my book elsewhere, if my book was on Amazon for example?


If you indie publish, that is self-publish, you don’t sell any rights. You keep them all.

If you self-publish on Amazon, you can choose to sell in all markets. So you can sell around the world wherever Amazon sells.

Read the terms of the contract carefully. For example, if you enroll in KDP’s Select Program you must be exclusive to Amazon (in 90 day increments). The price you choose to sell your book determines the royalty percentage you get (75% or 35%). There are 4 countries that if you are not in the Select program you will only get 35% even if your book is priced in the 75% range. Also understand the EU VAT. Each market’s VAT (tax) is a different percent and is part of the price so unless you want to pay the tax with each sale you need to figure it into the price.

btw, rights have nothing to do with copyright. You own the copyright even if you sell rights. If you go traditional, you are selling publishing rights. Not the copyright.


I got my terms mixed up. I mean more along the lines of small publishers (I’ll definitely edit my main post to reflect this), though this is still highly valuable information since I am considering self publishing as well. Thank you!

I had assumed the foreign rights were to do with the copyright, since copyright is different across countries. I may have misread something, so thank you for the clarification!


Hi. I published with a small publisher and my book is available on Amazon in all countries that have an accessible Amazon site, if not they can purchase from site. My book is also placed in Barnes and Nobles, Kobo, Itunes, and a few other sites. The publisher loads the books for you and all sales are paid to them after which you receive your royalties depending on the contract you signed. Hope this helps. Charlene


Most publishing contracts transfer an irrevocable license to the publisher to sell and distribute your book. There are different rights attached to ebooks, paperback, audio rights, and foreign rights. Some contracts only transfer the rights for some of these versions, other for all, so make sure you fully understand what you are exactly giving up. Especially audio book right has become a hot commodity, even if they are not still not as attractive to smaller presses, so this is something to look out for.

The other points to consider is the length of the license. Some publishers want perpetual, which means they carry on beyond your death (something I don’t recommend), others limit the license to a certain amount of years. Watch for automatic renewal clauses, automatic rights to sequels, prequels or spin-offs set in the same world, or other catch all phrases that could bind you to the contract beyond the agreed period.

Especially with smaller presses, there should always be a reversion clause. That means that certain events trigger the rights to be transferred back to you. Examples are if the publishers goes bankrupt, decides not to publish your book even after they committed, or when sales falls under a certain threshold.

In any event, I would always have a lawyer look over a contract before signing because there could be hidden clauses in there you might not understand but hurt you in the long run. Once you sign, you are locked in, and if something goes wrong, you face much higher legal bills which could have been avoided if you consulted a lawyer in the first place.


I strongly, strongly, Strongly recommend you purchase this book and read it cover to cover several times. It will tell you which clauses to watch out for, and it will explain how to negotiate.

Bottom line is you want to negotiate the NARROWEST definition you can. “Worldwide rights in all languages” is HORRIBLE, because they’re not publishing in all territories and languages. “North American English-only” is terrific, because then YOU can sell the other territories and languages.

As mentioned above, this is per format. Again, NARROW. Keep what you can. The more they take, the less money you earn.

Be aware, BTW, that you WILL be presented with a craptastic contract, and you may not be able to negotiate much of anything. You have to decide if it’s worth it to sign.


Thank you, I will make note of all of this!


I’m going to go buy it now, thank you for recommending it!


Great summary.


I strongly agree with the point about about the reversion clause. So many small publishers are run by a small number of people (often one) and life can get in the way of their running. You need to be able to get your rights back if that happens.


This is all very valid but be aware of one thing. Yes, you can negotiate with small presses. I did it (after getting some great advice from some of the people active in the Insider). I did not have that book. Will get it.However, be aware - if you want a deal you will have to make compromises and the end result will not be perfect. It’s a question of what you can live with and what not. Signing away all rights without limits is a nono.
The rest is a case of how much is the deal worth to you? I was very close to walking away from it, but I did not.
Now, I’m glad I did not. But this really depends on yourself and the publisher you are dealing with. There are no hard and fast rules.
Apart form check everything ten times and make sure you know why you sign. Or not, as the case may be