Back in 2012 when I signed my first book contract, I thought I knew my way around intellectual property rights. By then, I’d spent 20+ years in the outsourcing industry either working as a consultant or for a service provider. When you get down to it, outsourcing contracts are complex documents that revolve around rights and responsibilities of both parties and compensation and who owns and can use whatever new stuff is created by the relationship.
A book contract is similar in many ways. The author provides the intellectual property a.k.a. IP and the publisher gets the cover designed, provides editing and proofreading services and makes it available to the market through various distribution channels. If you’re lucky, you get some promotional help as well.
After having an attorney familiar with the publishing contracts review the contract for Big Mother 40 and suggest changes, I ranked them in three categories – “gotta have,” “important to have,” and “nice to have.” All the “gotta haves” and most of the “important to haves” made their way into the document and away we went.
Fast forward four years. There’s a management change and Fireship and support started to go south and I wanted to move the books to another publisher. The details of the whys are not as important as the process known as reversion of rights. In layman’s terms, the publisher gives up its rights to publish the manuscript, a.k.a. “the work” and the author who now owns them. With the rights to one’s work in hand, the author – that’s me – can assign them to any other publisher or can keep them and self-publish.
I didn’t want to self-publish., but trust me, I thought about it. Yes, the margins are better, but it means I have to learn how to be one and may lose some distribution channels. So, I decided to move my first three books – Big Mother 40, Render Harmless and Cherubs 2 – to Penmore Press which published Inner Look.
The process took well over a year. After my letters, phone calls and emails to get my rights back, one settlement offer, and now very frustrated, I retained a lawyer. The retainer agreement was signed back in June 2017 and we just got Fireship’s formal acceptance at the end of November 2017.
Through the law firm, I had to make it clear I was ready to sue for breach of contract. The problem I faced even though I had documented cases of breach of contract for all three books, the monetary value for any award was going to be small, i.e. probably less than $15K or $20K. Legal fees, assuming it went to court, would quickly exceed any money I received either through loss of income (royalties) or damages. And, the reality, the longer it went, and the more my fees would increase and the more, if we won, Fireship would have to pay which could have led to an appeal and more legal fees. So I wrote a check. Sometimes principle has to become subservient to what is right.
The truisms about any legal action raised their ugly head. Truism one is the lawyers always get paid no matter what the outcome. Truism two, lawsuits are all about money. He who has the most wins.
Net net, the books will be re-released with new covers in the next week or two and all will be right, at least I hope, with the world. And, most important, the lessons learned which will appear in a later blog, have been included in the new contracts.