So I was standing in line waiting to order my Foot-Long sandwich in 1999 and this big 18-wheeler pulls up in the parking lot. The driver comes in and gets in line behind me and we struck up a conversation. I told him I was an western author and he said that truckers absolutely love genre fiction audiobooks to listen to on the road. He told me to check out a particular audiobook company, so I did.
And… BLAM! Just like that I got my whole 4-book western series published in audio format. But here’s the catch. You can only exploit your separate and individual rights (for example, audiobook rights) if you own them. If you sign a generic publishing contract, your publisher seeks to own all your rights whether or not it intends to use or exploit those rights.
When I got my first two novels published by accident, I specifically only signed away the print rights. Don’t ask me how or why I knew to do that, because I still don’t know the answer to that question to this day. e-book rights weren’t even on the radar back then, but audio and foreign rights were. So I kept them.
With the audio rights, there was no advance back then and no upfront fees, but my royalties from my audio rights were TEN TIMES all the advances plus the royalties of my first two books combined. All because of an accidental sandwich shop chit-chat… and my insistence on keeping my book rights, even though I didn’t yet know what to do with them.
My advice: Market your book rights individually. Don’t give away the whole bunch. If a publisher insists on getting ALL your rights, make them show [in writing] specifically how they’re going to exploit them for you.
Another tip: If YOU sell your rights individually, those royalties go straight to YOU regardless of whether your paperback print run [by another publisher] has earned back your advance. If your publisher has all your rights, those royalties go to the publisher and will be applied against your advance first before you even see a dime.
If you have a wacky story on how you got published, send me 300 words and your byline and let’s tell aspiring writers there are many paths to the goal line.