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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Why you need a good reversion clause in your publishing contract

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Small presses start up and go under every day, it seems. While the vast majority of these ventures aren't out scam authors, they're generally one or two-person operations. Stuff happens. The publisher or a family member becomes very ill, the workload gets overwhelming, or events out of their control take over. Larger firms can deal with web outages, a bookkeeper going on vacation, illness, and so on much better than small operations. (I'm a one-person outfit, so I understand these things.)

A contract is between two parties: the publisher and the author.  (Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, etc.) What happens when one party fails to hold up their end? If you;'re handed a partial advance contingent on manuscript completion and fail to follow through, the publisher is generally within their rights to ask for their money back. If you misrepresent your manuscript (plagiarism might be one example), they're also within their rights to ask for their money back.

But what recourse do you have if the publisher doesn't follow through? This is where a reversion clause comes in. General reversion clauses call for the rights to your book to be returned to you after a set length of time or under certain circumstances. This is of concern to people who sign with small presses. Even the best-intentioned operations can go under, and a good reversion clause should get your rights back in the event of insolvency.

Your best defense is to have your agent or attorney (preferably one with experience in publishing contracts) go over the contract before you sign it and advise you of your rights. What if you've already signed the contract and your publisher shows signs of going under? First, check the contract. Seek advice if necessary. You may need to ask the publisher to revert the rights to you. She/he may be reluctant to do that. Obviously, selling books is what keeps them in business, and if they can just get that next batch of books out the door... On the other hand, if they go under without an adequate mechanism to revert your rights, then you may be stuck until the term of the contract ends. No publisher will take a chance on a previously published (or contracted) book unless you can prove you have the appropriate rights. That's just setting them - and you - up for potentially serious legal trouble.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, and I strongly suggest you get advice if you're faced with trouble at your publisher. Better yet, make sure your contract has adequate protections for you and your rights before you sign on the dotted line.

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Filed under: Publishing            
8/20/2009 11:30:27 AM
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