Throughout this blog I’ve discussed many of the advantages of indie publishing over traditional publishing. Now here’s another item to add to the list. Owning the rights to your work.
First things first however. Before going any further, I need to state that I’m not an attorney. Nor is anything in this blog ever to be considered legal advice. This discussion concerns works of fiction, written of the author’s own volition. In this context it is common knowledge that the author owns the rights to whatever fictional stories he or she wishes to create.
The Problem with Traditional Publishing
The business model for traditional publishing is for the publisher to pay the author an advance against their royalties. In exchange, the author signs some or all of their rights to their work to the publisher. It all sounds wonderful. At least on paper. But when talking with traditionally published authors, I often hear the same story. “My name is on the book, but it’s not what I wrote.” Unfortunately, this is what happens when the author signs away their rights to the publisher. The publisher can revise or rewrite the story in ways that the author never imagined or intended.
Some authors may not care. As long as they’re getting their royalty checks, they’re okay with it. However, those of us who pour our hearts and souls into our work may find it problematic.
The Advantage of Nontraditional Publishing
Like many fiction authors, I put a lot of thought into what I write. For example, I may name my lead character Erica after a favorite aunt. She has long blonde hair and brown eyes like my best friend in fifth grade. The story is set in Idaho because my family vacationed there when I was a kid. In other words, everything I write is there for a reason. I also have my own unique writing voice. It’s like a signature and it distinguishes me from other authors. So the last thing I want is a nameless, faceless editor to come along and change Erica’s name to Sarah, and morph her into a brunette living in Boston. Nor do I want anyone taking away my voice. This is why I do nontraditional publishing.
Partnership Publishing and Self Publishing
There are two avenues for nontraditional publishing. Self publishing and partnership publishing.
Like a traditional publisher, a partnership publisher prints and distributes the book. Many, if not most, offer additional services, such as editing, proofreading, typesetting, and cover design, just like a traditional publisher. But unlike a traditional publisher, they do not buy the rights to the author’s work. All rights remain with the author. This means they do not make any changes to the content or story without the author’s okay.
There are a number of good partnership publishers out there. Unfortunately, there are others that are not. Therefore, it is up to you, the author, to do your research and find the right company. Fortunately there are resources, such as Writer Beware and Trust Pilot, which can help you weed out the bad guys
The other option is self publishing. In this model the author is in charge every aspect of writing, producing, and distributing the book. I tried self-publishing when I first started writing. We’ll just say it was a humbling experience. I then worked with a partnership publisher. Later on, when I understood how the business worked, I created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. Having been a graphic designer before I became a writer, it was the right choice for me, but it’s not right for everyone. If it’s not for you, don’t worry. Partnership publishing gives you plenty of options without signing away the rights to your work.
When to Consult with an Attorney
Those with specific questions about copyrights should consult with an attorney who specializes in copyright law. I also highly recommend consulting with an attorney before signing any publishing contract, regardless of whether it’s with a traditional publisher or a partnership publisher. Licensing agreements can be complicated, and there may be loopholes in there which the author does not expect. You need to fully understand your specific legal rights before going forward.