Best of Ask the Agent: What even ARE subrights?

Plus some good news for artists, a heartfelt plea, and a political book that won't make you cringe!

Hi, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood literary agent, Jennifer Laughran. Welcome to another edition of Best of Ask the Agent (the newsletter), where I go deep into the archives of my #AskAgent tumblr and find the most interesting material to deliver right to your inbox. If you don’t care about advice, just skip to the end for a great new book recommendation.

But first, some links:

This week’s Ask the Agent is a true classic; it comes from the now-defunct Literaticat Blog. It touches on an important topic that a lot of writers are not aware of, particularly in the early days of their careers.

What even ARE subrights? Meet the Rubber Band Ball.

I once spoke at my local middle school for career day. While perhaps the most successful part of my talk was getting the kids to tell me what kind of books they loved to read, it WAS career day and not “chat about books” day, so I also had to explain what the heck a Literary Agent does. And amidst all that explaining, the issue of subsidiary rights came up. Just in case you are unfamiliar, I thought I'd use the analogy I used on the kids. It's simple, and it makes sense (I hope!) and it is important.

You might think of your book as being a bunch of words in a document or on paper.

I think of your book as a rubber band ball.

The ball itself is your intellectual property. It is a real thing - it belongs to you. The ball itself is worth something, and each rubber band that makes it up is worth something, too.

Each rubber band that makes up the ball is its own right. Right to publish the book in the USA? That's a rubber band. Right to publish in paperback? That's a rubber band. Right to make a calendar or an audiobook or a TV show or put excerpts in Vanity Fair or anything else? All rubber bands... that is, rights. Take SHREK for example. Publishing it as a picture book in the US was a rubber band. Publishing in each country in the world, all their own rubber bands. The movie was another, the movie tie-in books another, the musical yet another, and toys and lunchboxes another.

These rubber bands/rights can be sold separately, or in a bundle. Most US publishers for kids books at least consider publication of hardback, paperback, ebook, in English, in the USA, to be primary rights. It is pretty much a given that the publisher will ask for these (along with large print, book club editions, and other editions of the same book.) This is the CORE of the ball.

All other rights are subsidiary rights, also known as "subrights." These are the bands that make the core even more robust. These rights include Audio, Film/TV, Merchandise/Commercial, rights for English Language in other countries, and Translation rights.

It is the PUBLISHER’S job to get as many of the rubber bands as they can, for the least amount of money they can.* It is your AGENT'S job to keep as many rubber bands as possible, and get the best deal possible for the ones they do sell.

If the agent keeps the rights, they then can sell the rights themselves and the client keeps all the profit (less agency commission of course). If the publisher keeps the rights, then THEY sell them, and split profits with the author (it goes straight to earning out your advance, though, until you've earned out at which point you get that percentage.)

EVERY book theoretically has all these rubber bands, though of course, some books are more likely to USE them than others ... Guns, Germs and Steel is probably not going to make it to the lunchbox aisle at Target anytime soon. ;-)

And as for foreign rights, while it is TOTALLY COOL to sell them, not every book, quite frankly, is suitable for foreign tastes. Some books are deemed "too American" -- books about school, or specific types of pop culture, can be losers for other countries -- and of course every country has their own trends and preferences. The economy plays a part too; many territories are very choosy about what they bring on and only want topics or authors they know will be sure-fire hits, so they stick to big names.

Hope this was a bit useful!  Let me know if you have questions, I may or may not have answers.

* That doesn't mean that publishers are trying to trick authors or rip them off -- it simply means that it is obviously in their best interest to get as many rights as possible. And most of this stuff I'm talking about is negotiable... so if the publisher is open to negotiating (let's say, a higher advance price, or better royalties), you and your agent might well decide to cede some of these rights.  That's a convo for you to have together.

New This Week: THE NEXT PRESIDENT by Kate Messner & Adam Rex

This inspiring and informative book for kids about the past and future of America's presidents releases March 24. Order it from Oblong, Bookshop.Org, or your local Indie!

When George Washington became the first president of the United States, there were nine future presidents already alive in America, doing things like practicing law or studying medicine.

When JFK became the thirty-fifth president, there were 10 future presidents already alive in America, doing things like hosting TV shows and learning the saxophone.

And right now—today!—there are at least 10 future presidents alive in America. They could be playing basketball, like Barack Obama, or helping in the garden, like Dwight D. Eisenhower. They could be solving math problems or reading books. They could be making art—or already making change.

Who will be the NEXT president? Could it be you?

If you like this newsletter, share it — or sign up to get it straight to your inbox! Stay safe out there, and see ya next time! x Jenn