reversion, and only days before those rights would have reverted to the writer. It’s another example of how much new publishing technologies are affecting the reversion process. Since those reissues have not been publicized at all, cannot be found in bookstores, and have a catastrophically low sales ranking at online bookstores (readers are unaware that these long out-of-print books are “available” again), whatever the reason for the publisher’s actions, it certainly does not seem to have been to make money by selling the books. Holding onto the rights seems to have been the only goal—or, at any rate, it’s certainly the only perceptible result.
In clinging to old print-only rights, I suspect that publishers are hoping the court will favor HarperCollins in its lawsuit against Open Road Media, in which Harper claims that a license to publish a book in very old contracts inherently included (through magical thinking) e-book rights, too; it’s a claim that, if successful in this lawsuit, would turn old print-only rights into a gold mine for publishers, obviously. Alternately, perhaps publishers clinging to print-only rights intend to invoke the non-compete clauses in those old contracts, which might realistically eliminate all e-publication possibilities for those titles other than the author turning over e-rights to them.
In numerous other instances, reversion requests are stalled, ignored, or denied on a flimsy (and sometimes baldly inaccurate) basis. I’m also hearing confidential accounts of writers being told that if they insist on reversion of their eligible old titles, then the publisher won’t sign them for any new books.
Thus I find myself in the unusual position of benefiting from having had a very tough career; almost every house I’ve ever written for has either dumped me or folded under me.
When companies folded while I was under contract there, rescuing my titles via reversion always seemed to me the obvious thing to do. Those books had no future whatsoever at a program that didn’t even exist anymore. On a few such occasions, I had to be extremely persistent (for example, I sent a reversion letter— for the publisher’s signature—and SASE three times weekly for about two months to one folding company), but I always got my rights reverted in the end.
I also never deluded myself that a program that dumped me was going to reprint my old books one day, so I always made sure I regained control of those rights as soon as I could. I also felt that if my career ever skyrocketed, then I wanted to decide what to do with my backlist titles—not watch a publisher profit from my newfound success by reissuing my old books years after dumping me.
So I was almost always prompt about getting my rights back—and also occasionally creative. In one case, in which a house was obviously headed for bankruptcy (they had stopped publishing books, ceased sending royalties, and disconnected their phone), I got my rights reverted—while the book was still fairly new in the retail market—in exchange for my guaranteeing that I wouldn’t ever come after them for the money they owed me (I figured I’d never get it, anyhow). In another instance, I convinced a publisher to return all rights to a book years before it was eligible for reversion. They had canceled my series after releasing just one book, and I pointed out that if they held onto the rights for that first book, they would destroy any possible chance of my resuscitating the series—and hadn’t they already done enough damage to my career and my previously good sales record without doing that to me, too? (And, yes, I did indeed resuscitate that series.) So by the start of this year, there were only three old books for which I had not gotten all rights reverted.
Everything else either belonged fully to me again, or else it was new(ish) and still in print (and released under contracts that specifically included a digital rights license). Unusually for me, and for various complicated reasons, I had left these three books under contract for a couple of years after they became eligible for reversion—so by the time I got around to dealing with this, publishers (including this one) were clinging to neglected old backlist and denying reversion requests.
The publisher that held these rights was uncommunicative in my experience, so I thought non-response seemed the most likely reaction to my reversion request. (And I was right.) Therefore, since I would probably be relying on the “automatic reversion” subclause to take effect, rather than getting a formal reversion document from the publisher, I wanted to make sure I was letter-perfect about this process every step of the way, so it couldn’t be later claimed that reversion had not actually occurred because I’d made a mistake. So I consulted my literary lawyer about this process and about the reversion clauses in the relevant contracts; and, overall, my legal fees turned out to be well worth the expense.