E-book Country: Why I won’t settle for just the physical rights

My post yesterday brought up some interesting questions and comments on various social media venues. A few that really caught my eye were asking why I wasn’t satisfied to only buy the physical book rights and leave the e-book rights alone – especially in light of the fact that some agents are keeping those rights. They wanted to know if I’d kill the deal.

The answer is yes. Absolutely. And here’s why.


Competition is hard enough as is. We compete with other publishers who publish the same kinds of books we do. We compete for the attention of millions of readers, and we compete with the ever-shrinking shelf space. So why would I compete against my own book?

We put thousands of dollars and hours into producing a book. It’s no secret that e-books are on the rise and in many cases, edging out physical books. If I only have the physical rights, then I’m competing against the e-version of a title that we edited, designed cover art, marketed, promoted, produced ARCs and sent out to all the major media and review outlets, and did print runs.

Why would I be happy to allow an e-book to ride on our coattails? When you find a book on Amazon or B&N.com, for example, the e-book is listed there as well, so all one need to is click on the link to the e-book and buy away. A sale we’ve lost, and a sale the holder of the e-book rights has gained.

Financial viability

So let’s say this happens often enough – that the e-book outsells the physical book – what do you think will eventually happen to the print publisher, who made it possible for you to hold your book in your hands? Well, they turn off their lights and bid you and your physical book adieu.

So while you’re thrilled to be getting your e-book royalties from whomever produced your e-book, your print publisher is struggling to remain afloat. I find the irony quite compelling because some authors want to drink from two different watering holes.

On one hand, some of you want nothing more than to see your book in physical format, but you want to keep your e-book rights. If more people are buying e-books – and that day is coming – then what do you think will happen to the publishers who made your print book possible? So long, physical book. So long book being shelved in libraries and bookstores.

Physical books will never disappear

And let’s not forget that physical books are still very much in play with media and reviewers. In the past three weeks, I’ve shot out nearly 70 books to various media who want to read the books and interview our authors. TV interviewers don’t hold up a Kindle or Nook and say, “Go to your nearest e-book site and download this book!” No, they hold up a copy of the book, flash it on the screen, and tell viewers to hit up their nearest bookstore.

That takes a print publisher. Where will your print book be if we’re slowly bled out?

Competition of another color

I’ve been told agents are negotiating to retain the e-book rights, and I’m extremely ambivalent about this due to the disturbing trend of a few agents deciding to become e-publishers. I can’t help but wonder whom they are negotiating for – themselves or their author client? I already know that we have stellar distribution with our e-books, along with marketing and promotion – elements that I’m fairly confident the agent lacks.

To date, I’ve never had an agent negotiate to retain the e-book rights. But as e-books become a bigger share of sales, I can see where this will become a bigger issue. That’s why we’ve taken steps to insure that our e-books are showcased in virtually every possible venue. So the question remains, why keep the rights when we can provide the best distribution and quality product?

I realize agents are having a tough time of things – heck, we all are – but I could no more assume the job of an agent AND maintain my own job with any efficiency. So I don’t see how agents can become publishers. The reasons I’ve heard is because agents need the income. But in order to do their clients justice, they have to hire people to take care of the e-book publication. That costs money, so I’m still seeing a disconnect that doesn’t jibe with their ability to do their primary job of selling their clients’ books and still paying the bills.

A Tale of Two Versions

As a print publisher who sinks thousands into your book, the last thing I want to see is two versions of your book on the market. Your cover will have to be different, and so will your text file. Our name goes on the spine of your book, and I don’t want to be judged on the quality of the e-book if I’m not involved with its production.


There’s no doubt that publishing is undergoing a tremendous change. I find it hideously exciting. But with change, we all have to be mindful of the consequences. Making knee-jerk decisions without considering the impact down the line will result in the very thing authors want to avoid:  becoming irrelevant.

Sure, the short run thinking is that authors will make bigger royalties if they do their own e-publishing, or let their agents do it, but the end result is less money in their pocket overall because a team of dozens can accomplish far more than a team of one. We do this for a living, so we have expertise in selling books – physical or e-book.

I”m all for change, but I’m also one for ensuring that the decisions I make today will enhance my success in the future. I certainly don’t want to become irrelevant, and that’s why we have such great e-distribution. So if you or agent want to negotiate keeping your e-book rights, I hope you take the time to consider what I’ve written here because a very good print publisher may turn you down for that book deal, and you need to know why.

7 Responses to E-book Country: Why I won’t settle for just the physical rights

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I for one would willingly hand over both. Where I WOULD negotiate is if the publisher was refusing to produce an ebook version at all. I believe that while print is far, far from dead, being ONLY in print is going to reduce potential sales and as time goes on, this will become more and more true.

  2. catwoods says:

    I’m with NinjaFingers on this. My tweeter would be tickled pink if I sold both rights to a publishing company that plans to market both the e-version and the print version. Where I would struggle is to hand over those rights to a publisher who refuses to consider taking advantage of both markets.

    Writers need to be as vigilant in scoping out publishing companies as they are in querying agents. They are not all created equally, nor do they all offer the same final package. Awareness is a writer’s best friend.

    Thanks for the great post.

  3. Any publisher who doesn’t produce e-books in this day and age is a bit whack, in my opinion.

  4. Brian Clegg says:

    I’m 100% with you Lynn from the author side of the fence – I wouldn’t want my ebook with a separate publisher. The only circumstances I could imagine justifying it is if the publisher offers silly royalties on the ebook – I’ve had one offer 5%, less than a trade paperback, which I think is a bit insulting. (But I’m sure you would never do such a thing!)

  5. No, Brian, I wouldn’t.

  6. Sally Zigmond says:

    I hadn’t formed a coherent opinion either way but you nailed it for me, Lynn. If I want a publisher for my next novel, which I do, then I also want that publisher handle the e-book, too. Why would I want it any other way? It doesn’t make sense to me logically as well as financially.

  7. awparker says:

    One point I think we miss here is that at separate publishers, you are going to have two different books. As a print publisher, you wouldn’t share your editing with the other publisher, nor would they want to share with you. What you would have is minor, or possibly major differences in the books.

    The other probability is that the books would be in competition with each other, something that will divide the ad money and the promo money. I know if I had only the print rights to a book, that would be where I would spend my efforts, selling the printed copy. If i had the ebooks, I would spend my money targeting people who would buy the ebooks. A divided house doesn’t make sense.

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