Reversion of Rights

It’s no secret that there are new publishers springing up on every corner – sort of like Starbucks on steroids – and many of them are run by people who have very little knowledge and experience of running a publishing company. As a result, many are imploding. Many of them disappear overnight without so much as a whimper, and take the authors’ rights with them. So the question all authors ask is, “What about my rights?”

If the publisher is someone who actually possess a soul, they will send you a letter of reversion, which frees you to take your book elsewhere. If it’s a bankruptcy case, then a letter of reversion may not be viable because books are considered assets of the company, and will be tied up in bankruptcy court.

Get the Paperwork

If they close their doors and slap up a sign on their website granting group dissolution of rights, like this company did, then you’re up a creek without a paddle. The problem is that you need to have a letter that specifies you and your title are free and clear. If you query another editor, they’re going to insist on proof that your book is back in your hands. Without it, you may as well forget trying to query it out.

Removal From Sale

While the now-defunct publisher may take down their online store, your book is still out there in all the online databases, like, Amazon, etc., and it’s the publisher’s responsibility to remove them. Most don’t. They simply slip away and leave your book in limbo. And yes, if your book continues to sell, guess who’s collecting the money? A guess: it isn’t you. And best of luck getting your royalties out of your ex-publisher.

The good news for those who have a reversion of rights letter is that you can tell any online store like to remove your title, and you’ll send a copy of your letter as proof. No letter, and you’re as screwed as that guy facing the wave.


Sadly, there are few. If you find yourself in this position, you can sit down and write another book. Hopefully, you have many lovely stories burning inside of you. Yes, it sucks stale Twinkie cream to lose a book, but you have little recourse. I’ve know a number of writers who used this to their advantage and totally re-tooled the book and gave it a different title.

Let me warn you that you could have limited success. For instance, I’m a creeper, meaning I creep around the internet when I’m interested in an author. I want to get a feel for someone I may work with. Chances are that I’ll stumble across your previous pubbed book with a defunct publisher who left all their titles still active online. If I see the similarities of that book and the one in my grubby little paws, I’ll ask you about it. It’s not a bad thing because if I love the story, there are always solutions. But I do want to know so I can put out any potential fires.

Do Your Homework

Before you query out a work where you have no letter of reversion, do your homework so you can put out any potential fires. You may be shocked at what you discover.

In one case, an author discovered her book was being illegally sold as an ebook by a leading distributor. All rights had been reverted to the author before the publisher imploded (thanks to her agent), but somehow, the distributor got hold of her manuscript and was selling the e-book format online. The author never knew because she hadn’t done a search. It wasn’t until someone else found it that she threatened a lawsuit and instant removal of her book.

Researching is how I snuffed out a very odd experience with Smashwords. The author had met with constant rejection and decided to self-pub his book on Smashwords, only he couldn’t get the formatting down right, so it never went live. He saw this as a sign to give his book one more go. Voila, he got a great agent and I bought the book.

One night, I happened to be surfing the ‘net and Goggled ( misspelled on purpose) the title of his book. Bam! EPub Bud had his entire book (including the funky formatting) up on their site. I scratched my head and wondered how a file that was uploaded to Smashwords, but never published, made its way over to ePub Bud, where anyone could read the book in its entirety. I immediately alerted the author, who was beyond furious.

Of course, no one ever provided answers as to how one company illegally handed over a a file to someone else who illegally put it up on their site for all the world to read, but let’s just say that I have some serious reservations about Smashwords’ and ePub Bud’ ethics.

What gives me the heebie jeebies is, had I never done the Goggle search, no one would have realized there was a freebie file of his book. It doesn’t make any difference now, but when that book goes to market and is heavily promoted next year, readers will Goggle the title and boOm, that illegal file on ePub Bud would have shown up.

So be careful, dear authors:

  • If you have a reversion of rights letter, check to make sure all traces of your book are gone.
  • If you’ve ever uploaded a book to an online e-pub site, make sure that file hasn’t magically wormed its way to some other site. Goggle yourself and your book.
  • If you don’t have a letter in your possession, consider a serious re-write and title change. Or better yet, write a new book.

The most important thing is not to let a rotten experience tarnish your love of writing and the publishing process. I’m getting all psycho-babbly here, but it’s true that life is a constant re-write and some chapters are way better than others. It’s all in how you edit.


8 Responses to Reversion of Rights

  1. But Lynn (I may be missing something here), when you publish via Smashwords they don’t have the rights so there wouldn’t be a reversion. (Obviously, in the case of a publisher going bust, you DO need that reversion letter.) But in the case you mention, surely this is a clear case of copyright infringement? (Apologies if I have missed something – I am v tired!)

  2. Sorry, Nic, I must not have made myself clear. When talking about the Smashwords/Epub Dub debacle, I was referring to how authors need to check themselves out online to make sure there’s nothing wonky.

  3. Kathy Porter says:

    Hi Lynn,

    Okay I understand if your publisher disappears – get your rights back ASAP. My question is what if you and your publisher have parted ways and you now have your rights back – is this also a situation we should have the book taken down from sales?

    My book is not on publishers website bookstore, or in their distribution chain any longer, but the publisher still barely exists.

    Since I am actively looking for a publish would this be an issue?

    I’d love your insight on this.

    Kathy Porter

  4. Hi Kathy. Is your book still showing up as active on places like Amazon and If you have your rights back, your previous publisher can’t legally sell your book and must remove it from the internet stores. Problem is, they often don’t give a rip. Out of sight, out of mind.

    The end run is, I won’t take a book that’s now OP but still showing up as active in the online stores. Reason being, I don’t want to compete with the previous book – it confuses readers on which one to order.

    Your first order of business is to get your book off the internet, or make sure it shows up as inactive.

  5. Kathy Porter says:

    Your a blessing to have around Lynn – thanks! I will get right on it.

  6. SandySays1 says:

    My human went through this – His defunct pub’er did the “right thing.” Is my canine logic clouded or is the inclusion of a reversion clause in the author/publisher contact viable.

  7. Hard to say without seeing the contract. Lots of contracts have clauses whereby all rights are reverted should the publisher go belly up. But if your book is still showing up as live in the online stores, you really need that reversion of rights letter in your paws.

  8. Wonderful blog, and just the information I need.
    I do have a reversion of rights letter from the small, struggling publisher of the print edition of my novel. I own the digital rights and, now, the print rights, too.
    I have an amazing marketing opportunity at this time, in that PBS is introducing a special television series tonight (3/31/13) that parallels the theme of my novel. Their story is set in England, mine in America. If actively promoted, sales of my book should see a nice increase.
    Do you know how, whom, or the department I should contact at Amazon and to get the print edition taken off their sites?

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