Serialization Rights for Traditional and Self-Published Authors

Serialized books continue to be a hot topic in the publishing world, whether via an app, author newsletter, blog post, online magazine or newspaper, or a hard copy periodical. If you are unfamiliar with serialization rights, book serialization is the publication of one or more excerpts from a book or the full publication of a book in smaller, sequential installments in a serial publication like a magazine or newspaper. It is an important but often overlooked part of the subsidiary rights an author may license by virtue of her book copyright.

First and second serialization rights

First serialization is the right to publish an excerpt of the book in advance of the book’s publication. Second serialization is the right to publish an excerpt of the book after the book’s publication. Like book publication contracts, these rights can be parsed by territory (e.g. first North American serial rights or first serial rights worldwide) and by format (e.g. print only, print and digital, digital-only). First serialization rights tend to be more lucrative than second serialization rights.

Serialized fiction is not new. The process of publishing excerpts from books or the full book in serial format has been around since the Victorian era. Dickens used the method of serial publishing for The Pickwick Papers. Sir Arthur Conan serialized Sherlock Holmes. In the ’70s, Armistead Maupin serialized Tales of the City. In the 21st century, established authors like Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Chabon, as well as aspiring authors too, have serialized several books or published excerpts of a book before publication (e.g., Gentleman of the Road, Courdoury Mansions, Worm, and Watchmen)

Because of this uptick in serialized books and the publication of excerpts in serial publications, an author may want to retain serialization rights when negotiating a book contract or negotiate better rates with a publisher when licensing such publication rights. If you are self-publishing, you can grant your serialization rights to a magazine or newspaper should you wish to serialize your whole book or only a few excerpts.

A few things to consider when licensing serialization rights

  1. Depending on your publication strategy and whether you are a new or an established author, traditional or self-published, serial publications of excerpts from your book may help generate interest in and drive sales of the current book and other titles on your backlist. For this reason, require the periodical to print the name of your book with the excerpt publication, including the publisher, publication date, cost, and where to purchase the book if possible.
  2. Decide if you want to serialize the complete book or only an excerpt, keeping in mind that if you provide the whole book for free, others may not be inclined to purchase the book once it is available unless you are an established author. However, never say never. Andy Weir’s experience was much different with The Martian, which sold well even after several self-published versions of the work were made available for free prior to being published by Crown Publishing.
  3. License only the publication rights a periodical needs to serialize the excerpts of your book. Any other publishing rights should be reserved.
  4. Be clear about what excerpt is being licensed for serialization, this way you can sell multiple serializations with other periodicals as long as the excerpt is different.
  5. Time limits — Make sure the contract has a deadline by which the excerpt must be published or the rights revert back to you.
  6. Whether you have a book contract or you are self-publishing, coördinate the publication of the first serialization excerpt with your book launch to meet your launch strategy.
  7. Make sure any deadline for delivery of your excerpts to the periodical is manageable. If you are late, you may not be paid or the periodical may extend its time limit for publication, which can affect any timelines you have for publishing your book.
  8. Just like with a book contract, indemnities and warranties apply to licensing rights to an excerpt. If you need more information, see my earlier Sidebar Saturdays article: Reducing the Sting of Warranty and Indemnity Clauses in Publishing Contracts.
  9. The periodical will add its own copyright notice to the publication, but make sure you require the periodical to add your copyright notice to the excerpt. While doing so is not necessary, providing notice to others never hurts.
  10. If you have published your excerpt on the internet prior to negotiating a book contract or licensing serialization rights to a periodical (e.g. posting excerpts on your author website), be aware you might not be able to license first serialization rights to the periodical or publisher. The publisher or periodical may feel the prior publication has lessened the weight of first serialization rights because the excerpt is already available.

Photo Credit: VisualHuntCC BY-NC-SA

Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.

3 thoughts on “Serialization Rights for Traditional and Self-Published Authors”

  1. Gabi Coatsworth

    Interesting. I wonder if Kindle Vella requires serialization rights? It’s the place where you publish your whole book in installments and get paid by the number of people who read each chapter…

    1. Kindle Vella is Amazon’s version of a serialized fiction app. I haven’t seen the contract, but serial rights would be included. I think Amazon requires exclusivity to your long-form (i.e. book) content for 30 days, with stipulations on how you can publish your serial content after the thirty days and still keep the serial content on the Kindle Vella platform. Often these serial apps attempt to grab more rights than they should get or need to publish serial content because writers are eager to be published.

  2. Pingback: About This Writing Stuff… | Phil Giunta – Paranormal, Fantasy, & SF Writer

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