At some point in our writing lives we will all - hopefully - be signing a contract with a publisher. Some of us will be fortunate enough to have agents to help us through the process. But for those who don't, it's probably a good idea to learn as much as possible about contracts, rights, and the publishing business.
Today I'm going to tell you about your rights as an author, which ones you typically sign away, which ones are negotiable, and which ones the author should always keep. This is a brief overview and not meant to advise but rather inform, ie, I'm no expert and there's a lot more info out there on this subject.
The following are rights the publisher always keeps: reprint rights, book club rights, and serial rights. The profits derived from these are split between the author and publisher. Reprint rights generally refers to paperback editions of the book, but, according to Donald Maass, "...in some cases--a small-press deal, for instance--we withhold these rights." Book Club rights are what they sound like and serial rights are excerpts of the book - in magazine, or in other books. First serial rights, which are sometimes negotiable, are excerpts of the book BEFORE publication; second serial rights are excerpts AFTER publication.
Negotiable rights include foreign language rights, foreign English language rights, audio rights, and electronic rights. These are the rights the author needs to negotiate with the publish over. For example, an agent might sell the foreign rights if she can keep the electronic rights, or, maybe the publisher will increase the advance if it can acquire the audio rights. It goes without saying that electronic rights are a lot more valuable now than they were say, ten years ago.
Lastly there the rights the author keeps - always. These are Performance rights, as in television, film, plays, video game, etc., and merchandising rights, like calenders, action figures, stickers, dolls...anything based on the characters of your book.
If you are an author and would care to share anything you've learned about this subject, I'd love to hear it...and have a wicked good weekend :)