How to Buy the Rights to a Book

When you buy the rights to a book, which are ownership rights to a literary work, it’s usually for the purpose of publication. Book publishing agreements that transfer the rights to a book, also known as publishing rights, may require a lawyer by both parties to protect their best interests. This article outlines how to buy the rights to a book, which is a lengthy and complex process.


  1. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 1
    Contact the author’s agent, or the author directly if there isn’t an agent, to determine if the book rights are for sale.
    • You should consider contacting the copyright office to see if anyone already filed a copyright on the book. This could alter the agreement if the author already owns the copyright or negate the deal from the start if you learn someone else owns the copyright.
  2. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 2
    Draw up a contract detailing the rights you’re buying from the author.
    • Most important is whether you’re buying all rights, exclusive rights or non-exclusive rights. If you’re not buying all rights, list the exclusive rights you’re buying, such as if you have the right to publish the literary work in hardback, paperback or trade paperback form and/or you’re allowed to merchandise the published products via mass market or direct mail.
    • Include how long you’ll own the book rights, which is generally for as long as the copyright is valid.
    • List if you’re buying worldwide rights to publish the book in any country, or if you’re limited to certain countries.
    • Include any secondary rights, also known as subsidiary rights. These can include movie rights to adapt the literary work into a motion picture or television rights where you can adapt it into a made-for-television movie, serial rights, merchandising rights, foreign translation rights and new technologies rights similar to those granted for e-books.
  3. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 3
    Describe the literary work in your book rights purchase contract. This should include the title (or tentative title if the book isn’t complete), word count, genre and intended audience. It should also state whether illustrations or pictures are included and whether it’s a non-fiction or fiction book.
  4. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 4
    Determine when the author will deliver the final manuscript and in what format it should be submitted, such as hard copy, electronically, computer disk or a combination of any of these options.
    • Include a clause concerning the termination of the sale agreement if you find the final manuscript to be unsatisfactory and include any other termination guidelines.
  5. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 5
    Establish copyright ownership. This includes deciding whose name to register the copyright under (i.e., the author, publisher or both) and when you’ll register the copyright.
  6. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 6
    Set a timeframe in which you’ll publish the book, which should also include information about delays.
    • Establish grounds for promotion and advertising, including using the author’s name and likeness.
    • Include book jacket art and future changes to the manuscript, including title alterations or editing.
  7. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 7
    Define all the monetary provisions of the agreement to buy the rights to a book, including an advance against future royalties or the amount of royalties you’ll pay to the author. Define royalty amounts for the various avenues, such as hardcover versus paperback royalties, and royalty splits on secondary avenues you pursue, such as adapting the original work into a movie.
  8. Image titled Buy the Rights to a Book Step 8
    Allow the writer or agent to show the finalized contract to a lawyer and consider doing the same if you’re unfamiliar with all the legalese of buying book rights.


  • Always include a list of warranties from the author in your agreement to buy the rights to a book. The author should guarantee the book hasn’t been previously published and nobody else can claim the work besides the author. The author should also guarantee the book doesn’t infringe on any copyrights, invade anyone’s privacy, or contain obscene or libelous material.


  • Contracts that buy the rights of a previously published book can be more complex, as someone may already own some rights to the book.

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Categories: Intellectual Property | Publishing