Ready for another tip?
Contracts in the digital age can be pretty tricky. If you don’t know how to read a contract, you have two options: get a legal dictionary and take some time to sit and go through the contract word for word, or hire a lawyer. (The third option, of course, is to do both.)
One of the big things about contracts is the reversion of rights, and when that actually happens. Alan Moore famously signed a contract with DC that stated Watchmen would revert back to the creators sometime after the book went out of publication. It’s been almost 30 years, and it still hasn’t gone out of print.
The digital age is even “better.” With virtual bookshelves, books could literally never go out of print. If you were to sign with a publisher who promises reversion of rights after a specified time that a book goes out of print, but they do all (or most) of their business digitally, then you’ve been had, because the book will never go out of print. It has, in effect, never been printed.
But look at the digital shelves: even though you have Comixology, currently the only de facto digital distributor, there are lots of smaller digital distributors out there. Dark Horse has their own portal, and iVerse is still kicking. There aren’t many more, though. Comixology is the big dog here.
But if the comics are digital and available to be offered forever (or at least as long as the companies are in existence and offering them—the PlayStation Network and Graphic.ly famously are no longer distributing comics or are in existence, respectively), then you, as a creator, have to become more savvy.
Remember that the contract is not fair to you. It isn’t all kittens and roses. You didn’t write it, so you are only going to benefit from it minimally. However, the contract is always negotiable. What you have to do is determine what points you will and will not negotiate on. Reversion of rights should be one of these.
Comixology pays on a quarterly basis, once a certain threshold of sales are met. You can get notice after notice of sales, but if the threshold isn’t met, you aren’t getting a check. This can also be a boon to publishers who can look good by saying they have the rights to your book. It’s in their digital archives, and it makes them look bigger than they really are. A five year old book can still look fresh and new on a digital shelf, even if it hasn’t sold a single copy in four and a half of those years.
As a creator, you should be able to negotiate when the rights of that book revert back to you. It should be a matter of sales over time. For an example, if the book fails to make four hundred digital sales over a period of six months after the end of the initial contract, then the rights revert back to you. This means you can take your book to other publishers if you wish, or self-publish it, or do anything you want with it, really.
But you have to be canny enough to look for it and think of it in order to actually do it.