Q&A: Merchandising Rights and Who Owns Them

Question:

“Thanks so much for doing this! My question has to do with what rights authors have to make merchandise based on their published books. I know a lot of authors make promotional materials (bookmarks, etc) with their book’s cover on it, but can they make whatever they want? Could I make jewelry or T-shirt’s featuring my book cover, or would the publisher own those rights? Thanks!”

 

Answer:

Thank you so much for your question! I need to start this by saying that contracts vary, sometimes by a lot, so I can’t give a universal answer for this one. That being said, in my experience (and through my limited understanding) authors are generally allowed to make whatever promotional materials they want as long as they aren’t selling it for profit. If the author then wants to sell those promotional materials, that’s when things get a bit more complicated. Your contract will state which rights you’ve retained, and I think this falls under merchandising. However, something to keep in mind is that authors typically do not own the rights to their cover art. So even if an author wanted to take advantage of their merchandising rights and sell book-inspired products for money, there’s a very good chance they wouldn’t be allowed to use their cover.

But honestly, contracts are different between authors, imprints, and publishing houses, so it’s super important to read all the fine print and, if possible, speak to your agent about what you are and aren’t allowed to do. They should be your go-to person for contract-related questions!

And for any publishing people who want to clarify anything I’ve missed or misunderstood, please feel free to jump in the comments with your input!

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