Putting A Price On Your Literary Copyrights

When filing for my Chapter 7 bankruptcy last year, the paralegal for my attorney needed a price for my literary copyrights and the documentation backing up that price. Neither the paralegal nor I knew how to do that. After the paralegal consulted with the attorney, she told me to talk to an intellectual property rights attorney. (Never mind that I could barely afford to file for bankruptcy.) A Google search turned up nothing useful.

I didn’t think my copyrights were worth too much. I’m just a short story writer that no one heard about who found a niche in the genre anthologies and started publishing my reprints as ebooks. At the time of my filing, I made less than a hundred bucks a year from my copyrights. If I was Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings, my copyrights would be worth substantially more, and, even then, it might be difficult to determine a price for their copyrights.

While I was pondering this weighty legal matter, a contract from Pill Hill Press valued my short story, “The Lunch Box,” at a quarter-cent per word (the typical rate for a “non-pro” genre market). I had my answer. After figuring out the per-word number for each of my copyrights, I was able to provide a precise dollar amount and the documentation—a copy of the publishing contract—that satisfied the attorney’s requirements.

Were my literary copyrights worth a quarter-cent per word? Maybe, maybe not.

I started thinking about the value of my literary and other copyrights after setting up an  intellectual property holding company (IPHC), where I needed to value my contributions (i.e., cash and copyrights) for the owners equity account. A quarter-cent per word is still a valid metric and I have two-dozen contracts to back up that value.

Since the IPHC will be handling the first serial right sales for my copyrights, a quarter-cent per word will probably be the prevailing rate for the foreseeable future. If I ever go “pro” (as if six dozen short stories weren’t enough to establish my writing creds), making a nickel per word would be a big step up.