The opposite is true of a standard publisher, which pays the publication costs and controls your book as long as they keep it in print.
But “general rules” can be bent this way or that, so it always pays to read the contract very carefully, to ensure you are getting what you expect to get, and keeping what you expect to keep.
Here are sections from several self-publishing book contacts to show how the “who owns the book?” clause is worded – and despite differences in the verbiage, it’s clear that you retain ownership.
- Aventine Press – “The Author acknowledges and agrees that Aventine Press acquires no right of ownership to the Work under this Agreement; that Aventine Press is a provider of limited services only ….” (See the Aventine Press Publishing Agreement.)
- Dog Ear Publishing – “The Author acknowledges and agrees that Dog Ear acquires no right of ownership to the Work under this Agreement; that Dog Ear is a provider of limited services only as governed by the invoices on which you have paid for services (i.e., publishing services, printing, sales and fulfillment, and web site development) ….” (See the Dog Ear Publishing Author Contract.)
- WingSpan Press – This one is a bit lengthy:
“Author acknowledges that Publisher seeks to acquire no right of ownership to the Work under this Agreement. Author shall retain sole and exclusive right to the Work in all formats and editions, worldwide, including electronic rights. No part of this Agreement diminishes Author’s rights to the Work.
“Author acknowledges that Publisher makes no claim to the right to publish subsequent versions or editions of Work absent written agreement between Publisher and Author to produce such versions or editions, with the exception that Publisher may from time to time post short excerpts of work on its website or distributor websites as promotional material.
“Author acknowledges that Publisher makes no claim to the right to print, sell or distribute copies of the work absent written agreement between Publisher and Author.” (See the WingSpan Press Publishing Agreement.)
However, even if the publisher does not take ownership of your book or control the copyright during the contract period, they may retain certain rights, such as the right to keep a digital copy of the work on their computer, or allow anyone to read selections from it.
In addition, the firm may charge fees to “let you go” before the expiration of the contract, or retain rights to the cover design, interior design, ISBN or other elements of the work it created or paid for.
Be sure to read the self-publishing contract carefully – and read any attachments or other documents mentioned in the contract just as carefully, for they also apply to and limit your rights in one way or another. It’s also important to pay close attention to any and all changes to the contract the publisher may make. Yes, some self-publishers reserve the right to change the terms of existing contracts, even after they’ve been signed, filed away by the authors and forgotten. The changes may be minor, but even a small change can interfere with your later publication, marketing or business plans. So beware!