When you have your first (or next) contract in front of you for a traditionally published book, you are likely thinking primarily about your advance and what rights you want to retain. But one of the most significant clauses, usually found somewhere toward the end of the contract, may be the most important for you in the long run: the reversion clause. Some publishers still offer contracts with reversion clauses that will effectively stop you from ever getting your rights back. These bad reversion clauses link the author’s ability to regain their rights to when a book goes “out of print, which once meant that the book would no longer be commercially available “in normal channels.” Normal channels meant an offset print run that kept the book in wide circulation for sale in bookstores. In recent years, many publishers have argued that if there was an ebook or print-on-demand edition of the book, it was still in print. They did so even if the writer was only earning a few dollars in royalties per royalty period. With this obsolete clause and its interpretation by publishers, books never go out of print.
And you will want your rights to the book back, either to resell the book to another publisher or to bring out an electronic or print-on-demand edition of your own, especially after sales from conventionally printed books have dwindled to a trickle. Make sure that the reversion clause specifies that you can get rights reverted when the book’s sales go below a minimal point, say $600 in the prior 12 months, regardless of whether or not the Work has earned out its advance, for science fiction and fantasy books.