Monday, February 21, 2011

Fight For Your Rights

Image from flickr
...or, why FNASR isn't necessarily as scary as MRSA.

Sure, many of you would like to just write, write, write, all day long and not have to worry to much about the "business" aspect of the writing world. The catch is, of course, that writing is a business (unless you are just writing for yourself or your family, and most of us want to share, i.e. publish, therefore: it's a business).

A writer submitting to contests or markets or signing contracts needs to understand the basics about publication rights. When submitting to a contest, get out your magnifying glass and read that fine print. Sometimes just SUBMITTING is enough for you to give away your rights. (I try to keep these kinds of contests out of the Scoop, or at least give my readers a heads up, but ALWAYS read before sending in your hard work.) If you sign a contract for an essay to be printed in an anthology, you may not be able to sell the essay again, or you may, depending on the contract.

Here's a brief overview of some of the words and phrases that should peak your attention as you make your way through the "legal-eese".

Markets looking for "firsts" do not want to see something you've published already, and that includes self-published books and blogs (usually). If a publisher is looking to buy these rights, you will see terms such as "original" and "unpublished".

  • FNASR (First North American Serial Rights) gives the publisher the right to be the first to publish the work in North America.
  • First Print Rights--The purchaser of these rights wants to be the first to have the work in question printed ANYWHERE.
  • First Electronic Rights--They wouldn't want your blog posts, because it's already been on the web. It may also include other e-media: ebooks, podcasts, etc. 

  • Exclusive Rights--if the publisher is asking for these, it is usually the right to print your work exclusively for a certain amount of time, depending on the contract. For example, I had one essay published in an anthology that I cannot offer to another publication for 5 years, unless it is in a book exclusively of my own work (like my collection of essays).
  • Simultaneous Rights--if a market allows these rights, you can sell the same piece to different markets (that also buy these rights) at the same time. Common for recurring newspaper columns.


  • One-Time Rights--the publisher buys the right to print the work one time, and then you are free to sell it again, to a publisher willing to buy second or reprint rights.
  • One-Time Electronic Rights-- same thing as above, just through an electronic medium. 


  • Second or Reprint Rights--there are places that will buy previously published pieces. This is a great way to maximize your profits from one article or work.
  • Exclusive Reprint Rights-- be careful for this one. It means once you sell it to them, you can't resell it to anyone because they are buying the rights to all of the reprints.

This is a biggie. When you see that, the publisher is looking to get ALL of some kind of rights to the writing in question. For example:

  • All Rights-- that means if you sell these rights, they can use it forever, in all ways (electronic, in all languages, in different mediums) and you cannot resell or use it again.
  • All Electronic Rights--selling these rights allows the buyer to complete control over all electronic portions of the piece. This may be detailed in the contract to include web, CD-ROM, ebooks, podcasts, etc.
  • If you freelance, you may write newsletters, ad copy, web copy, blogs, etc. for someone else, or for a company. I've watched enough People's Court to know that you better have something in writing. A contract for writing like this is usually for the "work" and not the "product" that results. Once you put your talents into it and hand it over, it becomes theirs and they can edit and use it as they see fit. If you are looking forward to seeing your name in print, this may not be the best for you, as you may not get a byline. But if you are looking at writing to get paid, this may suit you just fine. 
In Writer's Market, the markets often have what rights they are looking to buy listed, but not always. Duotrope, a great place to look for fiction markets, allows you to limit your search to those that accept reprints. Other contests and markets should have the rights listed, but not always. When in doubt, ask. If there's not a way to contact someone, that's a bad sign. 

Now, I'm not a publication lawyer, or an expert on publication law. These are just the basics I've discovered in my own research and experience (there are more). If you know of a mistake in this post, please comment or email me, with my appreciation. If you have something more complicated, or are about to get a big book contract, consider joining the Author's Guild.

Most of all, don't let the worry about your rights keep you from writing and submitting. Just be aware. It's easier to play the game when you know the rules.

Have you ever held back because you weren't sure if your work was protected? Have you ran into a situation where you didn't understand a contract?


  1. This is great information and I've added it to The Writer's Resource Directory's Contests page.


    T.K. Richardson

  2. Thanks TK! Good luck with your new site, there's tons of great info there.

  3. This is good basic rights information. Not much more I can say about that.

    Then again, that could also be the time. Who knows.

    Great post.


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