Writers spend a lot of time looking for markets for their work. I know how time consuming that can be, which is why I keep a list of markets on this site. It also means that, by default, I’ve read more misleading “write for us” pages and submission guidelines and FAQs than I care to count.
They say you keep all rights but…
The sites/publications in question typically don’t pay writers. And it should be noted here that some legitimate markets do not pay, or pay only in copies. I don’t want to give the impression that non-paying markets are scams. The problem is that many of these markets tell writers: “You keep all the rights to your work, and grant us license to publish it. Ownership stays with you.”
Which… isn’t exactly true.
What exactly are you giving up?
On the surface, the phrasing used by these markets sounds accurate. You can let them publish your work, accept whatever they offer in exchange, and, if you don’t plan to ever submit this piece anywhere else, you will be fine. In fact, even if you DO want to sell the work later, you still own it, and can sell it accordingly. But…
Let’s say a fantastic contest opens up, or the perfect paying anthology puts out a call for submissions, or a start-up ezine is looking for a piece exactly like the one you published under that license. The catch? They want first rights. No reprints. No previously published pieces. No exceptions. Guess what? Regardless of what the pub/site says in its guidelines about keeping all rights, once your piece is published anywhere, you no longer have first rights. Poof! You gave them away with that license. They’re gone.
Selling used goods is tough.
Something else to consider: Once you’ve granted those first rights to an electronic publication (especially if it is free to the public) it’s next to impossible to sell reprints of that same work anywhere else, regardless of ownership. Think about it, do you pay for something if you can find it free on the Internet? Publishers/editors don’t either.
Know your rights, and market smart.
- Submit, Submit, Submit: Writing Markets January 2013
- Publication Rights: Know Your Publication Rights
- NWU’s Pay the Writer Campaign