Know Your Writing Rights: Are You Giving Them Away?

food for thought logoWriters 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.


2 comments on “Know Your Writing Rights: Are You Giving Them Away?

  1. Very true. I’d recommend writers that are looking to profit from their work look to paid markets first, then unpaid. This is the exact reason my short story site wordhaus.com accepts stories that have been printed elsewhere … I’m not able to pay my writers, but I still want my authors to be able to get wheat they deserve for their work elsewhere.

    • Thanks for your comment. I applaud you for accepting reprints, especially since you can’t pay writers. And kudos to Wordhaus for using the more accurate: “contributor maintains the work’s copyright” in the guidelines. Rights can be such a confusing area for new writers and many don’t understand what they are accidentally giving away.

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