Let’s Retain ALL the Rights!

Picture of a handwritten pageOne of the questions being raised repeatedly on a discussion board I participate on is the question of electronic rights. Should a magazine be able to buy a story and display it on their website in perpetuity without additional payment? Does it make a different whether or not it’s behind a paywall? If there’s no additional payment, when should rights revert? What happens with something like an anthology that is in electronic form and hence won’t go out of print the way a hard-copy edition does?

I’m presuming that most people reading this know that normally when you “sell” a story to a publication, what they’re actually buying is the right to publish it in a particular form. You, the author, retain any rights not spelled out in the contract. You can (and I encourage you to) sell the story again as a reprint, and you may want to look at forms like audio or in another language.

This is something that’s still very new, and it’s not something that’s been factored in when lists like SFWA-qualifying markets were put together. It’s not mentioned on sites like Ralan.com or the Submission Grinder. As a writer, though, you need to be aware of what you’re selling.

Take some time to skim through the contract and find out what the publication is buying. What’s the “exclusive period,” the period where they are the only ones that can print it? What forms are they planning to release your work in? Here’s a Columbia Law School resource that may be helpful in trying to decipher legalese.

If you’re publishing, how do you feel about perpetual rights? Is the horse already well out of the barn as far as that goes, or can writers push back on the practice of acquiring perpetual rights without payment?

Enjoy this writing advice and want more content like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

Prefer to opt for weekly interaction, advice, opportunities to ask questions, and access to the Chez Rambo Discord community and critique group? Check out Cat’s Patreon. Or sample her writing here.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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