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Writing Tips for Fiction Writers!


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  Know Your Rights
by Tina Morgan

After reading the submission guidelines for various e-zines and print markets, I've found a wide variety of "rights" listed. Some of these are straightforward; others are a bit more confusing. How is a writer to know what rights a publication is buying?

With a little help from Fiction Factor's editor, Lee Masterson and the managing editor of Writing World, Moira Allen, I've compiled definitions of several types of rights.

Many writers and new editors are confused about what rights really are. Rights are about usage, not payment or purchase.

First Rights have nothing to do with payment. If you submit to a market that doesn't pay and they're the first to print your story then you have allowed them to use First rights. If you feel that first rights to your work are more valuable than that then do not submit them to non-paying or low-paying markets.

The first time a novel/article/story is published in any format first rights have been used. By this definition that includes self-publication to your own personal website. Technically you have used "first e-rights" and can no longer sell it as an unpublished story/article. This won't necessarily stop your article/story from being reprinted but if you sell it as an unpublished work and the publisher finds out it has been previously displayed on your website you might cause hard feelings that will keep the editor from using your work in the future. Honesty is the best policy here.

First rights are not synonymous with Exclusive rights. While first rights can only be sold one time, exclusive rights can be sold repeatedly. Exclusive rights refer to a set amount of time in which you are not allowed to sell the work for reprint. Read the submissions guidelines and contract carefully before you sign. Once the exclusive time is up, you may resell the story for reprint.

Fiction Factor's contract states that we use "Non-exclusive electronic rights only" - regardless of 1st or 2nd or 53rd reprint. This gives us the right to print the work on our website. This also gives the author the right to reprint the article elsewhere. However, the author cannot sell Exclusive rights to another e-zine without contacting us and asking that the article be removed from our archives. Make certain you know if the e-zine you are submitting to maintains an archive and for what time period. It's best to keep accurate records of where your work is published so that you know whom to contact should you need to request removal.

Because of the ability to archive indefinitely on the Internet there is often a lot of confusion by e-zine owners as well as writers about rights. Many sites claim to use "One-time rights". This sets the stage for a lot of hard feelings if both parties don't seek clarification. One-time rights mean that the work is only used for a set period of time. If the work can be found in the e-zine's archives then they're using perpetual rights, not One-time rights. However, if the story is printed for a period of time and then removed One-time rights are used. Make certain the time frame for One-time rights is specified in the contract or submission guidelines.

One-time rights can be sold as many times as you want and at the same time. A syndicated columnist uses One-time rights when they sell to multiple markets at the same time.

Electronic rights include any type of publishing through electronic medium: e-zine, website, e-newsletter. Print rights are any paper & ink publication. Once a story is printed on the web, first e-rights have been used but first print rights are still available.

There are also regional rights. This applies to print mediums but not e-publishing. E-publishing is open to the world and cannot be limited to regions.

When a publisher doesn't follow through on a contract it can become confusing as to what rights were actually used. Over a year ago I sold a short story to a now defunct e-zine. The contract stated that the e-zine would use first time rights. I received a check for my work but the e-zine was cancelled before my story ran. This is the best scenario a writer can encounter when it comes to broken contracts. I received payment but the e-zine didn't publish. I still have first-time rights for that story and can sell it as an original.

A fellow writer from "
The Complete Guide to Fantasy" sold a short story to an e-zine that published her story but never paid her. This violated the contract and rights to her story reverted to her. She could sell the story as a reprint without regard to their time limit for exclusive rights. However, by publishing her story, they used the first-rights. Those cannot be salvaged. This is a breach in contract and the magazine has earned a poor reputation because of their less than ethical business practices.

Learn what the different rights mean and don't be afraid to ask before you submit if the guidelines aren't clear. It's better to know what you're agreeing to before you sign a contract. Don't assume that just because someone is running an e-zine that they understand what rights are. Because starting an e-zine is a relatively inexpensive endeavor these days, some editors will start one before they understand all of the "rules" of publishing.

Remember: Rights = Usage, not payment. All rights cannot revert back to the writer. Once first rights have been used they cannot be reclaimed. One-time rights are self-limiting, make certain the market you're submitting to has a set time limit for usage.

Copyright 2003 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved

Tina Morgan is the Managing Editor of Fiction Factor - an online magazine for fiction writers. She is also a contributing author for the book "The Complete Guide to Fantasy", available in print from Dragon Moon Press.


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