If you’re a new writer, or perhaps even a published writer, learning about all the ins and outs of the various rights available in the publishing world can be daunting. To make this process easier, I’ve put together a “quick and dirty” guide to what’s offered in publishing in the areas of magazine rights and book rights.
Let’s take a minute first, though, to talk about copyrighting your work. Many new writers want to know how they should go about getting their work copyrighted to protect their ideas and words. Because of U.S. copyright laws, once your article or manuscript is written, it is considered yours and does not need an official copyright. Your original manuscript copy, or a dated submission when you send it off to a publisher is all the proof you need that it’s your work.
If you do decide that you still want to register your work, you would need to obtain copyright forms and then register your work for a small fee.
There are basically two different ways you can get paid from a publisher if you write a book. [For purposes of this discussion I will be focusing on traditionally published books only, not self-published or e-books.] The method in which you get paid determines the type of rights you own to this book. One way is called work for hire. If a publisher contracts you to do a work-for-hire book, they’ll pay you a flat fee and you’ll typically work on assignment, meaning they often have the idea and structure for the book, and they just want you to write it. Once you get paid your one-time, flat fee, you’re finished making money on the book. Under this form of contract, the publisher will retain all rights to the book. You’ll see your name on the book as the author, but after the copyright symbol, the publisher’s name will be there, not yours.
The other way to make money on a book is when the publisher pays you royalties for each book that you sell, which is called royalty publishing. Under this form, you’ll retain the rights to the book, and you can continue to get paid for it as long as the book is still in print and selling. Usually, with this form of contract, the author holds ALL rights, which may also include subsidiary rights for things such as paperback rights, TV or movie rights, any toys, games, etc. that may be created as a result of your characters (if you’re writing children’s books, of course!), and book club rights.
For an in-depth discussion on the pros and cons of work-for-hire vs. royalty writing, check out my interview with children’s author Nancy Sanders.
The publishing rights for magazines is not nearly as simple as for books. Following are the basic rights that you may be offered for your magazine article. If you don’t agree with these rights, you, of course, have the right to shop your article around to other publishers who will negotiate rights that you are more in favor of. Magazine publishers will normally advertise the rights they offer in their writers’ guidelines or in a market guide, so you’ll know up-front what you’re getting into.
• All World Rights–Here the publisher has rights to publish your work anywhere in the world and for any number of times they want. They also have the right to use your work in the future in any form of media. So, basically, once you sell these rights, you can never use this particular work again in any closely related form.
• One-Time Rights–This is when a publisher buys the right to use your work only one time. If you want to send the same manuscript to another publisher even after one buys it for one-time rights, you can do so. It’s important, however, that you let all publishers involved know that you are submitting your work simultaneously to other magazines. One-time rights may be further defined by a particular geographic region or a particular media (website-use only, for instance). Be sure to get a clear definition from the publisher of exactly what rights they are buying so you know where else you’re free to sell that same work again.
• First Rights--First rights are similar to one-time rights, except here the publisher says that they want to be the first one to use your article in their magazine. Once they’ve published the article, however, you are now free to sell it again as a reprint anywhere you want.
• Second or Reprint Rights--These rights allow a publisher rights to publish your work a second time. Sometimes they may want to reprint your work in a different form (maybe an as inclusion in a collection of works or on their e-zine as well as in their print magazine). These rights do not mean that you can’t also have another publisher publish that work, but it entitles the first publisher the automatic right to do so.
• Electronic Rights–Electronic rights may include any form of electronic publication: websites and blogs, e-zines, CD-ROM, etc. If a publisher wants electronic rights to your work, they need to list them as a separate right; they are not automatically included in first or one-time rights, unless specifically stated.
That’s a (very) brief overview of the basic rights offered in the world of publishing. Specific magazine and book contracts may spell out other nuances in regards to these rights that were not specifically addressed here. It’s important to carefully read publisher’s contacts so you know exactly what rights they are purchasing from you and what those rights mean. And, if you’re not sure, either research them or just ask the publisher for clarity. It’s better to go into a contract knowing for exactly what you’re getting into instead of just assuming you know.