Naturally I was thrilled when I got an acceptance email from a terrific new magazine. The editor was abundant with praise. And the payment being offered was generous. But, I’ve been in the writing biz a while now, and while one always likes to hear compliments, I was reserving judgement. Sure enough, my caution proved justifiied. The contract they sent was for the purchase of ALL RIGHTS, plus copyright.
No. Just, no. This was a piece of writing that was just perfect for later inclusion in a collection or anthology, acknowledging the original publication, of course. I was not prepared to preclude that option.
I expressed my concerns to the editor and he couldn’t have been more charming. He offered an additional clause by which I could reprint the piece, after I had secured their permission. But, sadly, I explained, that clause didn’t really fix the underlying issue. The corporate entity would still own the rights and the copyright. So, again, no. Not in this case.
Most calls for submissions state in the guidelines what rights are being sought. If I had seen these conditions in the initial call, I would not have submitted at all. It would have saved everybody a lot of time and effort. Alternatively, I could have queried the editor about this issue in advance of my submission. That didn’t occur to me at the time, but it’s something to think about for the future.
Have there been other cases where I’ve willingly sold all rights? Absolutely. If a piece is so specialized that I could never publish it anywhere else. Or if it’s not something that I could include later in a collection of similar pieces. If it was one and done. But, early on in my writing career, I made the mistake of selling all rights to one piece before I understood the implications of what I was signing and which I later regretted doing. Luckily it was a minor work and not a career maker. But it was a hard lesson to learn and an experience I hope I don’t repeat. Once burned, after all.
Having said that, there may be instances where some of you, my writer friends, have reason to sign such an agreement. There may be cases, as there were for me in the past, where it’s worth it. Just know what you’re giving up. No one will be looking out for your own interests as much as you will yourself. Carry on, and happy writing!