Even if you don’t have a particular attachment to an article you’ve written, it’s not a good business practice to sell all rights. In fact, it’s best to have a standard policy of never selling all rights.
Consider the quoted words below of Dennis E. Hensley, who advises writers to write only about topics they feel they can modify for a variety of audiences. He and Holly G. Miller co-wrote The Freelance Writer’s Handbook: How to Succeed in a Competitive Business. In their book, Hensley tells about one piece he wrote in 1975, “How to Be an Effective Listener,” that sold to a total of 21 markets and earned him more than $6,500. Hensley said:
You cannot sell all rights to your articles and be competitive. It’s impossible. If you work two weeks doing interviews and research for a major feature, and then one week writing it, and a fourth week revising, typing and submitting it, you’ll produce only a dozen features a year.
“And that’s O.K., as long as you sell this year’s dozen again next year to new markets while you are writing a dozen new features. At the end of five years you’ll have sixty features in the mail simultaneously, and believe me, that’s being competitive. But if you sell all rights, you will be starting from scratch with each new assignment. You’ll have one manuscript in the mail at a time, and hyper-multiple-marketers like myself (and there are plenty of us) will just out-leverage you and completely crowd you out of the marketplace.”
Good advice. Of course, nowadays most freelancers submit their work by email, not regular mail, but the advice is the same for email.
This handbook is one of the most-consulted resources on my bookshelf. My dog-eared copy, with scores of highlighted passages and marginal notes, has served me well over the years. It offers lots of good, practical help for any freelance writer.
© 2008 by Laverne Daley
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The whole concept of copyright can be puzzling to new writers. I tell them to think about it like this: The work we produce is the “copy” and our ownership of that copy is the “right.” Your work is copyrighted when you create it, and you own all rights to it, unless or until you allow someone else to use it or you transfer your rights to others. Note, however, that when you write anything under a works-for-hire agreement, you have no rights whatsoever to the work you create.
That said, here are three essential things writers need to know about copyright:
1. You don’t have to put copyright information on any manuscript you send to an editor or agent. In fact, you should not. Those who work in publishing know that you own the work you create. When you put copyright information on a manuscript, it makes you seem like an amateur who is expecting someone to steal your work — not the impression you want to give an editor or agent.
2. It is wise to include copyright information on work to be published in other situations, especially on the Internet. That gives notice to others that you own the work and you don’t want anyone infringing on your rights to it. It’s important to put copyright information on posts on your blogs and anywhere else where those who might not know better could lift your work — or large parts of it — for their own purposes. That’s one reason you’ll find copyright information at the end of every post on my blog. The proper form to use is the word “copyright” or the copyright symbol ©, the date and the author.
3. For the most protection, you have to register your work with the Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress. This is especially true for book authors. Magazine writers rarely register their individual published work because magazines register every issue of their publications (writers still retain their original copyright protection on their own completed work). Currently, the cost for a paper copyright application is $45. The cost for electronic copyright filing is $35. Those fees may increase soon.
You can visit the Copyright Office website for details about a possible fee increase in the future and for more information about copyrights.
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When Writer’s Weekly appears in my Inbox each week, the section of the ezine I’m always eager to read first is “Ask the Experts.” When one writer asks a question, the answer is apt to be helpful for many writers and I welcome all the help I can get.
This week’s question was about Exclusive First Rights. A questioner, identified only as A, had been waiting for nine months for a magazine to schedule a publication date for one of Writer A’s articles. Then the magazine sent a contract asking for Exclusive First Rights for use of the article on the magazine’s website — still without paying the writer or scheduling a print publication date. The writer was to be paid when the article was uploaded onto the website, but that would take place at the discretion of the magazine’s editorial staff.
Writer A was wise in thinking that the publication could sit on the piece forever (they’d already been sitting on it nine months) and a check might never be forthcoming. Writer A rightly thought that payment should be made when the article was accepted and the magazine should schedule a publication date for it when the contract was signed.
But there was a bit of wavering involved. Writer A needed some good print clips and really wanted to see the article in print. Plus the writer wondered if there would be an advantage to having the article appear on the magazine’s website.
Writers’ Weekly publisher, Angela Hoy, is known for coming up with no-nonsense solutions to writers’ dilemmas. “Tell them to give you a no-later-than date for payment or for publication and make them adhere to that date,” she said.
“If they balk at that request, withdraw your submission. No company has the right to sit on somebody else’s work (and money!) for an indefinite period of time. All writers should insist on a ‘no-later-than publication/payment date’ in their contracts!”
I plan to check my future contracts carefully to see if an Exclusive First Rights clause is included, and I’ll add a ‘no-later-than publication/payment date’ clause to every contract. So far, I’ve never been faced with an Exclusive First Rights dilemma like Writer A did, but if I were, I’d heed Angela’s advice.
In no other business can a company hold a supplier’s product for months without paying for it. We writers are suppliers and our articles are our products. Freelancing is a business and we must learn to be businesslike. That means paying attention to the terms of contracts we sign and standing up for our rights.
I’m grateful for the practical advice I get from Writers’ Weekly. I look forward to reading it every Wednesday, not only for Ask the Experts and Angela’s excellent advice, but for being a source of overall support for writers.
The Paying Publications and Freelance Jobs section helps writers tap into new markets, Whispers and Warnings issues alerts about publications that don’t treat writers fairly, and Interview Requests helps writers find experts or diverse sources for articles. (Very diverse sources — among this week’s requests, writers were looking for animal experts, angry teens — or people who know one, and online dating stories from women). There’s also an online forum for writers.
I chose to have the ezine delivered to my Inbox, but you can get it by RSS feed if you prefer.
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© 2007 by Laverne Daley
“Write something about rights,” a young friend suggested recently. “I’m confused. What rights do I have and what should I sell?”
It’s good that she wants to have those questions answered. Rights are important because they can mean money in your pocket. You need to know what rights you can sell to publishers and others, and you need to know the legal aspects of selling your rights.
To start with the basics, you own the copyright to everything you write — that is, you own all rights to the work you create. You may license publishers and others to use your copyright. That’s what we mean by “selling our rights.”
This is my understanding of the rights that we writers can sell:
FIRST PUBLICATION RIGHTS
The first time you allow use of your copyright for a particular work, you are granting first publication rights. After the work is published for the first time, the copyright reverts to you and you are then free to grant others the right to republish the work.
In the U.S., Canada and Mexico, when your work is published in a magazine for the first time, you sell First North American Serial Rights (FNASR). (Serial means publications that appear periodically, as opposed to books).
FIRST ELECTRONIC PUBLICATION RIGHTS
Publishers often expect you to give them electronic rights along with FNASR and they seldom offer addition payment for those rights. Remember, however, that those rights are valuable and they are negotiable. You can negotiate for higher pay for FNASR and you can ask for additional payment for electronic rights. You can also negotiate a time limit for the use of electronic rights. Some writers allow the use for three months; others six months or more. The copyright returns to you afterwards.
ONE TIME RIGHTS
After initial magazine publication, you can sell One-Time Rights (Reprint Rights) to other periodicals. This is not the same as First Publication Rights. One-Time Rights give publishers the right to one-time use of already published works. If you specify that you are offering Non-Exclusive Reprint Rights, you can sell the work to more than more one publisher or to multiple publishers at the same time.
Magazine writers have a range of other rights to offer for sale, including Excerpt Rights, Anthology Rights, Braille Rights, Foreign Rights, First European Rights (or maybe First German Rights, First French Rights, First British Rights—you get the idea). Book authors have even more rights to offer, including Translation, Movie, Television, Audiotape, and other electronic rights. You may need a lawyer or a knowledgeable agent to guide you through the maze of rights you can sell.
Be aware that by giving up certain rights, you no longer have any ownership in the work you created. WORKS FOR HIRE and ALL RIGHTS strip you of all rights. Writers should avoid these agreements if possible.
Many publishers expect writers to sign WORKS FOR HIRE agreements, giving the publisher complete ownership of the work and the copyright. Publishers can then sell your work or use it any way they choose without additional compensation to you. You have to be careful even about using the research done in preparing the work. If you use that research again or if you write a similar piece for another publisher, you may be infringing on the publisher’s copyright. Good reasons to avoid Works for Hire agreements.
When you sell ALL RIGHTS, it means just that. You give up all rights to your work and you can never use the article again in its present form. You hold the copyright in name only and you have no rights to sell, but the publisher can reprint your work, put it online or sell it to others, without additional payment to you.
If the pay is good, some writers don’t mind selling all rights in certain circumstances, such as when an article would be soon outdated by rapidly changing technology. But others want to hang onto as many rights as possible. Remember this: Rights are valuable, otherwise publishers would not be so eager to grab them from writers.
For a lively look at the pros and cons of selling rights, check out Moira Allen’s excellent article, “Selling All Rights: Right or Wrong.” In her article, Moira references another excellent article, “Rights: What They Mean and Why They’re Important,” by Marg Gilks.
And for an up-close look at what happened when one writer sold all rights to an article, be sure to read, “The Article You Can’t Read on This Site,” by Barbara Florio Graham, a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada.
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