Monday, April 15, 2019

First chapter as a short story

Is it a mistake to sell a chapter of your finished book as a short story to a fiction magazine? The magazine claims they "buy first North American and foreign serial rights and an option on anthology rights. All other rights are retained by the author."
Does this mean we could lose access to that chapter if the book is published?
The word you're looking for in the short story contract is "non-exclusive".
If it's not there, make sure they have exclusive rights for a specified time period, and not longer than year.
This is actually a very good thing. It counts as a pub credit, and you'll mention it in your query.


Aphra Pell said...

If I may veer off at a slight tangent, this relates to one of my regular internal rants. Why for the love of holy flying wombats, are a large number of short story competitions and magazines so sloppy about the rights language in their T&Cs?

I know some have dodgy language because they are predatory. However, in most of the examples I've seen, the organisers / publishers seem to have good intentions, but clearly don't know anything about publishing contracts. Net result is terms like "you grant us publication rights."


In that particular case, I'm fairly sure they meant "you grant us a non-exclusive right to publish this in our magazine and website". But that's not what it says.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Aphra Pell,
"Why for the love of holy flying wombats..." my new most favorite term to describe everything from politics to potty training. You made my day.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I'm always interested in how authors "do" this. Like, a short story that's both standalone and also chapter one of a novel, and it makes sense without having to be all *adjusts monocole* "Oh yes, I do enjoy reading experimental fiction"

my problem tends to be that of the "this feels like the beginning of something longer" when I send a short story to a magazine. Own your feelings, I guess, 'cause that's what you're getting.

(though another personal that's my favorite is "this needs more of an arc" when it's a secondary world fantasy take on Rome & Juliet with a female Tybalt as the narrator, and I didn't think it was veiled at all, much less thinly.....)

Emma said...

I feel like there needs to be a separate blog on short story contract language. For example, thanks to bits and bobs from this blog, when I received a six page contract for a 5K story that stated that they wanted all rights, US and International FOR THE LIFE OF THE COPYRIGHT, PLUS ALL EXTENSIONS THEREOF, and not only that, rights to all derivative work from that story, I knew this was scary ass nonsense.

I replied with an updated contract, the editor nixed me from the journal, and I immediately sent the contract to Writer's Beware.

But what's even scarier, was that when I told my writing group about this, most of them shrugged and said, "yeah, a lot of publications want that." And my head exploded.

Even if a publication asks for something that insane, nobody in their right mind should ever sign it, no matter how hungry for pub credits they are.

If anybody wants to know the name of this journal, let me know, and I'll be more than happy to say.

And on that note, IS there a list of acceptable rights to sign away for a short story? Somewhere?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Emma: the SFWA has a model magazine contract that they make available and update on a fairly regular basis (I think? I assume?), and within it they explain the various steps, which I've found to be very helpful when looking at short story contracts. And indeed, was able to use to suggest changes for a contract in one of the anthologies that accepted me (which they happily accepted, actually, and changed the contract for everybody).

Craig F said...

The question of who owns the rights, and for how long, is very important, especially if the story is part of a manuscript.

I, too, am not sure how to do that, but back to the rights.

The people I almost sold a short story to tried to gloss over the rights section. They tried to roadblock my attempts to clarify that. When I found out that they would own the rights in perpetuity, it was a deal breaker.

Writing short stories is not a career in itself, it is not really more than lunch money, but a writer should own their own rights of publication. You have to weight the value of pub creds and they might be priceless.

I ended up passing the story to some friends, who passed it and on and on. I now have a partial market but it doesn't mean squat to an agent that I can claim that some 7k people have read a piece of my work. It is just a claim and not physically verifiable.

AJ Blythe said...

Totally not what I thought the response would be. There you go. I thought you wouldn't want a chapter of your ms sold and published becuase it would land the "unpublished" part of the ms in grey and murky waters.

But I'm surprised you'd have a chapter that is a story unto itself. I thought the idea was to finish your chapter on a bit of a hook so the reader would want to turn the page.

Aphra Pell said...

2N's - if you like wombat cursing, I can also recommend the unmitigated spangled drongo*, and the complete and utter pobblebonk**.

*It's a bird
** A frog, honestly.

Adam Lynch said...

The chapter is actually lifted from the middle of the book, AJ, and amounts to a bit of interesting conversation in a very interesting place. It has a "day in the life" feel to it that will, hopefully, snag readers' interest in what the REST of these lives are like. Perhaps we'll see.
Thanks for the incredible insight, all.