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?
The "life of the copyright" etc. language is not the problem.
It's whether the rights grant is EXCLUSIVE.
Life of the copyright is too long in general for anything, but it's standard language for a publishing contract for a full length BOOK.
Plus, there's also a clause that outlines how the rights can/will revert to the writer: out of print is one way; there are a couple others.
But, for a story, to give anyone exclusive rights for the life of the contract means they have to pay you for the value of that license. Often that's not the figure they're quoting.
Thus: exclusive for a specified period of time, such as a year.
Then: non-exclusive ever after.
No grant of translation at all.
No grant of movie, film, tv, merchandising.
Audio is a case by case. There's a lot bigger market for audio rights for short stories now and sometimes the publication will have an offer to license those.
In that case, the contributors (ie the writers of the story) should share in the money from audio, and that should be written into the contract.
Often that sharing is divided among all the contributors, so there's language about how that will happen.
In the course of reviewing contracts for my clients who write short stories, I've seen some real doozies so I now expect it.
There's a lot of info about contract do's and don'ts out there. Be very careful about who you listen to. And remember contracts are a negotiation. Sometimes you get what you want. Sometimes you don't. What you need to start with is a list of bottom line things that are deal breakers:
1. Transferring copyright. The key word to look for is the publisher is licensing the right to publish.
2. Payment. If the publisher fails to pay, the rights must revert to the Author upon notice.
3. Duration. Must be specified.
4. Exclusivity: must be specified.
5. What the contract covers ie title of the short story. NOTHING ELSE (no derivative works for example)
6. Editing: they can't edit your work OTHER than for grammar or spelling without your consent.