I want to make the trip to my website worthwhile for readers, so I'm including some samples of my writing. My question revolves around published short stories in general and one in particular. I'm curious who owns the rights to a short story where I wrote it and a publication accepted it, and then paid me and published it. In this particular instance, I'm pretty sure the magazine is now defunct. Is there a timeframe when rights revert back to me so I can publish on my website or did I sell all rights and I can never post it on my website since I no longer own the story?
There is no one answer for this. The answer is found in the contract for publication that you signed for the short story publication.
What you're looking for is the word "exclusive."
If the magazine licensed exclusive rights to publish this story electronically or in print or both, then they have the rights. Hopefully it's for a limited amount of time.
If it's not for a limited amount of time, then they still have the rights and you need to get them back. That's called a reversion.
If the contract said "non-exclusive" for electronic use, you're ok on your website.
If you did not sign a contract, and the magazine appears to be defunct, you send a letter saying you're reclaiming your rights. At least this way you've made an attempt to contact them.
In the actual real world, you're probably ok with publishing your own work on your website.
Things get a LOT trickier when you want to include anything previously published in a new book (like an anthology) with a company that's got some money and an insurance policy: their deeper pockets attract lawsuits.
The bottom line: as a writer, you must keep good records of where you've published your work and on what terms. This is not something you'll do "when you get around to it" because when I need to know if "Felix Buttonweezer Buys a Shi Tzu" has been published before, "I don't remember" isn't the answer I'm looking for.
Finally something that tweaks my synapses.
Almost all of my recent columns are either on one of my blogs and/or I FB them.
The newspaper I write for holds first time (one time) publishing rights. My older articles, they're mine after the papers and magazines spread my wisdom and amazing self-centered writing abilities, to the world. (Can you tell I'm working on building confidence.)
The old contracts...I haven't a clue where they are but the most recent, they're under a pile of tear sheets I swear I will file someday.
Question: The letter OP sends to reclaim his/her rights, shouldn't that be a registered letter?.
I have a contract for every single thing I've ever sold. Fortunately, each contract stipulates the rights they're asking me to grant and the length of time. The only time a length of time isn't mentioned in any contract is when the rights I'm granting are 'nonexclusive'.
I recently had a sitch in which I wanted to be a part of a book fair. To sign up for that book fair, I needed to provide hard copies of my work to be sold (and to generate a little bit of income for the organisers of the book fair). They did not have the know-how or the technology to offer ebooks under their terms, so hardcopies it was.
Oh dear. The last time I had a hardcopy of anything that wasn't an anthology was over five years ago.
What to do?
Easy. I reviewed through my contracts to see if there were any short stories of mine that I hadn't granted print rights. There were enough. I cobbled together a collection of short stories linked by a theme and was able to do a brief and cheap print run, sufficient for the book fair.
1. Always get a contract.
2. Only grant the rights they are going to use. If they do a rights grab, question it, especially if they're not paying you what a rights grab is worth. $10 for a global rights grab? You're worth more than that.
3. Never be afraid to exploit all the other rights you have available to you. To answer a question from yesterday, if you've sold the Flash Fiction (or Short Story) Rights to a story, you still have the Novel Rights. (But if you wish to exploit FF and Novel rights for the same work, you may wish to see if the first contract has a Derivative Works clause.)
Hmmm I have never been published so I have no input on this subject.
But I do have a question.
Janet, when a writer gets an agent will they represent them for all their publishing needs, even if its a small thing like a short story or poem in a magazine?
Jason: I think Janet has said she looks over every contract her clients are presented, whether she had to do with the submission or not (I'm paraphrasing. I might even be misremembering.
Interesting, I've noticed in a recent set of short story submission guidelines that they considered your submission to the magazine as permission to publish. Which, on one hand, okay fine, you'll want them to publish you if you submitted (right?). On the other hand, with no actual contract or terms posted....I closed that tab. Reading the blog here has made me far more discerning.
Daily Science Fiction (where one of my non-contest flash pieces found a home) is exclusive for 6 months, fine to go elsewhere after that. Which, interestingly, others in the industry know and are more than willing to work with, as I discovered when Far-Fetched Fables got in contact with me to run the story on their podcast as well.
Jason, you didn't ask me, but since I'm under an agency contract, and I know what that contracts says, I'll tell you what mine says (not the legalese).
My agency contract basically states that my agent represents all forms of "Work" produced by "The Author" (my name is established as "The Author) earlier on in the contract, and then it lists all variations of what that "Work" might be.
Something to that effect - I'm recollecting off the top of my head, and I'm too lazy to go upstairs and get the actual contract out. :)
As to the OP's dilemma/situation, hopefully they've kept up with the contract end of things. Just this morning I was thinking I really, really need to organize my writing paperwork. The contracts, the financial pieces of it - while all of this is still in SMALL, MANAGEABLE PILES. I'm actually thinking about getting a safety deposit box to hold the original contracts, while keeping copies at the house in case I need to refer back to them. I'm thinking of this in case of fire, or some other catastrophic event. Hurricanes...tornadoes...
First, I'd like to warn Felix Buttonweezer about buying a shihtzu. These dogs will claim head of household status, eat all the best food, claim the best sofas, and generally wreak havoc in your world. Beware to enter that kind of partnership. Get a cat. Or, I have a couple of little dogs I'll give you. They don't allow time to publish your book about their antics.
The first things I published I signed the contract without any thought about it. I earned no money because it was an anthology of an informational/motivational nature for people raising children in kinship settings. I don't think I even read the contracts because I thought I didn't care. I do care about what I can do with those stories. Just a note of caution: get organized with your writing *stuff* sooner! rather than too late.
Your words may be your most precious asset in the end.
Donna, safe-deposit box is probably a good idea. I think, when time comes, I will do that as I thrive in organized chaos. However, paperwork less so. Think I will also put copies of my completed, original manuscripts there as well. I don't fully trust computers.
Related to OP's delimma, decades ago I published several short stories. This was during my teens and college years. I can't for the life of me recall the names of the publications. There were two- both college presses I believe. One might have been The Oxford Press out of Ole Miss, but I am not sure.
I am nearly certain both periodicals are out of print and this was before Internet was prevalent. I don't know that I would want to put these stories on my site, but I would like to have copies of them. I was paid in copies of these periodicals, but my copies were destroyed as were my typed drafts of those stories and about a dozen others. Bad divorce. I am wondering if there is a way to dig up copies of those defunct publications. I am guessing probably not. That has always bothered me.
One very important lesson I learned while freelancing is that there is no "standard" contract, so you should always have an idea of what rights you are willing to trade for how much money, and always always always negotiate if you don't like what they offer.
The other side will always start with something as beneficial to them as possible. I've heard of writers who simply ask, "can I have the other contract?" and the office will send them more writer-friendly terms.
I imagine in fiction the derivative works clause would be huge (in addition to reasonable time limits on any exclusives). What if Panda-in-Chief asked to collaborate and turn your epic into a graphic novel (don't laugh - it happened to Proust) and you couldn't say yes?
It would be interesting to see examples of all the different ways authors exploited and re-purposed their stories. Obviously a tiny number get turned into movies or TV, and there's always the anthology, but I wonder what else people come up with.
Now I want to find a cartoonist who has an aesthetic like Trina Schart Hyman to collaborate with on a fantasy/fairytale re-telling graphic novel. I would buy that.
If only Janet represented PBs (Picture Books--remember that confusion?). I can see it now:
FELIX BUTTONWEEZER BUYS A SHIH TZU
Poor old Felix Buttonweezer’s mind was in a fog—
Of all the animals in the world, he’d really love a dog.
But which to get? Oh me, oh my! There are so many to choose,
Poodles and Plotts, Reds and Rotts—it was more than he could muse!
So Felix pulled on shoes and coat, and jumped aboard a bus,
And traveled to the heart of town, and a store called “Dogs R Us.”
The bus pulled up two blocks away, so he walked ‘til he was there.
The wind was cold, and he wished he had a scarf and hat to wear.
“Hello, Pickle!” Felix said—he knew the owner from school,
“Hello, Butt!” the owner said, grinning like a fool.
“How can I help my dear old friend?” “I’m looking for a hound.”
“What kind? What breed? What shape do you need? Tall, or short, or round?”
“I want dog that has a use, not just to walk and feed,
“One that can, maybe, tell the time, or bring me books to read.”
Pickle laughed, “My dear old chum, where do you get such thinking?
“Dogs can’t read nor tell the time. My friend, what have you been drinking?”
“Show me all the dogs you have,” said Felix, feeling slighted.
“Come with me,” Mr. Pickle said, “I’m sure you’ll be delighted.”
They walked out back, to where the dogs were kept in roomy cages.
Felix gasped—to choose just one would take him simply ages.
“What does that do?” He pointed to a dog both big and growly.
“That’s a Pit Bull, he’ll keep you safe when bad guys come a-prowly.”
“And that small thing?” He pointed to a dog, light brown and perky.
“The Chihuahua’s cute and yappy, and will drive you all bezerky.”
“And that strange one?” This dog was brown with fur both long and shiny.
“The Shih Tzu, our Tibetan friend, will play till you are whiny.”
Felix stared at the long-haired dog, he thought how warm it glowed.
He grinned and said, “I’ll take that one.” And paid whatever he owed.
Walking back to get the bus, the wind was cold as ever
But Felix didn’t mind at all; he smiled at chilly weather.
Let cold winds blow, let snow come down, it won’t fill him with dread,
Now Felix’s feeling snug and warm with a Shih Tzu on his head.
Jason: What Donna said. And also, I'm sure Janet has mentioned that her clients are not obliged to show her every contract for every short story or flash fiction sale they negotiate themselves, but she prefers that they do--just to be sure they aren't giving away more than they bargained for.
E.M. - I would want those stories back too! Oxford Press? Wow. A very discerning little press, that one there. My favorite t-shirt is from Square Books in Oxford MS. We go to MS at least once a year, and I always, always go to Faulkner's house, Rowan. (yes, trying to soak in the vibe)
Colin! You've solved the mystery! Donald Trump is Felix Buttonweezer???
Folks, I've been busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest...and now I got to get back to it!
(Sherry Howard's last sentence would be a good sub-header.)
Donna- my memory might be off. My little brother went to Ole Miss (baseball scholarship) and I did a thesis on William Faulkner and James Joyce when I was studying abroad.
I spent the summer before I left for London doing my research on Faulkner. I visited Faulkner's house then. That is why I think it was the Oxford Press that published the story I am thinking about. But I could be wrong. I sent the three stories out to so many places. One press published two and it's the third I think was picked up by Oxford Press. But I could be wrong.
And Colin, hilarious! I think Donna is on to something. Felix Buttonweazer is Donald Trump. That explains so much.
E.M., have you thought about checking libraries? What I was thinking: a librarian old enough to remember what periodicals were popular around that time period. If the stories were published at the college press from where you were attending, that library might still have copies of the journals. Or might know where to get them. Even better, university libraries often have shared access with other colleges and libraries, where you can request material that someone at some library you've never heard of in a far off land has copies of dead magazines stored in a dark corner.
I guess I'm thinking because my department librarian knows almost everything. She's a genius at knowing where to find things like strange (but helpful) articles from decades ago.
Also, kind of creepy but after you research/remember the names of the magazines, you could send out a local ad (craigslist?) looking for copies from such and such years.
Every single outlet for short stories has different contract terms. Some have more than one depending of if you are a headline draw or one building a body of work. Be very careful reading them.
Some of those who seem to have the least amount of crap in their contracts often lock you in even more. A short time(in writing terms) ago I had an offer for a short. They would pay me a straight up fifty bucks. In return I had to comply with their posted(online) contract. Basically I relinquished all rights forever and a day after that.
The more I checked on these people the less I learned. They had an NEA grant and are looking for the same thing I am: readership. I think they hope someone they have published will make the big time and cause many more to look at that site.
E.M., Jamie is right: ask a librarian. In particular, if you think it's possible the stories were printed in a publication linked with a university, ask at the university library. They likely have back copies on file in some medium, and if so can get you copies for a nominal fee.
When in doubt, always ask a librarian. As Spider Robinson said: "Librarians are the secret masters of the world. They control information. Don't ever piss one off."
Back when Jesus was a boy I sold a book for which the publisher held ALL rights, right down to the ancillary rights. They were convinced my book of drawings and captions were going to change the world one mug, t-shirt and poster at a time.
That was back when I was blond and stupid. I'm not blond anymore.
Anyway, all rights reverted back to me after nine months.(I did'nt deliver). Funny when you look back and realize how unready you were without an agent.
it also pays when you are entering contests to read the fine print (whines: do I HAVE to?????) there was a contest set up by Amtrak last year maybe, for writers to win a free cross country trip to write about the journey or some such thing. Okay, that sounded like fun, till I read further. They wanted the worldwide unrestricted rights of the writing samples that ALL applicants supplied. Um...no.
Another reason why agents are such a swell thing to have. They know what pesky little innocuous looking phrases in a contract actually mean, and will generally make sure you don't sign anything particularly vile.
And I am happy to turn anything into a graphic novel, as long as I can draw all the characters as pandas.
2Ns: After being educated by QOTKU, I wouldn't either. If I ever get an agent I will have to give a lot of the credit to Janet and her woodland creatures especially EM, 2Ns and Colin just to mention a few.
Without this community I would have been floating around the ocean without a paddle.
Thanks you guys and gals!
I've kept all the copies of magazines I had stories in. After 23 years of a weekly magazine, that's a lot of magazines. My middle son thought I was a hoarder for keeping them, but they prove I was a professional writer. I can use the tear sheets for my portfolio. Plus, there are some human interest stories I've always thought I'd like to rewrite either for my blog or a collection.
My former editor used to rewrite stories and sell different versions of the same event to different magazines all over Europe as well as the US. The stories she wrote while following the Pryor Mountain wild horse herd were wildly popular overseas. She packed in horseback and basically lived with the horses alone, so there were lots of adventures.
She taught me the value of being able to look at a story from various angles.
Ebay is a good place to look for out of print magazines. I've bought several years of out of print Civil War Times there.
Anyone remember the Firefly episode Mrs. Reynolds. Mal finds out he's married because he accepted a cup of liquor from a woman and danced with her. I think a natty flower wreath about his drunken brow may have been involved also. Shepherd confirms according to that culture he is indeed married. It's a binding contract, but if Shepherd assures him if he consummates the marriage with innocent girl, there is a special level of hell reserved for him.
I would say avoid people who ply you with natty flower wreaths for your brow and liquor, but knowing QOTKU's crew, that's just a normal Friday night.
Save the contracts, or flower wreaths. You may need them later.
I agree with always reading the contract terms. Most short story contracts (good ones, anyway) I've seen these days say something like "We ask for these rights exclusively for 3-6 months, with the option to reprint in an annual anthology, for which you will be paid again."
For decades, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction used the same contract. But that was under a previous editor, who had a steady stable of old friends who submitted and agreed to the same old contract every time. It wasn't until a new editor took over, looking for fresh voices, that someone mentioned the contract wasn't right, and so it was rewritten. (By the way, at least one of the people who mentioned it was a former literary agent.)
Jason: Not all agents are as generous as Janet, and look at all their clients contracts. It's not technically part of their job, but I know that Janet (and probably others) feel it's the best way to keep their clients out of trouble and keep them writing.
Sherry: You just described all the cats I've ever known. Shih Tzus, too. Oh, heck. Pretty much any well-loved pet. :) *Looks at Shih Tzu cross, sleeping in two beds, one inside the other, because the bottom bed is too big and the top bed isn't as comfortable*
EM: Try the university archives. Of course, you'd need to know which university, but trial and error works, too. :) And you may find some universities have other universities papers in their archives. Universities love their archives.
Jamie, Celia, and BJ- thanks - I will hit up some university libraries. I should have thought of that. I have only recently started missing those stories, and realize that I don't even have a draft of them. I am sure they are somewhere in some library archive.
I love this part:
"In the actual real world, you're probably ok with publishing your own work on your website."
Except, who among us lives in the actual real world. Sounds like a frightening, horrible place if it's what I see on the news. I'll stay in mine.
John I am with you. The real world is just bleh! My world has dragons, books, and magic. So much better.
Oh, my. "I don't know" is never a good response in any business transaction.
"I'll get back to you on that ASAP" - much better.
Nothing to add, except the phrase "the more you know..." Pretty much applies to this Opie's question. Thanks Janet for posting and answering it in your wise way.
And John Frain, ah kindred spirits. There's a reason I live in an area of 3250+ square miles with only 1700 people total- probably more Elk than humans... definitely more cows than humans. The possibility that it could socially stunt you exists, though...
Okay, nevermind. Remove the word possibility, please.
We (the Royal "We") interrupt this blogcast for the following special announcement. This just in (at least in my mailbox), and I hope I'm not spoiling anything...
According to the May/June 2016 issue of Writer's Digest -- cover story "101 Best Websites for Writers" -- they report something most of us already know.
Under the subtitle Everything Agents, WD hails "Best of the Best" status upon jetreidliterary.blogspot.com stating "For years, FinePrint Literary Management's Janet Reid has offered writers good-humored, candid advice for their publishing journeys. Her query letter tips are especially helpful (and she offers even more of them on queryshark.blogspot.com).
No word on the FuzzyPrint sister website from Carkoon which likely finished at #102 and just missed the cut.
I gotta add, if I didn't know any better, the editors at WD kinda make Janet out to sound like a nice person. But oh, oh, oh, don't get me wrong here -- I KNOW better. Scars to prove it, some of which are not self-inflicted.
I'm with Janice on this. In university and my workplace, there are two 'no-no' phrases:
I don't know. Replace this either with, "I'll follow-up with you after I find out more information" or "Here's the email of someone who can help you."
No. We're never supposed to say no - always say, "Yes, if..." Although I don't imagine that would fly very far in agentland. "Yes, I'll represent you if you develop some talent, sprout some wings, solve world peace, and write a novel I can sell."
All right, I think I have put on my big girl panties and have some of my tech issues fixed. Lawsy. I swear. Thank God cast iron frying pans aren't automated or I'd starve before I found the on switch.
I joined the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Julie Weathers linking to my site and blog.
Forgive me for hijacking the topic again.
Back on topic, I think it's a really good idea to set up your organizing system now. Don't wait until you think you're a "real" writer. The more you act like something the more real it becomes. That holds true for acting like a writer, a decent human, or an ass.
I wanna go live in EM's World. EM can I ride on of your dragons?
Oh, wow. Congratulations, Miss Janet! I'm so thrilled for you. I'm grinning like a possum eating a sweet tater grin! I promise!
I'm not surprised. This is certainly the Library of Alexandria sans the fire when it comes to writing advice.
Glad I finished my cuppa before I got to the end of your poem, Colin, or my keyboard would be wearing it.
I recently took on a (contracted) position as editor of a journal. A paid writing job!! okay, so not my book but still... It's a start right?
Anyway, I digress, the contract had no condition in it at all for rights. As I will be writing articles for the journal as part of the job I requested a clause be added to make sure rights were clear. Interestingly the board of directors had no idea that under Aussie law (which I assume is the same everywhere) if I wrote it I owned it unless otherwise stipulated.
Yay! Congrats, Janet for the WD shout-out!! I'm not surprised, of course. Did I not say this blog is required industry reading? :)
As for Felix Buttonweezer being Donald Trump--we should be so lucky!
The WD recognition is well-deserved. Go Janet! And this is the greatest blog in all of publishing. I am just putting it out there.
As for the dragons in my world, some can be ridden but it's nearly impossible to tell which are friendly without getting close, and if the dragon is not friendly, well, you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.
So Colin, you know Felix well enough- think Man in the Iron Mask. We replace Trump with Felix. Think we could pull it off?
Yay Janet! Congrats!
I don't think universities throw away anything.
Wooooohoooo I now know a celebrity! Way to go JR!!!
I think it's time to buy that file cabinet. Right now I can't find anything if I needed it.
You can never have enough file cabinets or bookcases.
I think I read “Felix Buttonweezer Buys a Shih Tzu”
in a glossy magazine. Don’t remember the name of the author, but it seems like it was one of those characters who could sell ten million copies of a blank sheet of paper. I mean, some authors have BRAND, what can I tell you?
What amazes me is that some people are so in love with their words that they can’t just dump old stuff that may be encumbered. I have to admit, I’m guilty. I compulsively save old doodles from elementary school. But as the old saying goes, “Take my advice, I am not using it for anything.” Write something new and don’t worry about it.
All the comments made me run to the mail box.
I received a bill from the water company, an "important tax return document" from my employer (too late - try again next year),a bill from the air conditioning service company, and finally Writer's Digest, which announces in a special rose-colored box on the very bottom of page 36 that Janet Reid maintains the "best of the best" Agents blogs. She's the best of some heady company.
Congratulations, Janet Reid.
Nothing to add on topic, but I concur: read what you sign, know what it means, keep a copy in a safe place. Also, do as I say, not as I do.
Janet, congratulations on being named Best of the Best! (I originally typed that as Beast of the Best-- ooops!) I know we all think so, nice to see WD does too.
(Way off topic, I've lost my mind and am doing that A to Z thing too. In the most challenging and terrifying way possible. I've decided to wing it and write a story. It might be best if you all didn't watch, but if you're looking for a laugh... what is it they say? If you can't set a good example, you'll just have to serve as a horrible warning.)
Julie Weathers, Coincidentally I ordered a metal bookcase this afternoon. My brother bought me one for Christmas and it filled up fast so I bought what I hope is its twin.
I do need a filing cabinet and files instead of sticking things in drawers and on my desk and dining room table (or just chunking them).
I wonder what it's like to be famous.
Hey, I'll ask Janet, she'll know.
So Janet, what's it like to be famous?
That's what I thought.
Yay! More AtoZ blogs to visit!
And congrats Janet. Well deserved.
I think we need to chip in and buy Miss Janet a library like this to hold all her awards and books. *sage nod*
Joe, congratulations on the second bookcase. That's one thing I missed most about my house. I hand built all my bookcases to match all my cabinetry and woodwork. Bookcases are awesome.
Steve, sometimes it's not that you are so in love with your words as you feel the stories have validity and interest for new blog readers. After belonging to a writers' forum for many years, I have amassed a substantial collection of short stories that were part of writer's exercises. Some of them I would post on my blog as a break from what I usually write.
Particularly if the stories have been published, they might help showcase his/her talent.
My two cents, which won't get your much.
Congrats, Janet. I'm glad they are aware at WD of the invaluable contributions you give here to keeping writers from going absolutely stark mad. I'm sure the majority of us commenting here have a lot more hair and fingernails bc of your web presence.
Colin, did you just pop that poem up there out of your head?
2N's - yes the idea of not having an agent in this publishing world would feel like stepping into a foreign country with nothing but a little guide book. I know some can handle that just fine... but not me.
EM - I might still chance riding a dragon if we had 'em!
Pshaw, we already knew it was, has been and will be the best of the best. Congrats, my Queen. Hope you got more than a special rose-coloured box on p36.
"According to the May/June 2016 issue of Writer's Digest -- cover story "101 Best Websites for Writers" -- they report something most of us already know.
Under the subtitle Everything Agents, WD hails "Best of the Best" status upon jetreidliterary.blogspot.com"
Congratulations, Janet- raising our glass to your brilliance and knowledge, and for being generous to share it with us and the world. Your daily dedication to your blog deserves no less!
Here here! To Janet Reid, the Queen of the known Universe and all the seas!
Congrats QOTKU! Cheers! No doubt WD was thinking of that award-winning sharkly smile when they made their decision. Who could say no to 3000 teeth...especially when those teeth deftly chomp on chum!
The other Reiders are spot on when they say read before you sign. I want to take that a step further and say, make sure you understand before you sign. By understand I don't just mean understanding the vernacular.
I'd share a story from this week's county fair that I think is on point, but I really want to stay succinct. Long story short: everything has more than one meaning, make sure that meaning is established...
Lennon: "Colin, did you just pop that poem up there out of your head?"
I don't know if I want to admit to that. Maybe. Perhaps. :)
So Colin, you're admitting to having it building in your head for the last week, only to burst out today?
And congrats, QOTKU! You deserve it!
Congrats to our QOTKU. But we already knew she is the best of the best.
BJ: Last week?? If I'd been working on that for a week, I'd hope it would be better, and longer...! That's, um, IF I wrote it, of course... :)
I figured out how to enter the A to Z Challenge 5 seconds before having to dash out the door to work. God help me. It's a start, right?
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