Earlier today, I engaged in a Twitter conversation about first rights for short stories/novelettes/novellas. Over the course of the conversation, it became clear that it would be nice to have a single page I could link to from the submissions guidelines of the various projects I’m involved in.
There was some debate on this topic, so I will start by saying that I am not the final authority on this issue for anything but the magazines and anthologies I’m editing. This includes The Best Science Fiction of the Year, in which case my definition will overrule that of the editor of the publications I select stories from.
In over-simplified terms this means the person/publisher that gets to publish the story first. If there are restrictions (First English Language, First Electronic, etc) then it is the first to publish to that particular subset. NOTE: Obviously unrestricted first rights are no longer available the moment a subset of those rights are sold.
These days, there are many ways to publish a story. It’s not always as clear-cut as appearing in a book or magazine. You have to think of publishing as distribution. There are some obvious situations that make it clear that the story has been published:
- appearance in a book or magazine (print, audio, or digital formats)
- money has changed hands (barter too) in exchange for a copy of the work
- anyone using Google or another internet search tool can find the text of the story
Here are a few examples of situations where a story has been published:
- it appears in a book, magazine, pamphlet, postcard, etc. (self-publishing and school journals included) that is freely available or sold
- it appears on your website for visitors to read (no matter what size your audience is)
- it appears on a publicly available website (like Wattpad or a forum, even one with membership restrictions)
- it is distributed as a Patreon or Kickstarter reward (money has changed hands, no different than selling an ebook)
Here are a few example of situations that don’t count as publication:
- story is read aloud at a convention (unless that is recorded and distributed)
- story appears on private site that exists for the purpose of providing feedback on a story (only editors and writers participating, covers various private critique groups–be wary of groups that allow anyone to join and read your story)
- story is shared in a classroom or given to teacher as part of a class
- story is entered into a contest (wins or loses) but is not shared to anyone outside the judges (this is just like a slush pile, a business process)
- story is purchased by a magazine, but the magazine folds before the story is distributed to readers (in this situation the rights should revert to the author and they can sell them to someone else or use them on their own)
- a copy of the story is placed on your mom’s refrigerator
First rights, once used, are gone forever. There is no undo.
Stories that have already been published can be sold or published again as reprints. (The original publisher may have a fixed period of exclusivity on the story that prevent you from selling reprint rights before a certain date. Some even limit where it can be reprinted. Pay attention to your contracts.)
Publishers looking for first rights or original stories are, by definition, excluding reprints.
When a story is reprinted, the first publication is usually credited (Originally appeared in XXX, edited by YYY, YEAR) so make sure you include that information with any submissions that are open to reprints.
Please ask questions in the comments. I will update the document as additional examples are brought to my attention.
Under “Don’t Count,” I would certainly, as a publisher, never count stories that circulated in print or over email between members of a critique group (not just private blogs). Heck, I like to assume most stories we buy HAVE gone through some kind of critique process!
Yes, in the same spirit as the second and third item
Eliab Gonzalez Arevalo
There is still a question i have after reading this. Does the story writer or does the publisher get the right of a article/story.
If you sell first rights to a publisher, that means they have the right to publish it before anyone else. That’s all it gives them. You have to look to other clauses in the contract to determine what other rights the publisher has. I’m going guess that you are talking about copyright though, basically who “owns” the story. In the US, it’s very uncommon (and a red flag) if the publisher is laying claim to the copyright. It’s more common for publications that want to make sure they are the only place to read the story to have lengthy exclusivity terms. I’ve seen this with a few single author collections, but generally only with high profile authors and a corresponding amount of extra financial compensation. It still has an expiration date though and the author owns the story.
If you sell the copyright, you have no further control over the story. If you grant first rights, you still have control over the story but have to work within some limits until after the story is published and any exclusivity period expires. In most cases a normal exclusivity period will be 6-12 months (the longer side is typically anthologies). You should expect extra compensation for anything longer as it ties up your ability to make further income from the story.
Do not sell the copyright.
Like everything, there are exceptions. For example, a “work made for hire.” In this case the author is commissioned to write something (probably tie-in stories or novels where the hiring party owns the source material this work will be based on) and signs a work made for hire agreement up-front. You sometimes find this in translation work, where the person commissioning the translation wants to own the translation.
*All statements about things being common are based on practices in the US. It can vary by country.
Sandra M. Odell
What are your thoughts on audio markets when it comes to publishing? Is a story considered “published” if it appears in an audio only market? Could it be sent to a market that only accepted “unpublished” works?
They’ve used their first audio rights. For Clarkesworld, I want those, so it would be a problem.
For my YB anthology, I would consider the story published in the year the audio was published, even if they text hadn’t been published.
How does Clarkesworld reward the author for the use of 1st audio rights?
It seems like it should not fall under the umbrella of 10 cents a word; or does it?
Valuable perspective here, thanks for laying this subject out like this.
One additional distinction I’d like you to clarify: would websites like Critique Circle or Scribophile fall under ‘private site[s] that exists for the purpose of providing feedback on a story’ or ‘publicly available website[s] (… even one with membership restrictions)’, in your opinion?
I would GUESS they fall-in with the former, but it’s not as clearly private as the above mentioned email groups, or say, a website that only gave out its password to the dozen or so members of its critique group.
Work on sites like Scribophile or Critique Circle doesn’t seem to get picked up by Google search crawlers, and neither are the sort of public site that say, FictionPress obviously is, but also any one can sign up, log in, and, theoretically, view any non-hidden materials posted there (and to others in this vein), even if searching out a specific story may be difficult.
They seem to straddle a sort of public/private line. As someone who’s considered posting prospective short stories to these sites for feedback, what’s your personal ruling as an editor? Thanks!
I’m not familiar with either of those sites, but I think a good rule of thumb is that if all it takes is filling out a form or paying some money, then you are at risk of losing your first rights. They are essentially public but not indexed.
I am not familiar with Scribophile but I know CC and Critique Circle has the option to create private critique groups open to a limited number of members and inaccessible to members outside of invitation, so that should fall under ‘don’t count’. However, if you submitted an early draft of a story to the public queues and then significantly changed the text, it wouldn’t be the same piece, technically. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to then put up the final version for critique in those public queues…
Neil, can you explain why publishing houses are still focused on First Rights, in an era where the collaboration tools of the internet are so important and pervasive?
Stories printed as originals instead of reprints get a lot more traffic, according to editors of online publications that I know.
Yes, Rachel is correct. Originals attract a lot more eyeballs. That means it has significantly more value to a publisher.
I’m curious why you would think collaboration tools would count as publication. (I’m thinking of co-writing stories in Google Docs for example.) Are you thinking of something that is open to the public?
Based on a conversation I had today, I’ve added a couple of things that are definitely not published.
1. Contests where a story is read by judges but never distributed to the public. This is a lot like the slush process magazines and anthologies go through. In the end, they might even pay you, but if they aren’t publishing it (on their website, newsletter, anthology, etc.) it’s a lot like:
2. A magazine or anthology buys your story. They fold before publishing the issue that would have contained your story. Rights revert to you. Story is not published, so you still have first rights.
(back to 1) because the story has never been distributed and the rights are still in your hands.
How can the rights revert back to you? If the story is accepted, and when you take first rights then how can it revert back to you? I’m just very confused at the moment.
First rights can only revert back to you if the rights are purchased/contracted but never used. For example, you sell a story to Amazing Space Platypus Magazine. Before they can publish your story, ASPM goes out of business. Assuming they were reasonable (which I can since I made them up), terms of their contract specified that if that should happen, all rights revert to you.
Money changed hands, contracts we’re signed, but the story was never distributed to readers. First rights remain intact.
I asked because I had it on wattpad at one point but I ended up deleting it as it was unedited…is there a chance I can still submit my MS to you if at one point that it was on wattpad at one point?
I’m afraid that first rights are gone in that case and we wouldn’t consider it.
I know this is old, but I’m wondering if you have the submission address for Amazing Space Platypus Magazine. 🙂
🙂 Sadly, they only exist in an alternate universe. They are doing quite well there though.
Quick question…does this also include stories that were self-published to extremely limited distribution, and no longer available for purchase?
That story was published and first rights are no longer available. Removing the ability to purchase the story does not restore first rights.
Hi Neil, What about the situation where an early version of a story is available on a website. If it is subsequently heavily edited and expanded (and the title changed), would this exclude it from first right?
“Heavily edited” means a lot of things to different people. I would expect the arc of the story to be substantially different and any conflict to have been altered so as not to be predictable from my experience of reading the original. Every editor will look at this differently, so it would be best to be up front about its history when submitting the story. If someone wants to publish it, they might ask to see the original just to be sure it passes their own sniff test before issuing a contract.
Thanks for this article, but I would still appreciate some specific clarification. My collection of short stories and poems was published last year by a trade publisher (not self-published or vanity press, if that matters). By contract with that publisher, after six months I’m allowed to submit material from that book to other publishers, such as Clarkesworld. Does Clarkesworld accept submissions of such previously-published work? It sounds like the answer is No, but, again, I want to be sure.
Since the stories were previously published, that means that first rights have been used and are no longer available. Clarkesworld requires first rights, so no, we would not consider any of those stories.
Thanks for your answer. (Sorry, forgot to say thank you sooner.)
Neil, many thanks for this helpful description. Would you consider a story that has been excerpted to be available for first rights sale, or does its partial publication (on a blog, for example) use up first publishing rights?
It depends on how much (and what portions) of the story were published in that excerpt.
Hi, I do most of my writing on Wattpad and have several stories I’m working on there that I would like to eventually publish. If we take them down so they no longer appear on Wattpad, can we submit to you? I do know Wattpad does not receive first rights for anything we post there.
Sorry, once they are posted , first rights are gone and you can’t get them back by deleting that copy. Whether or not Wattpad claims first rights, doesn’t matter. You’ve used them by placing the story there.
Hi Neil. I suppose my question has been partially answered already but I’d just like to confirm so I never have to ask again. I presume first rights also take into account independently published works as well, do they not? So if I wrote a story and sold it on my own to a few dozen people, then that would no longer be eligible for Clarkesworld, correct?
Okay, never mind. Just saw that part where the article mentioned it. Okay, um different question. What if the story has appeared as part of a collection of works for a graduate thesis? Does that count as disqualification for First Print Rights?
That all depends on how available it is to the general public.
Hi Neil. Just looking for a cautious clarification on this point, please: is a story that’s part of a thesis made only accessible to the staff and students of the university where it has been deposited (which is a minimum requirement for thesis deposit), and not the wider public, considered as first print? I expect not, but thought it’s worth asking the question. Many thanks.
Also, what if, say a 3-page excerpt for a 50 page work was put up on a site that asks for funding to have the work published, like say, Kickstarter? But then for some reason, it never pushed through, and only the three page excerpt was ever glimpsed?
I doubt there are any editors that would object to that. It’s a very small percentage of the work.
These clarifications are really useful, but I ‘m still in doubt as to my case. Do “Language: English” and “Translations are welcome” stack? That is, do you consider a story that has been made available in a language other than English as unpublished?
We’re technically looking for First English Language rights, so yes, a story written and published in another language will still have its First English rights until it has been translated and published in English. I’ve published a lot of stories like this.
I have my work on google docs it hasn’t been seen on any site like wattpad but will I be allowed to submit it to you?
Using Google docs by itself is not a problem, however, the bigger question is whether or not it has been shared and for what purpose.
Kent C. Dodds
I’ve written my story on Google Docs and made a publicly available link that I share freely with people (via twitter, mailing list, facebook, etc.) eliciting feedback. The story is still a work in progress (maybe 75% written and completely unedited). Would you consider this problematic?
If you are allowing everyone/anyone to read it, then you are at-risk. I would advise pulling the public share down and restricting it to a small group of trusted first readers to prevent future rights difficulties.
Hi Neil, after reading this article about first rights I still have a few questions. First, when Clarkesworldmagazine purchases these rights – first print, electronic text/ audio, and non-exclusive anthology rights what exactly does that entail. Does Clarkesworldmagazine then own my story forever and all time or is it for a time limit, say two months?
Next, if I take my short story and grow it into a novel, and list it as having been published at Clarkesworldmagazine originally, and have waited until the first rights time limit has expired, would that be possible?
Thank you again for taking the time to look through this, I sincerely appreciate it.
First rights means I get to publish it first, so that’s gone after the first use. It’s just one of many rights people need to be familiar with, but the one that tends to cause the most confusion. All the other things you are asking about would be covered by different clauses in the contract. For example, we have EXCLUSIVE rights (meaning you can’t make it available anywhere else) for six months and NON-EXCLUSIVE rights (meaning you can resell the story as a reprint, include in a collection or novel, but we can still have it on our site) after the exclusive period is over. There’s another clause providing the option to remove a story from the archives after another period of time, and another that restricts usage of the story to a specific issue and the annual anthology. I cannot, for example, create a Best of Clarkesworld without acquiring reprint rights from the author at a later date. We never OWN your story.
Varun Vithaldas Prabhu
Hello, Neil, my question is quite similar. Can I set a short story in a fantasy/sci-fi verse I am building?
For example, say, I have a short story set in a world and I intend to publish a novel in this world independently soon. Say, the story of that world is quite different but does reference to the short story I send for publishing on Clarkesworld or use its characters?
The characters and world in your stories are yours to do with as you please. We’ve published several stories that have later been expanded into novels by their authors.
So would it be OK to send you an unpublished, stand-alone story that may later be used as a chapter in a future novel?
Yes. We have published several stories that have gone on to become novels.
Thanks Neil! Just one more quick question. Would it be possible for you to email me the contract you spoke of earlier? It would really mean a lot to me and I’d truly appreciate it.
Thank you again for your help earlier!
If I allow you to publish my story and then want to sell it later, what are the rules on that?
Most publications will insist on an exclusivity period that will prevent you from reprinting the story for a fixed period of time. (Clarkesworld is currently six months.) After that, they may or may not have non-exclusive rights (we do), meaning you can sell the story elsewhere as a reprint but they still have a copy too. After the first publication, other future publications will always be reprints. First rights are burned.
All of this should be spelled out in the contract you receive with an acceptance letter. Probably should write something up on common contract clauses at some point.
I’m in the process of finishing a piece that I was considering submitting to you in the next month or so.
Yes, PLEASE! (re: Contract Clauses)
And what about if the story is already published in a book or magazine of a foreign language (I e. Greek)?
Assuming the story hasn’t been previously translated and published in English, you should be fine. All the major English language SF awards also consider translations to be like any other story published in English for the first time that year.
Can I translate stories in English that do not belong to me and are not translated in English by the owners?
For publication? Not without the author’s permission.
What about a story that is available as a downloadable ebook or pdf from a document sharing site, blog, or facebook group? The text is not google-able, but the ebook/pdf document is.
I would say published and likely covered by “it appears in a book, magazine, pamphlet, postcard, etc. (self-publishing and school journals included) that is freely available or sold.”
I’m so glad I stumbled upon this. I found the article informative and the questions and comments hilarious. Had it been me, I might’ve grown exasperated at having to clarify clarifications, (Sorry/Not Sorry… I chuckeld at some of the questions) but you maintained professional decorum. Great article and great job! L’chaim!
I just wanted to clarify something that I’m unsure about.
I understand that First Rights means you have the right to publish first. But does that mean, for example, that if I wanted to publish on my own site after you’ve published, I would be able to?
What you are asking about is actually covered under exclusive rights. In our case, we have six months of exclusive rights and non-exclusive after. Some publishers have shorter. Some have longer. Anyhow, during the exclusivity period, the publisher gets to be the only one making it available in the formats their contract specifies. After that, you can publish it yourself or sell it to a reprint market.
There’s one important exception to exclusivity that should be in a contract and that’s an exception for best of the year anthology reprints. Most already make this exception, but there are some that add strings. The more conditions/restrictions, the better you should be paid.
Seems to me that the definition of the word “publish” goes a long way towards answering most of the questions here. To make available to the public. If it is made available to the public it can be considered published. This includes putting a letter or notice up on a bulletin board where passers by can view it.
Typically, yes, but there are some cases where private distribution crosses the line too. Given as a Patreon or Kickstarter reward, for example.
Is there a timeline on reprint rights? If I published in a sci-fi mag like Clarkesworld, how soon afterwards would I be able to reprint that story in, say, a ‘self-published’ collection of my short stories?
You are asking about the limits on “exclusive rights.” Those aren’t necessarily restricted to first rights, but very common when they are in the mix. Clarkesworld is exclusive for six months, some publishers have longer exclusivity periods, a few less. It’s common to have an exception to that exclusivity clause for “year’s best” anthologies and sometimes even a single author collection. After the exclusive period is over, you are free to reprint/resell anywhere you want.
Hello, if I have posted portions of a short story on facebook does this disqualify me from submitting said short story under the “first rights” clause?
It could. It all depends on what percentage of the story that portion represents and how much of the plot is spoiled by it. In this situation. different editors will see different amounts as acceptable. Best to be up-front about it and ask the editor before submitting the story for their consideration.
If a story was published in a high school literary magazine years ago, does it lose First Rights?
The first rights were claimed/used by the literary magazine.
Would a story that is mainly horror but contains ample elements of science fiction count as “dark sf?”
Sorry this isn’t about “First Rights.”
I’m curious though.
Thanks for this forum to answer questions. What does the statement below mean? It’s in my agreement.
We purchase first rights to the use of original, unpublished material in The Secret Place and unlimited rights for use in related electronic material.
I would advise against signing a contract that asks for rights in such vague terms. “Unlimited” and “related” could cover a wide variety of things, many of which aren’t good. It doesn’t mean the publisher is evil, but that language would certainly allow them to be. Ask them to be more specific and if they won’t do it, walk away.
R . D . MILLER
I posted my story in a Reddit forum for critique almost a year ago. The post was delete just as long ago and i have reworked the story since. Does this make the story ineligible to be considered for first rights?
Posting a story to a public site like Reddit would cost you your first rights. The story would have to have been substantially revised to be considered a new original work. Substantially will vary from editor-to-editor, but I’d expect the plot to be different enough that reading the previous version wouldn’t ruin it for me.
I am a Chilean SF writer (well, at least I am trying to). I would like to submit a story to Clarkesworld, that I have translated. But the story, in original Spanish, has been published in several websites, and one anthology, and also it has been translated and published in a French anthology. In the event that you would like the story, never before published in English, is it first right or not? Even more important, would you be interested in such a story, if it has some merit?
Apologies for the delay in responding. The comment notification went to spam and I missed it last time I checked this post. I don’t know anyone who is looking for first rights across all languages. When I say first rights for my projects, I’m actually looking for first English language rights, meaning that an English language translation is acceptable assuming the story hasn’t been translated into English and published previously. (I know we’ve sort of settled this privately, but it’s a good one to have stated publicly.)
Neil, I’m sorry, I’m a bit confused. I’m in the process of translating in English a story of mine that has already been published by an Italian journal (Robot, by Silvio Sosio). Are you going to accept the translated version in this case?
No matter what, if the story has never been translated and published in English before, then you still have English first rights. That’s all I need.
I will add one thing you have to watch out for in this situation. If the story has been originally published in another language, make sure the contract for that story does not include foreign or English language rights. If it does, they may have a claim on the English language version. Even though English language first rights are still available, they may not be yours to sell. Sadly, I have seen this happen.
Thanks 🙂 I’ll check it 🙂
Suppose a story I submit is published in Clarkesworld. How long after publication can I publish the story elsewhere?
You may sell the story as a reprint (first rights having been used by us) six months after publication. An exception is made for Year’s Best reprints.
Hi, How is “exclusivity period” measured? Is it from the public release date of the first publication to the public release date of the reprint? Thus negotiations for reprints can begin during the exclusivity period, before the reprint is officially published? Thank you.
The exclusivity period starts on the date of publication and the contract should be clear about that. You can certainly talk to other publishers about reprinting the story at any time, but it cannot be reprinted until AFTER the exclusivity period has ended. The publisher can grant you an exception, but they’ll be very selective about what they’ll allow it for. The most common exception is for publication in “year’s best” type anthologies. I tend to encourage authors to make sure this specific exception is spelled out clearly in any contracts they sign.
If an author has a story published in your magazine/website who owns the copyright? Does copyright remain with the author?
We never make a claim on the author’s copyright. Be wary of anyone who tries.
Can I suggest clearly stating such on your “Submission Guidelines” page as after reading that I was unsure and hence the reason why I asked a question here.
It’s uncommon for a market to list the rights they are not acquiring.
This one in particular is so rare, that I don’t know of any English-language markets that actively acquire copyright. Any magazine attempting to do so would soon find itself on the wrong side of a very angry internet mob. SFWA would likely have a few words for them as well. No doubt, the warning flares would be visible from space.
if your story is an ongoing one like a short story series under the max word count, will it be possible if its only on your magazine? my story is an ongoing one its offline and no ones read it.
I’m not sure I follow. I’m going to make a guess, so please let me know if you meant something else.
If your story is part of a series and one of the stories is considered published for any of the reasons previously mention, it does not automatically take away the first rights of the others. That said, many editors prefer stories in a series to be able to stand on their own–meaning someone can read story 5 and understand what is going on without needing to read stories 1-4. It should also have an ending that doesn’t require the reader to track down story 6. This isn’t an absolute. If you do find someone who wants to publish the entire series, they might be willing to consider publishing the previously published installment as a reprint.
In 13 years, we’ve never published a true series, but we have published a number of stories that were set in the same universe as some of the author’s previous work–even some featuring the same characters. In a few cases, the previous stories weren’t in our magazine. They stood on their own though and that made it work for us.
its like resident evil but for young adult and older. but yes its a stand alone each book.
I am a writer from Croatia and I write in Croatian. Suppose my story is already published in Croatia in the Croatian language. What happens if I translate that story into English and submit it to you? Did I lose the first rights that way? Or do you mean the first rights only for English? I am an author already published in English, but mostly in various non-exclusive venues.
You no longer have first Croatian rights, but you do have first English language rights for the translated version.
Most US magazines and anthologies asking for first rights would consider it eligible for submission. I know that all the major English language awards consider translated works original to the year they were published in English. It’s also becoming more common to see this spelled out in submission guidelines. When in doubt, you can query the editor or simply include the information in your cover letter.
Thank you. This clears things, and later I saw the same answer to a query from Greece.
What’s the process if the following scenario happens (hypothetically):
You purchase a short story that I wrote and a movie studio shows interest in it.
Who gets to decide what happens? And in terms of payment from them, how does it work?
This has happened with a few stories we’ve published and it has been a pretty consistent process. We don’t acquire any film/tv rights, so they are all yours. In fact, no magazine/anthology should be doing this. All discussions with them will be directly with you (and hopefully your agent, which you should have in this situation). (Sometimes they may contact me for your email address, but that’s just a technicality.) They will want to know the publication history of the work. They send everyone (even reprints) on that list a form to confirm that they don’t have any claim on the rights they seek from you. I sign that form and send it back. After that, I’m out of the picture. That is unless you count me cheering when it finally gets made into a show/movie. They pay you (or your agent) directly. I earn $0.
If I want to publish an English translation of a story that has been published in a different language, is that alright? Or is it only possible to submit stories that have not been published in any language?
If the story has not been published in English, then you still have First English Language Rights.
(NOTE: If the contract with your original publisher included foreign rights, which I have seen happen, you need to get those rights reverted to be able to sell the story in the markets they’ve tied up. Even if they haven’t used them, they could still have a legal claim. You should have that in writing for your own protection.)
The majority of markets–Clarkesworld included–aren’t concerned with whether or not it was published in other language first. I have published many translated works and the overwhelming majority of them were published in another language first.
Let’s say a short story is published and it’s also part of a larger novel. Would an agent or publishing house frown upon the fact that a chapter/prologue was first published in a magazine as a stand alone piece to then be included in a novel?
On that same vein, if the story was published in a magazine that had a couple of the same characters from a yet to be published novel, how is that received?
A few stories I’ve published at Clarkesworld have been reworked or incorporated into novels. I don’t think it’s made it harder for those authors to sell the novel to a publisher. If the story is popular or wins an award, it might even help.
As for the second question, there might be the rare editor who disagrees, but so long as the story stands on its own, I’d certainly consider it. The novel itself wouldn’t play into my decision.
Thank you so much for taking time and energy to respond to my question, and all of our questions. Fabulous!
Thanks for this post and patience in answering questions. It’s surprisingly difficult to find clarification on some of these issues.
According to the Chinese Copyright Act 2010, copyright of translated Chinese literary works belongs to the translator and not the author. How do you define “first English rights” in this situation? Who has the right to submit English translations of Chinese works – the author or the translator?
If the work has already been translated into English and published (on the Internet) by parties unrelated to the author (legally under Chinese copyright law), would this disadvantage the author or a different translator from submitting their own (different) version of an English translation?
Regardless of who owns the translation, the translator still needs permission to translate from whoever owns the foreign rights (sometimes the author, sometimes a publisher). It’s on the publisher to verify that the author has granted those rights to the translator. An unauthorized translation (self-published or traditionally published) is not legal (assuming the original work is not in the public domain). I don’t think any publication is going to hold that against the original author/official translator when the first authorized version is submitted.
Wondering if you submit a story that is actually a chapter of a book if that book can be published without issue?
There’s a long history in the field of short stories being expanded into novels. I haven’t heard of this causing rights problems for anyone when it came time to publish the novel. In fact, if the story does well, it often helps.
A story that’s a chapter or excerpt from a published novel, however, is always a reprint.
Thanks Neil, much obliged!
I wrote a novel, contemporary fiction, that was published in Portugal (2015) by a traditional publisher (not a vanity).
Now all the rights reverted to me. I want to translate that novel to English – as a reworded version and not a literary translation only – and try to send the manuscript to agents or final publishers.
1 – Should I explain that the novel was previously published in Portuguese by a traditional publisher?
2- The print run was 1,500 copies.
But the fact is that it only sold 400 copies. How do you think I should handle this, if asked?
Thank you for your attention.
I don’t do any work with novels (just short fiction), but I would say that a cover letter to a publisher or agent should mention that this is a revised and translated edition of a novel that was previously published in Portuguese by NAME OF PUBLISHER. I wouldn’t mention print run or sales figures unless they were a strong selling point. Let them ask for that data.
greetings, i hope this note finds you well. thanks so much for your amazing anthology article. i have a question for you. i am the editor of an anthology and i recently bought back the rights to my book from the original publisher. i am currently working on creating an update and revised edition of the book. do i need to get permission from each of the 52 contributors to the first book since the reprint rights were granted to the original publisher? it has a line in the contract that says the permission would extend to any sub-licensees. would i be considered a sub-licensee? i welcome your response or if you can’t help me, perhaps you can offer a referral. lifting as i climb, elaine lee http://www.ugogurl.com
This is a bit outside of the scope of the thread and can’t be answered without knowing the specific details of the author’s contract (and perhaps even yours as the original editor). The authors may be entitled to a portion of your payment to the original publisher. You may also need to review any clauses that pertain to transfer of rights or expiration of rights (including terms for the book going out of print). You may need to amend the contracts with the authors individually, but in any event, you should be in communication with them about your plans for this new edition.
This has been a very helpful article!
I have a question: If I post a story on a personal blog and then delete the story (or the blog), could I still submit the story to Clarkseworld?
No. Once you’ve posted the story, first rights are used. There is no way to get them back.
Jumping on this: what if the story on the personal blog was password protected and the password was only shared with a certain group of people? After the story was deleted, would one be able to submit the story to Clarkesworld?
I’ll need more context. Why did this group of people have access? (Your expectations from them and why them?) How many people are we talking about?
My editor has just finished the final run on my twelve-story spec fiction/science fiction short story collection. If I were to submit one of the stories and it be accepted, would it make it difficult to include it with the other eleven if I were able to find a publisher who might be interested in the collection as a whole – somewhere down the road? I’m not sure at this point how easy it might be to sell the idea of a short story collection, anyway to be honest.
It is common for a publication that requires first rights to have an exclusivity period of six or more months. Most (not all) will make an exception to that exclusivity period for best of the year anthologies. Some are also willing to include single author collections. It could take you the length of that exclusivity period (likely more) to place it at a publisher and have it go to print. As long as the book is scheduled to be published after the exclusivity period, you are fine.
I wouldn’t expect the publisher of the collection to have a problem with the story having been previously published. It’s almost expected. Most collections are predominantly previously published work. Think of them as a “best of what you’ve published so far” collection. It’s often the success of those works (or the author’s novels) that drives the publisher to take on the project.
Thanks, Neil. Good point. It isn’t exactly going to be published overnight even if you do manage to connect with a publisher who wants to green light your collection. I really appreciate your feedback.
Does it include the right to translate, or giving away the right to translate to anyone else?
That’s something you’ll have to watch in individual contracts. Typically, the publisher is looking for first rights in their language. Separate clauses, however, may indicate their interest in translation or foreign language rights. They don’t often insist on first rights in those other languages, but can end up using them.
For example: An anthology seeking first English language rights on stories will accept stories previously published in Spanish and seek foreign language rights for those works so the anthology (as a whole) can be translated and published in Spanish, French, Chinese, and whatever other language they can find a publisher for. The foreign language clause often specifies that the story can only be translated for an edition of the anthology that contains a certain percentage of works from the English language edition. (This prevents them from selling your story individually and allows them the option of dropping some stories from a foreign edition, since local restrictions may require such omissions.)
Since the story was originally published in Spanish, first rights have already been used. (Your original contract for the Spanish language publication may present some restrictions that you should bring up with the editor when you sign the contract.) Assuming it can be reprinted in Spanish, it will likely be included in that edition. Technically, they only have the right to translate it into Spanish, so if they are sane and rational, they may come back to you to license the original so they can avoid translating it back into Spanish.
If the story was never published in French and the anthology will be translated to that language, it will use your First French language rights even though they weren’t required. Will that impact your ability to sell the story in French markets? Maybe. You could still sent a translation prior to the publication of the anthology (though again, you should be up-front with both publishers in that case) and that would have the first rights associated with it. After the anthology is published, however, first rights would be gone. (You might not even own the rights to the French translation. You could still have it translated again and own/publish that.)
I have a rather specific question. I have a writing blog, publicly available and viewable. My thought was to provide a copy of my most recent short story that I’ve submitted to a magazine for potential publication should anyone subscribe to my blog. There is no money changing hands and the work is not available to be viewed on my site, only a PDF copy would be emailed to a subscriber. Does that count as publishing?
Yes, it counts as published. The story is still available and distributed to the public just by signing up. Free (or registration in this case) is a price.
Do first rights prevent you from extending a short story into a novel or novella later on?
Not normally. The act of going from a short story to a novella or novel would involve extensive revisions and additions, essentially creating a new work. We’ve seen a lot of short stories we’ve published at Clarkesworld turned into novels at some of the larger publishing houses.
If I uploaded my story on a Facebook group to get feedback, does it count as published? (It’s a member’s only group of amateur editors and writers but has like 50,000 members)
I obviously don’t have all the information on this group, but I think you could safely consider it published with an audience that size. That’s larger than the audience of most magazines and anthologies. It might be members-only, but it doesn’t sound like the criteria for admission is much of an obstacle.
I’ve seen a claim for “nonexclusive rights” after the first year of ‘first exclusive rights,’ with no listed end date. Does that mean the publisher can profit, or resell a work, while I’m left out of the equation? Doesn’t seem like a good deal if something were to be picked up for Netflix (I realize also unlikely,) or future anthologies.
Nonexclusive rights are fairly common. It allows the author to reprint the story anywhere they like while the book or magazine containing your story is still for sale after certain amount of time (I’ve seen 6-24 months). There’s almost always a second clause that indicates an out-of-print condition (which ends their ability to sell) or, in the case of online magazine archives, terms for requesting removal of the story after another period of time. If such a clause is missing, it should be added before you sign it. Book contracts typically have royalty clauses to address lifetime sales. Magazines typically factor it into their up-front payment. (The majority of magazine sales are in the month of release. Back issue sales for magazines are not individually a major revenue source. Even if we paid royalties on them, we’ve never had a back issue that would have generated any. The reason for not having a royalty clause in a magazine contract is typically logistical.)
As for Netflix, having had a story we published picked up by one of their projects, I can tell you that they don’t care if the story is still in circulation. They are acquiring film/tv rights and that’s something that shouldn’t be in ANY contract when you are publishing a story in an anthology or magazine. They (and just about any other studio) will ask you to have everyone that’s ever published the story to sign a document stating that they do not have any legal claim to the rights they are acquiring.
Forgive me if it’s already been discussed above, but I was wondering about deadlines for submissions. For instance, with today being the 28th, if I were to submit a short story for consideration would it be outside of the time constraint for that same story to be published in the August issue?
What day of the month are issues released?
We are always open to submissions. We don’t buy for a specific issue. Instead, they are placed in inventory and scheduled later. As story accepted this late in the month would likely be published sometime between September and November. (There are exceptions where we hold onto a story longer–needs more time for editing, not the right length to fit with other stories in inventory, etc.) New issues are always released on the first of the month.
Hello! Thank you for this great article.
If a one page extract from a 14-page-long chapter of a manuscript was published in a high school literary magazine, which was barely read by more than 10 people, and the extract version looks quite different from the manuscript version (unfortunately the character names and some paragraphs are identical in both versions), — are the first rights are still considered to have been given away?
How does this affect the chances of being published?
The story is an ‘original’ story. The author is a first timer.
That’s a small portion of a work you are indicating has been significantly revised since. I don’t think anyone would hold that against you.
Scenario: A story is published 10 years ago in a small, newsprint tabloid publication in an edition of 100 copies distributed for free among friends in a specific geographic location. There is no online edition. There is no second issue — it’s a one-off. About half the run is still in the publisher’s basement. Are first rights available, or is it previously published?
Published. (You even call it published in your first sentence.) Some editors may let it slide due to the low circulation, but that’s not an exception I would make.
You mention if “it appears in a book, magazine, pamphlet, postcard, etc. (self-publishing and school journals included) that is freely available or sold”. However, what if it has been published in an anthology that is distributed only to a limited number of members (of a society)? It is therefore not freely available or sold and no further copies can ever be obtained, yet it has been published.
Would Clarkesworld still accept this?
No. It’s still published. Freely available (or sold) to members counts. If you find yourself using the word “published” to describe it, then that’s pretty much it.
Hi Neil, Thank you for this post and all the great Q&A’s. In a traditional publishing contract, publishers always ask for first serial rights as a subsidiary right but often they go unused. What might be a couple ways a fiction author could work with the publisher to take advantage of these rights? Is publishing a short story in the author’s fictional world the main way to take advantage? I was just doing some research on first serial rights and wondering how to advise writers to take advantage of them.
Sounds like you are drifting over into novel contracts. Different beasts and one I typically advise involving an agent in. A short fiction contract doesn’t usually include serial rights unless they want the option of publishing the work in installments (serialized) across multiple issues of a magazine. While I’ve seen some novels serialized in magazines, it’s not very common. I’ve done it a few times with novellas though.
Standard first rights apply to the publication of that single work, not things related to it. A short story set in an author’s world is a separate work from any others set in that world. Unless a previous contract laid claim to that world (problematic in itself) or works related to it (perhaps a right of first refusal or a contract for more than just the single book), it’s treated like any other story.
I may have missed it in this thread, but I assume registering the copyright for your story with the US Copyright Office (so long as you indicate that the work as not been published) wouldn’t count as being published in terms of losing First Rights? I’m asking, because when you register a copyright, you also submit a copy of your work with your registration? Or am I missing something? Thank you!
Registering your copyright does not count as publication.
I see that you were asked about Scribophile back in 2015, but were not familiar with the site back then. I wonder if you’re any more familiar with the site now, and are you in a position to say if you would consider sharing a story on Scribophile to count as published? There are a lot of people sharing stories on Scribophile, and Scribophile is assuring users that most publications will not consider this to count as published, so potentially a lot of people could be affected if they’re wrong about that.
I don’t believe they’ve changed any in the years since. It’s a business that provides free access to stories to anyone that signs up, with no obligation. The author doesn’t control who or how many can see their posted story. That’s too open-ended for me to consider it under a standard workshop exemption, so I’d likely consider first rights to be gone.
(Note: I’m talking about short stories, specifically for my publication.)
Scribophile is a member-only critique site that requires a password and account to even see stories. Work posted to Scribophile cannot be viewed by internet search engines. The stories are not listed to be read, but posted to various spotlights, in 3000 word sections, to be critiqued and edited.
How many do you imagine are on a business writing site for the purposes of critique? What criteria do you consider “closed” sufficient for a workshop?
Members-only, but anyone can be a member for free. The author does not determine who or how many people will have the ability to read their work. A commercial entity does.
I would just note here that Premium Scribophile members *can* restrict access to their work and only share it with select critique partners. So it appears that it’s possible to meet your definition of unpublished on Scribophile, but only if you take advantage of certain premium features.
Hi Neil– There’s an active discussion on Scribophile about your response. Sites like Scribophile, Critters.org, and Critique Circle are designed as “private site that exists for the purpose of providing feedback on a story” (your terminology) yet there is no test of whether someone enrolling is a “writer or editor.” You state “be wary of groups that allow anyone to join and read your story.” Clarification seems required, or even rethinking your stance on Internet-based critique sites. I.e., how can worldwide Internet-based services such as these restrict “anyone” from joining? Thanks…
I won’t be reconsidering my position on Scribophile unless they implement new features. (Limits, criteria for access, author control over who/how many, etc.) There is a difference between having ten people read your story (with the intention of critique) and having a potentially unlimited number. The critique exception was always expected to be a reasonably small and limited audience.
As for a test, I have come across sites that require verification and submitted work before allowing anyone to read or critique other works. That’s a good first step. (Not the only one, but a first one.)
Daniel Joseph Matusicky
Based on your answers above, I believe I can predict your answer to this question. That said, I’ll give it a go anyway.
In your opinion, would first rights be exhausted if a sliver of prose was previously published as a poem?
I envision this in two ways: 1) the poem is borrowed word-for-word from a segment of dialogue or description, taking on a different form as a poem; or, 2) the words are modified, either in part or in whole, to evoke the same meaning, but with different words.
Thanks in advance for your response.
What percentage of the entire story does this represent? How much of the overall plot does the poem reveal? Calling it a sliver suggests that it’s a tiny amount. Tiny is usually safe, but it would be up-front with the editor considering the piece so they can make their own assessment.
Cortés Del Monte
Hi. I have a doubt regarding first rights. Do you have a time limit to make the first publication effective ? If you never publish it, the story will be lost forever? How does this work?
Sorry for my English.
Most contracts include a rights reversion clause should the story not be published within a certain time period. Publishers can also release a story back to an author without publishing it. (Typically paying a contract-defined “kill” fee to the author in the process.) If the story is reverted to the author and still unpublished, then the author still has their first rights.
A couple years ago, I got a flash fiction story published on a website where it’s still available. Now I’m working on a longer story (latest draft about 10,000 words) in which something like the events of the flash story are a part. I have revised and varied all the writing from the flash story — there’s no sentence that appears in both — and also spread it out over more pages and changed some things about the situation. But the main thing that occurs in the flash story also occurs in my longer draft. It’s a pretty important event in the main character’s development, though it isn’t the climax. Would my long story not be considered unpublished because of the flash story? Thanks for your time and any thoughts in response!
That sounds like it would be more than substantial enough a change to be considered a new work.
Great to hear, thank you!
I would like to use the story I’m going to submit to Clarkes as part of my online writing portfolio for purposes of job hunting. My portfolio will be password protected, and I will only give the password to potential employers, so they can see my work. It this an acceptable use that would not destroy first rights?