First Rights Means First

We were thrilled to receive a well-known author’s article. Our magazine always paid more for first rights so we could be the first to publish this strong piece.

After we published that article, another magazine editor called. This same author had sold that same article to him—also on a first rights basis. He said another editor had called him saying that he, too, had purchased the article with the same understanding.

I called the writer. “Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know that’s what ‘first rights’ means.”

Any writer who has been in the business very long must learn and understand the various rights publications purchase. Buying first rights means an editor doesn’t have to worry about “me too” syndrome.

Know what you’re selling
There are other forms of first rights. A writer could sell first rights in a limited geographic area—first North American rights, for instance, or European or Australian. The writer can also sell first electronic rights.

Once an article is published and a period of time has passed, the writer can sell other rights to the same article to a different publication—but naturally not first rights again. When selling second rights or second serial rights or even reprint rights, it’s ethical to tell the new editor where the article first appeared.

Protect your integrity
As far as I know, that woman never published another article with any of us. What she didn’t realize—but you should—is that editors know each other and read one another’s publications. Her reputation was tarnished. She may have earned a few extra dollars at the time, but she won’t earn any more money from any of us.

Your honesty and professionalism are valuable. Editors respect writers who ethically conduct their business.

React: To protect your integrity, it’s good to know the terms and rules of professional writing. How are you gaining this knowledge?

Photo: Roger PalmsRoger Palms, a CWG mentor, is the former editor of Decision Magazine. He is the author of 15 books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.


  1. says


    Rights can be confusing. But, as Roger says, it’s important that writers master the ins and outs of this.

    There is another great article on rights in our Members Only section. It is called Read ‘Em Their Rights and was written by Joyce Ellis. Check that out as well.

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