Read ’Em Their Rights

A Gucci salesperson walks into a hardware store. “Check out this line of handbags!” she says. “Your customers will adore them.”

“We don’t sell handbags in—”

“They’re of splendid quality.”

“Look at our shelves. No handbags. Customers come here for PVC pipe and pneumatic grease guns. If they want Gucci, they shop Macy’s.”

Ludicrous scenario? So is offering editors the wrong kind of publication rights for your manuscript. So what are rights and how do you know which to offer?

Know your rights

Indicate what rights you’re offering the editor at the top right of the first page of your manuscript, under the word count. Make sure what you’re offering the publication is what they purchase. You can find this information in their writers guidelines, or check their listing in the Christian Writers Market Guide by Sally E. Stuart.

First rights—The right to publish an article/story first. After it appears in print you may submit it to another publication. (Then you’re selling reprint rights.)

For a manuscript’s first outing, you’ll want to sell first rights if the publication buys them. Most publications pay more for first rights than reprint rights.

Reprint rights—The right to publish a piece that has appeared elsewhere. Under the words reprint rights, note where and when the manuscript has been published before. Editors don’t want articles that have appeared in a competing market—one whose readership overlaps theirs.

However, Lutherans don’t generally read Baptist publications, nor do Californians generally read Midwest Living, so one article may sell repeatedly.

I sold the first rights of an article about a paraplegic Vietnam veteran who ministers to other vets, then sold reprint rights to about a dozen other publications. I then rewrote it in first person (as told to Joyce K. Ellis), selling first rights again because it differed considerably from the previous version.

One-time rights—The right to publish your piece once. Newspapers, especially, use this designation. They aren’t as concerned about where, when, or if the piece was published before, and you’re free to sell it again and again. This is often the best way to sell timely stories. For instance, you can write a heart-touching feature borne of a national disaster and simultaneously sell one-time rights to newspapers nationwide.

All rights—You give them everything and you have no right to resell the piece. You’ll usually want to avoid this. However, some all-rights magazines, such as Guideposts, pay significantly more, and their higher circulation allows you to reach more readers than you could through multiple sales. Occasionally you can request the rights back to use the piece in a book, but the publication isn’t obligated. Just walk into an all rights option with your eyes wide open and understand you can’t take it elsewhere.

Electronic rights—The right to use your work on a website or in other electronic media.Some publications feature articles online to attract subscribers to their print publications. Some pay extra for electronic rights. Others don’t. Some websites, such as Christianity Today’s biblestudies.com, buy only electronic rights, so you’re free to offer your Bible study—in your original format—to a print publisher.

What about simultaneous submissions?

When you send your manuscript to more than one publication or publisher at the same time, that’s a simultaneous submission. Some things to consider:

1. If a publication accepts one-time rights, there’s no problem.

2. Book publishers expect authors to submit their book proposals simultaneously because a response may take a year or longer. Be sure to state clearly on the first page of your book proposal that this is a simultaneous submission.

3. For magazines, never submit simultaneously—unless each publication clearly states in its guidelines and/or market-guide entries that it accepts them. Then, clearly note “simultaneous submission” on your cover letter or query. Otherwise, you may spark an editor’s creativity—suggesting a whole issue she could build around this article—only to find you’re selling it to someone else.

The author of more than a dozen books, Joyce K. Ellis has also written hundreds of articles and short stories. In 2007 and 2008, she received a Higher Goals award from the Evangelical Press Association for the year’s best freelance article. Joyce is a former magazine editor and has edited more than 60 books.

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