Writing: Rights & Contracts

I decided to withdraw my poem from being published in the online magazine Sotto Voce. Often one is paid little to have a poem published. I’ve received everything from $5-$100 for poetry. Of course, I would like to get more rather than less but I’ll sell a poem for $10 if the magazine looks respectable. What I won’t do though, is give my poem away for free.

Likewise, I do read contracts and do take them seriously. Sotto Voce stated they had exclusive rights to put the poem on their website for 120 days. Okay, not a big problem and fairly standard. They also said that at the end of that period all rights revert to the author, but then went on to say they took the nonexclusive right to keep the poem in their archives, as well as using it in a print, audio or other format, should they so choose.

Keeping something in a magazine’s archive is becoming more standard and some magazines will take it down should you resell the piece. Others may not. I could live with that but the nonexclusive rights on print, audio and other were bothersome. Most publishers may ask for the nonexclusive right, which often means first refusal on a print anthology (or whatever they specify) but they will at that time negotiate to pay for that right. Some magazines may say, we take print and anthology rights.

Their use of having an open-ended nonexclusive right in which they informed me that they would not pay additionally bothered me. It also meant that should I try to sell the poem to a print magazine I could jeopardize that sale because it might have been printed already. Given the vagueness of their all-encompassing, nonexclusive rights, I wasn’t sure that I would be notified if they used it elsewise.

Normally, each right is a separate thing: world rights, first North American rights, electronic rights, audio rights, print rights, etc. It’s a hodgepodge and can be very confusing and many publishers will try to lump it all together to get as much as they can for the price of one. I usually ask if I’m not clear, and contracts are often weird legalese. Since I neither needed the modest pay nor the publishing credit (though it’s always nice to have more) and because I was uncomfortable with this contract and didn’t like the exclusive nonexclusive rights they seemed to be taking, I said no after consulting with other writers (just in case I was getting overly picky).

Often contracts can be adjusted. When I receive a written contract I will sometimes write in or cross off something. So far no one has said no to those changes. There is leeway in most cases. Sotto Voce didn’t seem to want to do this and their contract was online with places just to fill out. Not much room for adjusting it. If they had paid more I might have gone with selling the poem to them. But not for peanuts.

Harlequin also had a fairly specific contract that asks for all rights (print, online, audio, ads, etc.) for a period of time. However, they are paying a whole lot more and the contract has a clause that should they go to other formats or languages, reprint, digital, etc. that those fees will be negotiated. I asked the editor about some parts of that contract but decided to go with it, although Harlequin doesn’t specify how long they keep those rights before releasing them. That bothers me and in retrospect I maybe should have put a limit. It might not be too late.

Contracts really do take experts and the wording is often vague or misleading. There are lawyers that specialize in such but we little writers don’t tend to go that route for small sales. There are agents who also specialize in understanding contracts and if you’re selling a book, they can help with the nuances of the rights. As well, many small publishers don’t always realize what they’re asking for and sometimes need educating. In the past I’ve had to mention this to a few new publishers. In the end, it’s up to each person as to what they’re comfortable with selling or giving away. And to me, it’s not about the money so much, but about respecting the writer and the writing.

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3 Comments

Filed under Culture, erotica, fantasy, horror, people, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

3 responses to “Writing: Rights & Contracts

  1. Thanks for posting. This is highly informative. Every reader should be careful of misleading contracts. Keep positive and keep on writing.

    Ceylan

  2. pochp

    Your post was very informative. Four of my commercial articles were published by this Italian firm (sotto voce sounds like one too). On my fifth, their editor keeps rejecting it even though I’m very sure it was perfect. I realized they were pushing me to publish with error. Nice scam wasn’t it. I cut the connection without getting paid though that was my choice.

  3. DAWN

    yes,i agree w/you.it seemed to be the same o’
    same o’,each and every time a publisher.
    they want my work at a ” PRETTY PENNY “,they
    keep my ” ORGINAL “,contracts and rights…

    i may be ” PICKY “, but i’ll be —– i give ” MY
    WORK ” away…

    DAWN

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