Thursday, March 22, 2012

Magazine Rights, Part I

Many Christian writers aspire to be published in Guideposts. I'm not one of them.

Guideposts is a fine publication and a good choice for many writers. But it is a choice, and it isn't mine. That's because it buys all rights.

If a periodical buys all rights, it has complete control over what happens to that article or story or poem for years to come. You cannot sell it again, and you can't even post it on your website without the magazine's permission.

Selling all rights doesn't bar you from publishing another article about Aunt Maud's hat, but it must be a new article with different wording and a fresh approach. Modifying the existing article is not enough. In other words (pun intended), you may have to start all over.

Guideposts pays well and is a prestigious name to have among your credits, so some writers are happy to sell it all rights. But there are other options.

Most magazines buy first rights. This is the right to be the first to publish the article or story or poem. Similarly, first North American rights give the publication the right to be the first publisher in North America. Once the magazine has published the piece, control reverts to you and you are free to post it on your website, include it in a compilation, or resell it.

The biggest advantage of first rights is second rights--also called reprint rights. Once the first rights holder has published your article, story, or poem, you can sell it over and over again. Because a reprint isn't the public's first chance to view the piece, second rights don't usually pay as well, and some magazines won't buy them at all. But considering they are paying for work you already did, any size check is good. You can also sell the item a third time, and a fourth, and . . . . These additional sales are also second or reprint rights.

Since you can only sell first rights once, you do not want to mislead a later purchaser. When submitting the piece for subsequent publication, you should explain where and when the article previously appeared. Also, you will want to target magazines that do not compete with each other or have an overlapping audience. Denominational publications are good because Baptists don't usually read magazines aimed at Presbyterians, and Methodists rarely subscribe to periodicals meant for Roman Catholics.

One word of caution. Don't try to sell second rights while you are waiting for the first magazine to print your article, story, or poem. Even if the second periodical agrees to hold the piece until a reasonable time after the first publication, mistakes happen. And if the first magazine discovers that it didn't get the first rights it paid for, it isn't likely to give you another chance.

All rights, first rights, and reprint rights are the big three, but there are others. I'll cover the common ones next month.

Because you should know your rights before you sell that article or story or poem.

Kathryn Page Camp


  1. Good advice, Kathryn! I've encountered the "all rights" demand more and more in magazine writing.

  2. Thanks for addressing this topic Kathryn, I was thinking this week I needed a brush up on these.

  3. Very interesting and useful. Thanks for sharing them.


  4. Great blog, Kathryn! I too have rejected magazine and journal publication offers several times for this reason. It's also the reason I'm still independently publishing my own books, as I've yet to receive that million $$ offer that will persuade me to give up "all rights" to my own writing. . . :-)