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The Anatomy Of A Literary Journal Contract: The Bare Bones Of Basic Phrases

literary journal contract

Before you sign a contract with a literary journal, be sure you understand it! The language of literary magazine contracts can sometimes be confusing. Here’s a review of some basic terms and phrases to help you better understand what you’re agreeing to.

Grant of rights. The first part of your contract usually discusses what rights you are specifically granting to the literary magazine in question. The following order of the basic types of literary journal publication rights reflects the frequency in which you’ll encounter these terms.

FNASR. In the old days, a writer would traditionally grant “First North American Serial Rights” (FNASR). The term FNASR applies inherently to print publication rights, and some literary journals continue to use the term. But with the worldwide reach of the Internet, writers and publishers today need to be more specific. Your contract should specify whether you are granting first North American PRINT rights or first North American ELECTRONIC rights (or both). If you have posted your work anywhere on the Internet for public view, you cannot offer first rights because the work will already be considered published. Read more about what is considered previously published.

Exclusive rights. You grant the right to the publisher to be the only publisher to release the work in the manner designated.

Anthology rights. Some literary journal contracts will acquire not only first rights, but also the rights to publish the work in an anthology anytime in the future.

One-time rights or reprint rights. If your work has already appeared in public, you can offer one-time rights or reprint rights. This simply indicates to publishers that the work has appeared elsewhere already.

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Language rights. If you offer first North American rights, you authorize the publisher to print in English in North America. But if you offer First World English Rights, you give the right to publish the piece anywhere in the world in English. Be sure you know what translation rights you’re granting and what territories you’re allowing your work to be published in.

All rights. If a literary journal ask for all rights, we recommend you consider rejecting the publication offer. “All rights” essentially locks you into an obligation that could tie up your work with a given publisher indefinitely.

Compensation. Some literary journals are able to pay their contributors. Some will offer copies of the publication in lieu of cash payment. Read more: How much money can I make writing poems, stories, and essays?

Timely publication. In a best-case scenario, your contract will indicate when you can expect your piece to be published. The more specific, the better.

Editorial changes. Your contract should prevent editors from making editorial changes without your approval, and give you the right to review a final galley of the work prior to publication. With some online journal editors, they may not offer to do this, but should do so if requested.

Additional copies. For a print journal, you should be able to purchase additional copies of the issues in which your work appears, sometimes at a discount.

Signing Your Literary Journal Contract

Your editor may ask you to submit your contract by snail mail or by email attachment. With online journals, sometimes an email confirmation will serve as the contract. Be sure you know your editor’s preference.

Once your contract is signed, make a note on your calendar to keep track of when the issue featuring your work will be published and when you will receive it. If it fails to show, you’ll know immediately and be able to contact the editor for an update.

We recommend a visit to the National Writers Union website to see a sample literary journal contract. And if you have any questions about your literary journal contract, speak with an attorney.


Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Have you ever signed a literary magazine contract? Do you feel they are easy to understand?

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