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Poets & Writers Beware


Signing a contract with a literary journal can be exciting! But don’t let your enthusiasm get the best of you. We’ve said it before: Contracts favor the person/people who write them. Protect yourself by making sure you have a complete understanding of the hidden dangers that can be lurking in your literary journal agreement.  

Protect Your Rights Before Signing A Literary Journal Agreement

What does it mean to grant electronic rights?

“Electronic rights” means your work can appear on the literary journal’s website. But it could also mean that your work could appear in e-book form. Also, how long will your work appear online? A year? Ten years? Your electronic rights grant could mean your work will appear online with the literary journal forever.

If you think you might want to see it taken down at some point, you’ll need to negotiate that with your potential editor. You can ask for a clause that will allow the work to be removed from any digital forms upon request—but be aware that the editor may walk away from the deal if he or she doesn’t like your terms. Be forewarned: This kind of request is unusual and makes life potentially very difficult for an editor down the road.

How long will it take to be paid, to get published, or to receive your contributor copies?

In a best-case scenario, your contract should specify when these important milestones will happen. Many contracts offer a maximum time frame, such as: “writer will be paid not more than three months after publication.” If your contract doesn’t offer specific time frames, you can ask for them to be added in. Read more: How Much Money To Expect From A Literary Journal Contract.

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On what grounds are you able to withdraw your grant of rights or terminate the agreement?

Let’s say the publisher decides not to pay you after all. Or let’s say that three years go by and you still haven’t seen your poem published in the literary magazine that accepted your work. Your contract should protect you and allow you to withdraw your grant of rights under conditions that are not favorable to you.

Be sure that you understand exactly what it takes to terminate the agreement. Most literary journals will require written notice and possibly a given amount of time to remedy the situation before the termination goes into effect.

If you’re granting anthology rights, what format or medium will the anthology be published in?

If you are granting anthology rights, be sure you know whether the anthology is going to be print or digital. If you grant first North American print rights, and also grant electronic anthology rights, then your work could appear both in print and online.

Are you sure you want to grant “all rights”?

If you grant all rights, be prepared to never see your piece published anywhere else ever again. Never give away all rights; the language is too vague and broad.

Will you get final approval over the work?

Be sure you have the opportunity to review galleys for proofreading errors. And confirm that the editor won’t change your work without your permission.

No written contract?

Some literary journals do not offer a written contract. This isn’t out of the ordinary. If you are offered publication without a written contract, you may want to create an agreement of some sort so there is no confusion in the future.

Remember, It’s Okay To Negotiate

Don’t be afraid to ask for changes to your written literary journal agreement. Negotiation is an important skill for a career writer. Avoid these 5 Rookie Negotiation Mistakes That Writers Make.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: What do you do to protect your rights?

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


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… Continue Reading

Writer’s Relief Links Roundup, May 2013

Photo by TylerIngram via Flickr

Our staff members are always on the lookout for the latest tips, trends, and helpful tools for writers so we can better guide our clients and readers. And while we’ve always offered a variety of free staff-written articles, our Links Roundup posts provide readers with regular updates on our favorite online resources offered by other… Continue Reading

Pick Your Pathway: How To Turn Your Book Into A Movie

How To Turn Your Book Into A Movie

Many writers dream of seeing their novel or nonfiction book turned into a movie. But much like trying to write in a genre with which one is unfamiliar, it can be a bit of a culture shock to shift from the publishing industry to the film industry. The pathway that writers have traditionally taken to break… Continue Reading

When Your Literary Agent Is Also Your Publisher

literary agent turned publisher

There’s something new going on in the literary world these days: Some literary agencies are starting up their own publishing divisions. If a literary agent can’t sell a client’s book (or if a client’s book goes out of print), a literary agent can then help his or her client to keep the book on the market… Continue Reading

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