Finally, finally, you get a “yes,” and a literary journal or magazine is willing to publish your short story, essay, or poem—congratulations! The journal editor faxes you a contract, and you sign it without a second thought, right?
Wrong. Before you sign a literary journal contract, be sure to take a closer look so you understand what rights you are granting.
While literary journal contracts are typically brief—no more than a page or so—what they say will legally bind you to their terms. Remember: A contract typically favors the person who drafted it. When in doubt, get an attorney to review your contract.
Here are the basic terms you’ll need to know:
Granting First North American Serial Rights (FNASR) means that you allow the publisher to be the first to publish your piece in a print periodical. FNASR also means that if the publisher wants to put your work on the journal or magazine’s website or in an anthology, you should be granted a separate contract. Once the work’s been published, rights revert to you—which means you can publish the work again!
Some publishers ask for the non-exclusive right to post your work on their website. You can suggest a period of time after which you can ask for the work to be taken off of the website and the journal (or magazine) will comply. However, you probably wouldn’t ask for your work to be removed from a print journal, would you? An editor may withdraw an offer of publication if you cannot agree on the terms.
Learn more about e-rights and no-written-contract agreements: No Written Contract? What You Should Know Before You Agree To Publication.
Proofreading: Most publishing contracts indicate that editors will not change the content of your writing—other than proofreading for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If you’re concerned about these small edits (which might have big consequences), simply request that the journal let you review the grammatical changes prior to publication.
Representations that literary journals typically seek from authors include: that the writer is the sole author of the work, that the work has not been published previously in print or online, that the work does not infringe on any other rights, and that the author is the exclusive owner of the rights (s)he is conveying to the journal.
Sometimes, contracts state that the journal “requests” or “expects” an author to cite this first appearance of the work in any future collection or publication by the author. This may or may not be part of your particular contract.
Whether the request is official or unofficial, ignore it at your own risk! Writer’s Relief says, “If you promise, follow through!” Otherwise, you risk being blacklisted by the small community of literary journal editors.
Finally, some contracts indicate that this contract supersedes all previous understandings. The contract could also note that it is the “complete agreement.” Both clauses simply mean that no other oral or written term or agreement applies to the contract. For example, that phone call you had with the editor in which she promised you that she would take your work off the website in six months is of no effect unless it’s in writing and in that contract.
Here at Writer’s Relief, we aren’t lawyers and we don’t offer legal advice. But our goal is to help you understand basic contracts.
The bottom line: If you see something in a contract and you don’t get it, ask questions. The editor is there to explain. Don’t be shy!
Next week, we’ll talk about literary agency contracts. Until then, we leave you with this question:
How did you feel when you got your first offer of publication?