The Right Way To Use "Rights" — So You Can Sell Your Article Again and Again
By freelance writer and photographer, B. Howard, in Cleveland, TN
When you’re submitting an article for publication, the kinds of “rights” you sell with it will make all the difference in your ability to resell that same piece, word-for-word.
Often, you won’t have a say in the rights an individual publication purchases. The Writer’s Guidelines will clearly state that the publication buys First North American Serial Rights or World Wide Rights, for example. And that’s likely to be non-negotiable.
However, in some markets there is room for negotiation — with many newspapers, for example — and you can offer a publication the rights deal that will be most beneficial to you.
Today we’ll look at the different kinds of rights you might offer and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
First, I should say: I don’t write a story unless I feel confident I can sell it at least 10 times. Even though some markets don’t pay that well, if you can sell your story over and over again, the income for any given article can really add up.
You’ll need to be sure, however, that you always offer the right “rights,” so that you are, in fact, at liberty to sell and resell your piece. Here’s what you need to know:
First Serial Rights
First Serial Rights are the rights you would offer to a magazine or newspaper to publish an article the first time — before anyone else. After your article appears in their pages you are then free to sell the same article to another publication (provided they too don’t want First Time Serial Rights).
Often I like to add a qualifier — First North American Serial Rights, for instance. This will give them first time rights throughout North America but it doesn’t stop me from selling the same article at the same time to a publication in say… Australia, or anywhere else outside the U.S.
First UK, or First European Serial Rights are another example. Again, this limits the sale to a specific geographic area, but it doesn’t stop you from selling outside that geographic area at the same time.
And you could, in theory, offer a newspaper First Serial Your Market Area. I have done this many times myself without problems. It limits me from selling the same article to a newspaper in Baltimore, MD and again to another in nearby Washington, DC. But does not stop me from selling my article to the Baltimore Sun and say, The LA Times in Los Angeles, CA.
Note: if a national magazine has already purchased First Rights, you could not then offer a newspaper First Serial Rights Your Market Area — because the national magazine’s rights would, in umbrella-fashion, cover that particular market area.
Similarly, if a regional newspaper had already purchased First Serial Your Market Area rights, then you couldn’t offer a national magazine First North American Serial Rights because a chunk of it, be it ever so small, would have already been sold.
One-Time Rights are non-exclusive rights and can be sold simultaneously to more than one market. A newspaper or regional magazine would purchase these rights to publish your piece once, ie: one-time.
Very important: When you offer a newspaper these rights, you should be aware of that publication’s market area. (You have to be sure it doesn’t overlap with that of another paper to which you’re offering the same rights.)
Theoretically you could offer a dozen non-competing newspapers the exact same article all at the same time. And, in fact, that’s exactly what I do.
Second Serial (Reprint) Rights:
Second Serial Rights, what you might think of as reprint rights, are those you would offer to newspapers and magazines for a piece that has already been published under First North American, UK, European, or whatever Serial Rights.
For instance: if a piece has been published in say Red Book, which is a national magazine, you could only legitimately offer reprint (Second Serial) rights to any other newspaper or magazine in any market area in the country.
You could, however, do a radical rewrite of the piece and thus qualify it once more for First Serial Rights if you wish. (You’d need to rewrite at least 80% of your article before it would be considered “fresh” enough for you to sell First Serial Rights a second time.)
Sell All Rights to a piece, and you lose it forever. You relinquish all rights to the work. I recommend you try to avoid this wherever possible. You never know when you might want to use an article again.
For instance, guidebooks are full of stand-alone travel articles; you might even want to write a guidebook yourself. Or maybe you’ll want to publish a compendium of your travel articles. You can do so only if you own the rights to your work.
These rights cover a whole world of situations: online magazines, newsletters, websites, databases, and so on. Be sure to specify what rights you are offering: “electronic publication rights for your Newsletter, e-zine, website.”
This means the publication is buying the right to publish your article online but not necessarily in print.
Work for Hire
When a magazine or newspaper commissions you to write a piece (meaning, they fly you to the Bahamas, Florida, Thailand, Mexico, wherever and ask you to research a specific story) you often forfeit your ability to negotiate for better rights.
That doesn’t mean you can’t rewrite the story for another publication or that you can’t research a completely different story on the same trip and sell it elsewhere. It just means that since they’re footing the bill, they might also ask for All Rights.
There is, in fact, a lot more to “rights” than what I have included here. But I’m a writer and photographer — not an attorney. Use these fundamentals as guidelines. And if you have any questions, send them in to email@example.com, and we’ll answer them for you in an upcoming issue.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]