First rights, World rights, One-time rights … the number of rights can make your head spin.
Publishers look to rights, whether its first rights or reprint rights, specific markets and global. The rights dictate if something has been published before and can be the difference between earning 10¢ a word in a magazine publication vs 1¢ or a publisher picking up your books.
Let’s break down the most common rights.
This is the first time this material has been published in print or electronic form. This doesn’t just mean when a publisher published it. This also includes public posts on social media or as a newsletter freebie. This is what book publishers are after. Not only do they get to polish it and be the one to announce it to the world like a debutant, they have full control over how it is distributed and perceived.
If something is published in closed or private groups or sent in emails or by other secure means where you control who can see it/have access to it, like Google Docs, that does not use first rights.
This is the consecutive printing of a work. This could be the second time or the 149th time that the story has been published.
A publisher wants to publish your work that single time. This can be paired with various other rights such as reprint or First English Rights.
This gives the publisher the rights to publish your piece in a collection with other authors. This could be a magazine doing the “best of” into a single volume or be a specific collection of stories.
Language rights may be a combo of First Rights or Reprint Rights and some various other rights, like an anthology, archival, etc, and are specific to a language, eg: First English Language Rights—First time in English and includes the entire English-speaking world.
This is mainly given to any “electronic” form of media—eBooks, online magazines, etc. Once something is in electronic form, it’s rarely gone forever.
This falls mainly under electronic rights. Your work(s) stay available to website visitors and is considered “in print” even if the rights are returned to you once the magazine has published it.
There are two types of ALL RIGHTS.
The first one is if you’re selling—to a magazine, a publisher, etc. This is one I would avoid unless you are “work for hire.” Under all rights, you lose all rights to the story. You can’t reuse the story again in any form/medium. The purchaser of the “all rights” can do what they want, even sell it to others, and you don’t get paid.
The second type is when you’re the publisher of your works. The copyright page says “All Rights Reserved” copyright © and the year. This means these individual rights are yours and only yours. No one else can use your work without your permission.
Work for Hire
You have no claim to the copyright to begin with. This is common for employer/employee relations and can include ad copy or blog posts.
Exclusive Rights and Nonexclusive Rights—You can’t discuss one without the other.
Exclusive rights mean for as long as the contract states, your story can only be available through this avenue. It’s like Amazon’s Kindle Select (Kindle Unlimited) program, and if the company takes reprint rights, be careful that your story isn’t under “archival rights” from another publication making your story ineligible.
Nonexclusive Rights means you can shop that story around to other publications who also accept nonexclusive rights and have it in constant publication without fear of violation of a contract.