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If you are a newbie and eager to earn clips, you might not care about rights, right? Well, you should. There are a few things every writer should know before signing on the dotted line.
If you sell exclusive rights, which most trade magazines will request, you will never, ever have a chance to turn a profit from that article again. If one day you want to publish your own works in a book, you must get permission from whomever you sold the exclusive rights to.
There are a lot of successful freelance writers who maintain their rights, and when the opportunity arises they resell their pieces to other publications for the same or a higher fee. These are the writers who claim there are thousands to be made in just selling reprints.
If an editor is interested in and willing to pay for your article, then you can embrace the idea that what you queried is important to the publication and its readers. This gives you power to support your position in contract negotiations.
Before engaging in negotiations, consider the timeliness and significance of the article. Let's say you are writing an article about a local theatre production for the newspaper. Chances are that the resell value for this article is fairly low. Newspapers generally won't purchase or publish reprints for time-specific events. In this case, a better approach might be to rewrite the same story differently and sell it to a different market.
One good rule of thumb is to keep your rights for any photos you submit with your articles. Not only will you want to use them again for other articles or when you sell reprints, but your photo subjects may ask you for copies as well. You will be happy to collect a small fee each time you reprint a photo. To that end, get it in writing that all you're selling with your photos is non-exclusive rights. This will also benefit anyone else who wants to use the photos with your permission.
The next thing to consider is the marketability of the piece. In the myriad of publications, there can be unlimited potential for one article to find many homes. If you have a hot topic, then consider the option of selling first rights with an agreement not to republish for a specific number of days. For example, a recent contract of mine gives the publisher 90 days from the publication date before I recoup my rights to resell the article. With an agreement like this one, it is important to keep track of when your article is actually published. They date you get paid for an article and the date it gets published are often different.
Even if you retain your rights for an article, be aware of how these rights are stipulated in the contract. If you sign on as work for hire, then you can kiss goodbye any reprint opportunity. The work for hire that I've done has been for business copy and ghost writing. For these assignments I always include in my contracts a phrase that allows me to publish an excerpt or passage of my choice as a sample for my own promotional purposes.
Knowing your rights and how to use them is an important aspect of managing the business of your writing. Use this knowledge as power to help you decide how and how often your articles can be used and how you can repeat earning from their publication.
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