I really hope I’m preaching to the choir here. Forgive me if that’s true, but better safe than sorry. And if you aren’t currently in the choir, this should convert you.
A new literary acquaintance I’ve never met, Linda Maye Adams, commented on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog post one day awhile back:
Just passing along another rights grab I ran across. It’s a writing contest sponsored by a non-profit [Story Shares] who is trying to help teens and young adults read. If you SUBMIT to the contest, you automatically give up all the rights to your story and payment. SUBMIT, not win or place.
I emailed Linda to ask her to divulge the name of the particular non-profit. She did, so I added it to the quote above [in brackets].
Rights grabbers are organizations that take all rights to your work. And folks, even if it’s FOR payment, that’s just wrong.
A major example of this is Reader’s Digest, at least a few years ago. At the time, they offered payment for short pieces in various sections of the magazine. But upon payment, they own all rights to the piece.
Most, if not all, traditional publishers are rights grabbers, but if you sign a contract with one of those—well, frankly, you deserve what you get.
Unfortunately, rights grabs abound in places you would never suspect. And their stock in trade are writers who don’t read submission guidelines and rules of contests. Or publishing contracts.
Think about it. Your copyright is your intellectual property. It’s like a rental property that you own. With a rental property, you rent or lease apartments or houses for a specific use by a specific person for a specific length of time.
With copyright, you license slices of it for a specific use by a specific company for a specific length of time.
But when that time is up, you still own it. If you give away “all rights” to your work, it’s exactly like selling your rental property outright to a renter in exchange for one month’s rent or a year’s rent in advance. Would you do that? Of course not.
Back to the contest Linda mentioned on Dean’s blog. It’s only a writing contest, right? No biggie. Submit, win or not, then submit elsewhere.
Wrong. Read Linda’s comment above again. If you only SUBMIT to this contest, you forfeit all rights to the work you submitted. You created it. But you no longer own it. In this case, you just gave away your rental apartment or house to someone who showed up to look it over.
Rights grabbers also appear in other, slightly less-innocuous forms. Believe it or not, many subsidy publishers are also rights grabbers. One subsidy publisher whom I used to recommend includes in their contract a “no-compete” clause.
Let’s say you’ve submitted your work to a subsidy publisher and they’ve “accepted” it (BTW, they accept everything).
And let’s say later you become unhappy with your contract and are unwilling to pay the exorbitant fee for return of your rights (the fee is in the contract).
If there is a no-compete clause in the contract (and there usually is), you also can’t simply slap another title on the work and publish it as a new book on your own. Nor can you go through the manuscript and change all the character names. Nor can you even write another book based in the same fictional world. Nor can you write another book that resembles, in any way, the book you placed with that subsidy publisher.
If you do any of the above, they will sue your backside off. And they will win.
How to avoid such pitfalls?
Easy. Don’t submit your work ANYWHERE without reading the submission guidelines, rules of the contest, etc. And if there’s a contract involved, read it thoroughly. Better yet, have a copyright attorney read it.
‘Til next time, be careful out there. And happy writing!
I am a professional fiction writer. For more writing tips, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click The Daily Journal link in the header on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.