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Publication rights: Tips for writers

Once you've written your great American novel, you may be understandably excited to publish it.

Before you do, however, make sure that you understand exactly what rights you're selling when you sign a contract with a publisher. Understanding your rights helps you preserve them -- and it helps you stay out of the kind of legal trouble that can happen when you think you have more rights than you do.

Here are some basics every writer should know:

1. You own what you write from the moment you write it.

The act of creation alone entitles you to the copyright on your material. (If you're writing for someone else, the odds are good that you've agreed to sell the copyright for that written material to the entity or person who is paying you.)

2. When you sell a story to a magazine or a book to a publisher, you're probably only selling certain rights -- not the piece of work itself.

Most writers retain control over their novels and short stories even after they are published. That's because the most common contract with a publisher asks the writer to sign away only his or her First North American Serial Rights (FNASR).

If you sell your FNASR rights, you still have your reprint rights, First European Rights, First British Rights, anthology rights and more.

3. Selling your exclusive rights only gives a publisher a set period of exclusivity.

If you sell the exclusive rights to a piece, make sure you take note of how long that exclusivity lasts. The publisher who buys them has the right to publish your work without worrying that it will be for sale somewhere else at the same time.

4. Electronic rights are also important.

These days, almost everything in print is also online. If you sell your electronic rights along with any other rights, however, make sure that you're appropriately compensated for it.

Understanding your rights as an author can be confusing. To learn more and to get advice about your specific situation, contact our team today.

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