A: When you sell first serial rights to a newspaper, magazine or periodical for a piece of work you’ve written, that media outlet has the right to be the first place to publish the article/story/ poem. After the piece runs, you’re free to resell it to another medium or to package a collection of your work into a book.
Rights can be sold geographic-ally, as well. It’s not uncommon to see article submissions with “offering first North American serial rights (FNASR)” written in the top, right corner of the first page. This limits the buyer’s rights and gives you the opportunity to sell the article in other locations outside the U.S. and Canada—such as England, Russia or Madagascar.
Reprints of your work that previously appeared in another publication are considered second serial rights. These rights are nonexclusive, meaning the author can sell the piece to many publications at the same time.
In the online world, you can sell the electronic rights to your piece. These rights aren’t as clear. While they cover most of the same rules as first serial rights, the ever-evolving technology can cause some discrepancies between yourself and the publisher—like whether it can archive your work, place it in a database and let young punks download it to their PCs, MACs and iPads. This process is the least defined, and you may want to specify each right you license to the buyer.
Other rights to consider are simultaneous rights (giving you the ability to sell work to publications that don’t have overlapping circulations) and all rights (which means you sell all the rights to your work to the buyer, and you never get another dime for the piece, no matter how many times they publish it).
And remember, it never hurts to have someone familiar with freelancer contracts glance over your contract before you sign.
Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.