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How Do First North American Serial Rights Work?

Categories: Copyrights, Questions & Quandaries Blog, What's New Tags: copyrights, questions and quandaries.

Q: I sent a personal experience story to a magazine that buys first serial rights. Before doing so, I contacted the school mentioned in the story to make sure it was acceptable to identify it in the piece. Not only was the school pleased, [but officials wanted] to post the story on its website and publish it in the school’s newsletter. If my story is published elsewhere, will it jeopardize my serial rights with the magazine? —Linda C.

First North American Serial Rights (FNASR) means that the magazine has the legal right to publish the piece first in North American markets—no matter what. If the magazine buys FNASR, then having this article first appear anywhere else in the U.S.—newsletter, website, the side of a moving bus—would disqualify the piece from consideration. Thus, you have three ways to go about things.

The first is simply to try to sell the piece to the magazine before you do anything else with it. If it gets turned down, it’s no big deal. You can just publish it in the school’s newsletter and on its website.

The second is to rewrite the essay from a different angle, creating a different overall story. If different enough, these two works would be considered separate stories. You could sell one to the magazine and publish the other with the school.

Finally, your last option is to just go ahead and let the school publish it. Afterward you can still submit it to the magazine, but you must be clear in your query letter that the piece has been published before (it’s best to mention when and where, as well). This is kind of a Hail Mary shot, as it’s rare for publishers that only accept unpublished content to bend this rule.

Basically you have to decide what you think is best for you and your essay. Once you make that decision, you can then pick an option and move forward.

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