Poets & Writers

Fight for Your Rights

I HAVE long advocated for writers to understand the terms set forth by author agreements and publishing contracts—and to be careful about signing away the rights to their creative work. Still, I understand the temptation to forgo such practical measures when faced with the prospect of publishing your writing. In most cases authors encounter a contract only after their work has been accepted for publication. But recently, when an open call for submissions to a fiction anthology series was announced, the editor offered potential contributors a chance to review the contract terms before deciding to submit. I reviewed the agreement, and when I came across terms that I considered questionable, I knew what I would advise other writers: Don’t sign it.

On the one hand, without a publication offer it seemed premature to worry about the contract. Additionally, the anthology focused on a genre I don’t usually write, the submissions call seemed like a fun side project, and I had no plans to send this story elsewhere. I felt I had little to lose by submitting my work to the anthology. And yet I couldn’t shake my reservations about the contract terms.

The contract requested exclusive rights in all forms, including dramatic rights, for a year after publication. While it is highly unlikely anyone would want to make a film based on my story, let’s use our imaginations (we’re writers, after all) and say Hollywood did come knocking. In that case my story could be translated to the big screen while I was completely cut out of the deal. Furthermore, the contract’s clause outlining the sublicensing terms and limitations wasn’t clear, so it was difficult to

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