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First Publishing Rights and Why You Should Care

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Tue Apr 02, 2013 9:12 pm
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Rosendorn says...

For those of us looking to publish our works through traditional publishing, where we put what can be a nerve-wracking question. Especially if you’re later in the editing cycle, and what you’re looking to post is very similar to what you’ll submit to editors or agents.

What Are First Publishing Rights?

In short, they are what major publishing houses want. They want to be the first to show your story to the world.

First publishing rights are used when a work is considered “published”. Usually, this means there is some sort of rights exchange: the author loses some rights* to their work, the publisher prints the book and attempts to sell it.

First rights are usually divided by country, and sometimes there is a difference between the right to print works and the right to publish works online. Some publishers will buy first world or first international publishing rights, which means they can publish internationally at their discretion. You get some of the sale, but you can’t control what country your story shows up in, since the right to publish in every country has been sold.

When negotiating a contract, give up as few rights as possible. The more control you have over the future use of the story, including where it’s published, the better off you’ll be.

*Always read contracts very carefully to make sure you’re not losing rights to things like the world, characters, plot, ect. — if these are handed over to the publisher, they can proceed to give the whole world to another writer. And yes, this has happened.

First Publishing Rights vs Copyright

Copyright protects the words of your story itself. It acts like a neon sign that says, “Mine! Nobody steal it!” Anything you make that requires effort to reproduce is automatically copyrighted. This article goes into more detail on copyright.

First publishing rights, on the other hand, are "who is going to be the first to show my story to the world?" and are given away the minute you publish your work. Even if you retain copyright (which you should), you give away first rights.

What Is “Published”?

Each publishing house will have a different definition of what is “published” when you get down to nitty-gritty. However, the following covers some of the most common major points:

For every incredibly successful self-published author, there are hundreds if not thousands of failed self-published books. And once these books are self-published, they can no longer be sold to major publishing houses.

As cold as it sounds, publishers consider self-publishing a test market. If it fails to sell through self-publishing, then they think it will fail to sell when published through their company. Whether or not they are right is irrelevant; they will refuse your work if it is self-published.

Vanity Publishers
Much like self publishing, vanity publishers have you pay a fee for your writing to be published. Having to pay money to have your work published is a huge red flag, and paying money to have your work published can damage your reputation more than help it.

It also means that all the warnings about self-publishing apply to vanity publishers.

Websites That Take Your Rights
Some websites’ terms and conditions have a clause that says they can use the work at their own discretion, without any consultation with you. Some will explicitly say you sign your rights over to the site when you upload it. If you have uploaded your work there, then no publisher will take it.

Always read the terms and conditions for any site you intend to post your writing on. Sites like Facebook, LiveJournal, Wattpad, and Tumblr are well-known examples of sites that strip users’ rights to their own writing.

If you have posted the entirety of your work on such a site, you may unfortunately not submit it for publishing as-is. Your only hope is removing the work (if at all possible, but it isn’t always), and heavily editing the story before submitting it for publication.

If you've only posted snippets, stop posting immediately so publishers will still be the first to show the whole story.

Sometimes, Any Website
This is a downright nasty difference between the US and the UK when it comes to publishing. The last I heard, the UK considered any works posted online as “published”. While this might have changed, it might not have. If you are in the UK, research publishers very carefully to find out if they will accept works posted online.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use YWS for improving your work; it just means you can’t make any later drafts public. Post early drafts up for review anyway (they’re unlikely to resemble the finished product), and go for private betas on later drafts.

This might also apply to other countries. It is very difficult to research all publishing houses in the world, so please do your due diligence when it comes to researching publishing houses.

What Should I Watch Out For?

As soon as websites start hinting that they can use your work any way they want to, with or without your consent, you are at risk of giving away rights. To be safe, avoid placing your work on sites with this policy.

Also be on guard for “retain copyright” or "retain ownership" in place of “retain rights”. While it is very important to retain copyright, it is equally important to retain rights. You do not retain rights if the company can use the material at their discretion, instead of yours. Most social media sites use wording like this.

Companies that truly let you retain the rights to your work usually say in no uncertain terms “authors/creators retain all publishing and distribution rights to their work”. Often, they will add “authors/creators can remove their work at any time.” Sites like this usually have limited to no sharing potential, so it is possible to remove the works completely. The more social the site, the more rights they take out of necessity to make the site function.

If you want help reading legal jargon in site terms and conditions, feel free to shoot me a PM with a link to the site. I have also provided relevant portions of the terms and conditions for Facebook, LiveJournal, Wattpad, and Tumblr, with a translation of the legal jargon at the bottom of the article. Many other sites use the same wording, including Google and

If you want help to navigate a publishing contract’s legal jargon, please get a lawyer to look it over. I am not one.

Is YWS Safe?

For any country that doesn’t consider posting the work online “published”, yes. YWS allows you to retain all publishing rights to your work, and you may remove it at any time. Once it is deleted from the site, it's permanently deleted from the server.

To quote the copyright policy:

The Young Writers Society respects the intellectual property of its members and all original work remains the property in whole of its creator. No works, graphics, or other original creations may be reused or published without the explicit permission of its creator.

The Next Step

Now that you’ve made sure publishers will take your story, you can move onto getting ready for publishing and querying. Lauren has a lovely, in-depth article on the topic.


http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspo ... ights.html ... -copyright

Also, a UK YWSer known as Karsten, who was getting her degree in publishing and highlighted the difference between US and UK publishing on a (now defunct) YWS Blog post.

Terms and Services Translated

Spoiler! :
Wattpad Terms of Service wrote:6- USER SUBMISSIONS AND CONDUCT

A. As a account holder you may submit textual, audio, visual, or audiovisual content including but not limited to stories, poetry, polls, profile images, forum messages or instant messages. User submitted content are collectively referred to as "User Submissions." You understand that whether or not such User Submissions are published, does not guarantee any confidentiality with respect to any User Submissions.

B. You shall be solely responsible for your own User Submissions and the consequences of posting or publishing them. In connection with User Submissions, you affirm, represent, and/or warrant that: you own or have the necessary licenses, rights, consents, and permissions to use and authorize to use all patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights in and to any and all User Submissions and have all necessary consents to collect, use and disclose any personally identifiable information contained or displayed in any and all User Submissions to enable inclusion and use of the User Submissions in the manner contemplated by the Website and these Terms of Service.

C. For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to, you hereby grant a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Website and its affiliates. You also hereby waive any moral rights you may have in your User Submissions and grant each user of the Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website. You understand and agree, however, that may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of User Submissions that have been removed or deleted.

Translation: Wattpad can use your submissions without telling you and without paying you, they may share it with others, and they reserve the right to keep all submissions you post to the site even if you remove them. They are allowed to promote it in relation to promoting their own company.
LiveJournal Terms of Service wrote:XIII JOURNAL CONTENT

No Liability for Content Accuracy, Reliability, or Legality: You hereby acknowledge that LiveJournal does not pre-screen Content, but that LiveJournal shall have the right (but not the obligation), at its sole discretion, to remove or refuse to remove any Content found on the Service at any time without prior notice. Without limiting the foregoing, LiveJournal shall have the right, but not the obligation, to remove any Content that violates the TOS or is otherwise objectionable, or that infringes or is alleged to infringe upon, intellectual property rights. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of any Content that appears on the Service, including any reliance on the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of such Content. Furthermore, LiveJournal reserves the right to limit access to your Account if you are found to be in violation of the TOS, including without limitation the User Conduct described below, by flagging, restricting access or deleting Content, suspending or deleting your Account, and/or removing your information from the user directory, search engine, and all other methods used to identify LiveJournal users at any time without prior notice

Emphasis mine.

Translation of that line: LiveJournal can make it impossible for you to remove any content you put up whenever it wants, meaning it owns your posts.
LiveJournal Privacy Policy wrote:Information You Share

LiveJournal: Whenever you post and/or provide personal information through use of this Service, you understand that you are sharing your information with LiveJournal, organizations that may hold an interest in LiveJournal, their divisions and/or subsidiaries, and any of LiveJournal’s divisions and/or subsidiaries, and/or assigns. Their use of your personal information is subject to this Policy, but may be modified anytime by posting an updated Policy at this URL. It is your responsibility to check this Policy on a regular basis. Use of the Service constitutes your consent to the terms described herein.

Translation: Whatever information and content you provide is given to LiveJournal and any partners/third parties, and they can use that information without telling you so long as how they're using it complies with their privacy policy.
Facebook Terms of Service wrote:2- Sharing Your Content and Information

1- For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Translation: We can use anything you give us without telling you, including giving it to other people, and we won't pay you for it. Unless you delete the content and nobody has shared it and they haven't deleted it, in which case we still have it.
Tumblr Terms of Service wrote:Subscriber Content License to Tumblr:

When you transfer Subscriber Content to Tumblr through the Services, you give Tumblr a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable right and license to use, host, store, cache, reproduce, publish, display (publicly or otherwise), perform (publicly or otherwise), distribute, transmit, modify, adapt (including, without limitation, in order to conform it to the requirements of any networks, devices, services, or media through which the Services are available), and create derivative works of (including, without limitation, by Reblogging, as defined below), such Subscriber Content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating the Services in accordance with their functionality, improving the Services, and allowing Tumblr to develop new Services. The reference in this license to "derivative works" is not intended to give Tumblr itself a right to make substantive editorial changes or derivations, but does enable Tumblr Subscribers to redistribute Subscriber Content from one Tumblr blog to another in a manner that allows Subscribers to, e.g., add their own text or other Content before or after your Subscriber Content ("Reblogging").

Translation: Hitting the "publish" button on a post means you've published the work to Tumblr.
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