Looking for application management software? Learn about Submittable for organizations. Learn about Submittable for organizations.

How to Read Your First Short Story Publishing Contract


‘The ‘Rights’ that the publisher claims might sound like a big deal…’ (Illustration by Josh Quick)

So you persisted. You gritted your teeth, honed your craft, found an editor’s sweet spot, did a jig when you received your acceptance email, and opened the attached document file containing your first contract.
Except the file is 3 pages long and it’s written in size-8 Arial font.
Except you don’t know where to look to find your payment.
And no one seems to be sure exactly when your short story will finally see the light of day, but you sign the contract and send it anyway and then…
You realize, too late, that you’ve gotten yourself into a bind, the kind that could have been prevented, if only someone took the time to clear the whole mess up. So before you sign on that dotted line, take a second to step back and read through this simple guide:
The first term you should look for is the all-encompassing term of “the work” and specifically, what precedes it. It will be a clearly defined, down-to-brass-tacks definition of your submitted short story, novella, or big-time million-dollar mystery novel, broken down according to its word count, title, and, in some cases, genre.
While the definition of “the work” might sound like a no-brainer, it’s what your entire contract hinges on. It’s what defines your final word count (and your subsequent per-word payment) as well as the title on the Table of Contents (which is important to review if you want to avoid any embarrassing misspellings).
The “Rights” that the publisher claims might sound like a big deal, but they’re easy to understand once you break them down. First publication rights are relatively straightforward: by handing your story over to said publisher, you give away the original story, which can only subsequently be resold as a reprint. Certain publishers will further narrow down first publication rights by taking over your work’s English language, or Electronic, or Printing rights (or sometimes all three). This means that the publisher is assuming your work’s first publication rights just for the English language or a particular means of distribution (public or print) which either frees up or binds your story accordingly.
Sometimes, certain publishers will go so far as to claim Audio rights (the right to adapt the work into audio format), or Film rights (the right to adapt your work into a film), or even Comic Book rights (the right to adapt your work into a comic book script and work). These provisions, however, are made mostly by larger publishers and if they are requested, you may wish to consult with your attorney because you probably have a good thing going.
One important consideration is the length of time for which the Publisher receives the rights, a provision which most newly published authors overlook. Most professional publishers will usually assume the work’s rights for a period of 6 months to one year, preventing you from republishing or reprinting the story during that time, while covering one or two venues of publication (e.g. English-Speaking, Printing rights). However, if the time period seems to stretch for considerably longer (for example for 2-5 years), then you might be walking into a less than savory deal.
The meat and potatoes of your contract, the Payment clause, should usually be the one you check first, since, let’s face it, it is the easiest one to grasp:
You are being paid a clearly defined amount that corresponds to the submission call and it’s either a flat fee or a set fee per word for your story.
Except it’s not always so. Certain publishers might deduct a number of words from your word count (as “repetition”) to reduce your final payment sum or others might specify that the sum is to be paid provided your work shifts some copies, which will definitely put a dent in your earnings (and might convince you to steer clear of this publisher from now on).
Lastly, you should keep each publisher’s preferred method of payment in mind and account for the inevitable transaction fees. Thankfully, most publishers prefer to pay you instantly via PayPal but others might make provisions for paying you via check or by wiring directly to your bank account, processes which may turn out to be skimming more off the top than you’d originally expect. Keep each option in mind before you finally send the contract in.
So be wary, be inventive, and above all…be vigilant. Oh, and congratulations on your publication.
Note: The opinions expressed by guest bloggers at the Submittable blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Submittable.

2017-01-05_10-37-05Konstantine Paradias
 is a writer by choice. His short stories have been published in the Dystopia-Utopia Anthology by Flame Tree Press, The Curious Gallery Magazine and  the AE Canadian Science Fiction Review, among many others.His short story, “How You Ruined Everything” has been included in Tangent Online’s 2013 recommended SF reading list and his short story “The Grim” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His short story anthology, “Nowhere Stories” is published by Mad Paradise Press.

Konstantine Paradias