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    Home Columns

    To Sign or Not to Sign

    The Ailment: Recently I made my first sale, a short article for which I was offered $20, and I have just received the contract which says that the article may be used anywhere within the publishers network. Although I knew that this on-line site required all rights, except copyright, when I submitted the article, I am not happy that the article could be published in print and I will not receive any additional income from it. Is there anything I can do?

    The Cure: "Yes! First of all, put down the pen. NEVER sign a contract you are less than happy with unless you can live with the absolute worst-case scenario that you can dream up.

    New writers often believe that in submitting their article for publication, they are entering into a binding contract. This is not the case unless the writer's guidelines actually state that. It is the signed contract that is legally binding. Until you sign that document, the article remains yours and you can, if you desire, withdraw it from the publication.

    Before you do that however, there is something else you can try. Negotiation. Yes, that's right, you don't have to be a best-seller writer or Pulitzer Prize winner, in order to negotiate with editors. In your situation, you have three options. You can:

    • withdraw the article completely without entering into discussions with the editor;

    • negotiate better payment for your article where you feel you are happy for them to publish it wherever; or

    • negotiate the rights you are prepared to sell with the article.

    If an editor wants your article, they will agree to your terms, or at least try to meet you half way. It could be that a particular editor must abide by strict company guidelines, in which case you need to make a decision on option a, but most editors will try their best to iron out the problem with you. You could, for instance, stipulate in the contract that you are selling "Electronic Rights Only" which would mean that the editor could use the article anywhere on the internet, but not put it into a print publication.

    The main thing to remember is that the article remains yours until you sign the contract. If you aren't happy with the contract, DON'T SIGN! Contact the editor and discuss your problem with him/her and see if you can come to some arrangement, and if not, then you need to decide if you can live with the article being sold for a low amount and someone else profiting from it, or whether you prefer to remain unpublished until you can find another publication with better policies for writers.

    Good luck!

    Copyright © 2001 Katie Gustafsson

    Katie Gustafsson is an English freelance writer/translator/poet who lives in Sweden with her soul-mate/husband (whom she met online), Mikael, and their baby son, Jake. Her writing credits include print and on-line publications in short stories, articles and poetry. Recent articles include work for Amateur Chef magazine, and Dreamguide.com where she is the guide for the USA for Foreigners section. She is owns the Wake Up Writing site.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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