Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Publishing As a Second Language—5 Thoughts on Selling All Rights

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

“Can you help me? My story was published in one of my favorite magazines. I was so excited to get the contract I guess I didn’t read the fine print. I want to use my story again and realize I sold all rights to this publisher. What can I do to get my story back?”

There are a lot of elements to address in this question. Let’s take them one by one and see what we can figure out.

5 Thoughts on Selling All Rights

1. Obviously the easy answer to this dilemma is to never sell all rights. Hindsight, right? But we can learn from this author’s question to read our contracts carefully and make sure we understand what we are agreeing to.

2. This post is not about rights. But everyone should understand that selling all rights does NOT mean you can never use your story again. When you sell all rights, you are selling your story in that exact arrangement of words. You cannot sell that story as a reprint because the original publisher bought all rights to it which means he owns it and can do whatever he wants with it. He can reprint it, sell it to another publication, publish in another language, publish it in a book, and so on, all without additional payment to you.

3. The questioner above made a very common assumption. Once you sell all rights, you can never tell your story again. That is not the case. When you sell all rights, you have just sold the rights to your story in that format. The story itself is yours and you can rewrite (think totally rewrite) and resell. When you sell all rights, you are not even free to sell your story as a reprint until you rewrite it. 

Perhaps we may need to pause here and take a look at just what rewriting means. I have heard some writers say, “Oh, I’ll just rearrange a few words and put in a different hook and it will be okay to sell as first rights.” A little rearranging is not the same as rewriting. To truly rewrite an article, you must change it almost completely. By that I mean the way it is written, not the story. A tip here: When starting to rewrite, don’t have the article right beside you. Recall the story and write it as you remember it. Often your rewritten story will be a better version of the story than the first!

4. The bottom line question here is about getting rights back. That is possible. When a publisher buys all rights, the rights belong to him or her so he or she has the rights to do anything with them. In this case, the writer is requesting the rights back so the publisher has two choices—sell them to the writer or give them back. Your request should be made in writing. Then the publisher can decide the proper plan. If the publisher gives you the rights back, be sure to have that in writing as well. 

5. A couple of words of caution for this writer. Read all contracts carefully to make sure you know what you are selling. Rarely sell all rights. When you have a good story, write, rewrite, and rewrite so you can sell, resell, and resell.

Using your material multiple times can reap many benefits for writer—you will make additional income, get many publishing credits, and get your message out to more and more people. So maintain your rights so you can take good advantage of your research.

Publishing As a Second Language—5 Thoughts on Selling All Rights - @LindaGilden on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

There are pros and cons to selling all publishing rights - thoughts from @LindaGilden on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Linda Gilden is an award-winning writer, speaker, editor, certified writing and speaking coach, and personality consultant. Linda is the author of 19 books and over 1000 magazine articles. She enjoys every meeting with editors and knowing we are all part of the same team. Linda’s favorite activity (other than eating folded potato chips) is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing grandchildren—a great source of writing material!


  1. Another slice of sage wisdom for the files. Thank you Ms. Linda. God's blessings ma'am. I'm loving these nuggets of wisdom about this strange new world called publishing. Pure gold!

  2. Thank you for this helpful information! Good stuff to know here!