As I mentioned in my post announcing the release of “Relvan’s Rescue” for the Kindle, I had three obstacles I still had to overcome once I made the decision to publish the short story as an ebook. The first of those obstacles was making sure I had the rights to do so.
From time to time, you hear stories about authors, eager to have their work published, signing away all control over their writing. It’s as if these new authors are so desperate to have someone validate them–as if they lack any sort of confidence in their own ability or the value of their work–that they often sign away on the dotted line without bothering to read through the contract, let alone ask what some of the terms mean or do some research on the publisher and their reputation.
While a part of me feels some sympathy for these hapless writers, a larger part of me feels they got what they deserved for not giving themselves or their writing enough respect to take the time to protect it. The Internet makes it just as easy to learn about the potential markets that are out there as it does to get your work published. There is no excuse for not knowing what you’re getting into other than your own blind desperation in the hunt for that first publication credit.
So what does this all have to do with my decision to turn “Relvan’s Rescue” into an ebook? Well, because I had signed a contract giving some of the rights to publish the story over to a small press. Now, I was lucky enough to get my first break with a big publisher, but since Maiden of Pain came out, all of my work has been released through small press. That means I have the opportunity to see a variety of contracts and the kinds of terms that are offered.
Many of the contract “horror stories” that circulate the Interwebs involve small presses, but I’ve been fortunate enough to deal with some pretty upstanding organizations. And this wasn’t because of luck. It was because I took the time to understand what was being offered and to research the markets I submitted to before I sent them anything.
The contract I received from Metahuman Press for “Relvan’s Rescue” was fairly standard for the type of market. Depending on how much you are being compensated, you might be signing over some sort of exclusive publication rights for a certain length of time and in a certain format. My contract with Metahuman Press provided for non-exclusive rights to use the story in a specified anthology for perpetuity (as long as the anthology remained in print, which means pretty much forever when you are taking about ebooks). I retained all other rights, including the ability to reprint “Relvan’s Rescue” whenever and however I wanted.
I took one other step, however, before I proceeded with my ebook experiment. I contacted the publisher to confirm my right to reprint. I highly recommend this, as it is a professional courtesy that can go a long way to maintaining good relationships with potential future business partners. Nick Ahlhelm, the publisher over at Metahuman, verified what I already knew, and just asked that I mention the story was previously published in their Pirates & Swashbucklers anthology, which I was more than happy to do. Being able to say that someone else with some credibility thought your story was good enough to publish can be a great marketing tool when you are looking for ways to promote your self-published work.
So, the moral of the story is take the time to read the fine print and research your potential publishing partners before signing on the dotted line. It can save you a lot of future heartache and protect your ability to control what happens to your work. If you’ve had an experience with reprinting a previously published work, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And if you have a contract horror story, go ahead and share that, too, but don’t expect too much sympathy from me.