Why Should I Sign a “First Rights” Contract, Not Knowing When Publication Will Be?

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Dear Angela,

I’ve been waiting for nine months for a magazine I really like to schedule a publication date for my inspirational essay. Soon after I submitted it, the editor told me she really liked it, but it would take them a while to schedule it. Now they’ve sent a contract in which they want me to sign over Exclusive First Rights for it to be put on their website without paying me on acceptance or scheduling a date for its publication. I’ll be paid when it is uploaded on the website, but “its placement is subject to the editorial staff’s discretion and may be removed from the website at any time without prior notice.”

I think they should pay me now or schedule a publication date if they want me to sign a contract.

If I turn over first rights, they could sit on the piece forever. I think it’s a good piece and I really want to see it in print. What do you think about the contract and do you think there is any advantage to my letting someone put it on the website? This isn’t a major magazine. I need good printed clips.

Thanks,
A.

Tell them to give you a no-later-than date for payment or for publication and make them adhere to that date.

If they balk at that request, withdraw your submission. No company has the right to sit on somebody else’s work (and money!) for an indefinite period of time. All writers should insist on a “no-later-than publication/payment date” in their contracts!