“If an editor buys first rights, but never publishes my article, what then?”

“If an editor buys first rights, but never publishes my article, what then?”

Q –


I am confused. First rights means the publication is buying the right to be the first to publish the piece.

If they buy one-time rights, they are allowed to print it once, but not necessarily first.

If the piece has already appeared elsewhere, they can buy reprint rights.

I understand this except – 

If they do not accept the article, can the writer submit it to other publishers? Or, is the article dead to print again?

If they accept the article, but never print it, can it be sold to another publication?

If they print the article, can you send it to other publishers for them to print also, or is the article dead to print again?

To submit a query letter, do you only send the letter, or attach the article and photos?

I know this upsets you on repeating the same things over and over. If you are too busy, just ignore it until later.

Thank you,


A –

No problem at all! I’m here to help!! 🙂

You have questions about two topics: Rights and Querying.


On Spec
If an editor assigned an article to you on spec (meaning they would only pay you if it’s accepted), but then rejected it, and never paid for it, you own the rights. If you submit an article to an editor on-spec, without an assignment, and if they reject it, you own the rights.

Paid For…but Never Published
If an editor paid you for an article, they own whatever rights they purchased (check your contract), regardless if they end up publishing it or not.

If they purchased first rights, and then never published the article, they probably won’t care if you sell the article to another publication but you must still ask. Contact the editor to tell him or her that you are planning to allow another publication to publish the article since the first publication isn’t going to use it.

Reprint Rights
If you sell reprint/second rights to an editor, you are usually permitted to sell it again, and again. It would be unusual for an editor buying reprint rights to also demand all future rights.

All Rights
If you have sold all rights to an editor, and if they paid you per the contract terms, they own the entire piece forever and ever, whether they publish it or not. Even if they never publish it, they still own it. You can ask them later if you can sell it elsewhere. They may or may not allow you to do so. This is why I recommend writers demand more money for all rights to an article.


A query letter is used to pitch an idea for a future article to an editor. This is typically a one page (or even shorter) letter or email. See: Query Letters That Worked

A query letter should NOT include the entire article and photos.

If you plan to submit an article and photo(s) on spec (not a query letter), you should first obtain permission from the publication before sending them an email with attachments.


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2 Responses to "“If an editor buys first rights, but never publishes my article, what then?”"

  1. jedidiah manowitz  May 30, 2021 at 9:35 pm

    best to put a time limit on first rights so if they do not use it promptly you then have the rights to sell reprint rights. EG you sell them first rights up to a set date maybe 6 months then after that it is considered printed for rights sales. otherwise if they do not print it you can not sell other rights like reprint. also limit the language and territory as well as time. So EG sell first rights in English in North America for six months after which you are free to sell it again.

    often editors will not release the rights if you sold first rights. many things can happen. the editor might leave and the new editor has no record. the publication may go bankrupt. the publication may merge with another publisher who now has the rights and again lost in the shuffle while not a big priority for them.

    • By Angela Hoy - Publisher of WritersWeekly.com  May 31, 2021 at 8:27 am

      Yes, Jedidiah, writers should always add a time limit to first rights contracts. You can bet editors won’t do that themselves. Writers need to look out for their own interests, not the publication’s.