You May Own the “Copyright”…But You DON’T Own the Book Rights!

You May Own the “Copyright”…But You DON’T Own the Book Rights!

Could you give me your opinion? Last summer, I sold a short story to a publisher who put it into an e-book anthology. The contract I signed said that I retained the copyright, but the publisher had exclusive rights to publish the story in hardback BOOK form, paperback BOOK form, electronic BOOK form, and audio BOOK form. I found somewhere that pays well for previously published stories, and sells them as e-stories. My husband said it would be the same as an e-book, and would violate my contract. I say that it is like an old 78 rpm single–just one song from a record album. What do you think?

Thank you.

Angela’ first response:

Hi Mary,

How are the e-stories being sold by the new publisher? As anthologies? Single stories? Are they downloadable from sites like Amazon?


Mary’s response:

The first publisher I sold my short story to published it as an e-book anthology, along with four or five other stories. The anthology is for sale as a download on Amazon.

The place I was looking at submitting my short story sells downloads of short stories as single stories for an e-reader device.

A few months ago, after a little prodding, the publisher of the original anthology did say it was within my rights to submit my story to a magazine or a contest. But she probably thought it was unlikely that I’d find someplace that wanted previously published work. She didn’t say anything about the possibility of me selling it as a downloadable single story. I’m kind of afraid to ask, to tell you the truth. She was on the fence about me including my story in a book of all my own work, and I didn’t want to push her. But, it would be nice to make some more money off that story!

Thanks for your help.

Angela’s answer:

I agree with your husband. The new outfit would be selling your story as an ebook, albeit a small one. You can’t do that based on your contract with the original publisher.

One option is to contact the original publisher to ask if you can do this. If you offer to add a line to the story that says “originally published in XYZ Anthology,” they might let you republish it. But, of course, the new publisher may not want to include such verbiage so you’d need to clear it with them, too.

This is one of the risks when selling rights to another firm. While they allegedly claimed you retained copyright, they actually purchased ALL book rights from you. So, you’re “copyrights” are not worth much.


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