First Serial Rights, Steem and You

This might be a bit of a strange writing tip today, as it’s not so much about writing as it is about approaching the various markets for publication of your work. In this case, especially after you’ve already posted it to your blog.

I’m covering this today because I’ve heard a remarkable amount of misinformation about it around the platform. I believe this is causing many bloggers to miss out on further opportunities to distribute and earn money from their work.

What are First Serial Rights (FSR)?

When you allow a newspaper, magazine, journal or website to run your story/poem/article for the first time, you’re not handing over the copyright, what you’re doing is giving them the right to publish your work first so they can offer it to readers before anyone else does (essentially, this is a license).

This is why you’ll make your biggest chunk of change from the FSR.

But once the work has been published and those rights have been exploited you are free to seek publication elsewhere (though do check, sometimes there will be a clause not to publish elsewhere for a set period of time ie. the license you granted to the publisher should have an expiration date).

So the question we need to ask as bloggers is: does the posting of my work count as FSR?

The prevailing opinion of many of the members of the Steem community to whom I’ve spoken about this seems to be yes. In actual fact, it’s partly yes and partly no.

We need to think markets over minutia.

In realistic terms, the reason a publication wants FSR is so they can bring your work to their audience first. So my short story appearing in Granta gets to their readers before it gets to those of, say, The New Yorker.

Here you can clearly see the issue. With those two publications there’s a big chance of crossover and a huge readership for both. If you’d given FSR to one, it would be a big deal for the other in ever considering your work.

As for blogging, let’s use me as an example. How many people actually read one of my poems or short stories? I’d like to think it’s a ton, but if I were to suppress my ego for a moment I’d be able to admit that, if I said twenty, I’d probably be pushing the number up slightly.

So, if I were to say 50 max, I’d be 99.999% certain about it.

And this really gives us our answer. None of the audience for either Granta or The New Yorker has ever read the work on my blog. In realistic terms, FSR has not been given up.

So what does that mean for me?

When you’re looking for a place to send your work, consider places that say they won’t publish work that’s been published elsewhere (unless they specifically say that includes blogs).

Don’t lie about it. Just say something like this:

This story has been posted to my blog, and read by less than fifty people.

If the editor looking at your work is rational, that isn’t going to make a difference to them.

I will point out that a fellow member of The Writers’ Block had a piece rejected from a journal that did accept reprints, because it was on Steem and couldn’t be deleted, so that does remain a possibility.

Just don’t rule out FSR on your own work because you’ve published to the blockchain. The worst an editor can do is say no.

And, in fact, one of my friends who’s been hunting around for places to pitch our work found a place today that specifically said that they don’t publish work that’s been published elsewhere, but that blogs don’t count in this (other markets specifically mention blogs as counting, so it can go both ways).

And you know, one day, I might even tell you what that publication is, once I’ve had a chance to send my stuff there first, of course.

Now, go write!


PS: While we’re briefly on the subject of copyright, legitimate publications will never ask you to give it up. If anyone ever asks you to give up your copyright – run – run like the wind.

PPS: A huge thank you to @thinknzombie for casting his legal eye over this piece and making some very relevant additions.

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