It’s crucial that you understand the rights you’re selling because they can be confusing.  But, it’s important for you to know what rights you’re giving up when you sell an article.  So, do your homework.  Because after you’ve submitted your wonderful pitch and it’s accepted you may find yourself in a bit of a dilemma, especially if you’re just starting out, on whether or not you should agree to certain rights.  And while negotiating may be an option, you can try to negotiate, but don’t expect editors to budge unless they’ve been working with you (some veteran writers may disagree and say, “Nope, I’ve been turned down flat while negotiating with an editor I’ve worked with before”).

As a brief introduction to the different rights you may come across, I’ve listed a brief summary of them here with the help of Mediabistro’s “Get a Freelance Life”.

First North American rights (FNA) are also called first North American serial rights (FNASR).  These rights mean that the publication will be the first to distribute your work anywhere within the US and Canada.  Your rights will be reverted back to you and the time frame depends on the publication.  For instance, a magazine may stipulate that your rights are returned to you three or four months after the article has first appeared.  The details vary from one publication to another.  But, most sources mention that FNASR are the most common type to be offered to writers in the US and it’s definitely the type you’ll want to sign off on.

Reprints are also known as second serial rights or nonexclusive reprint rights.  Reprints allow writers to resell their work after it has appeared elsewhere.  Look out for publications that offer reprint rights because it is a great way for writers to keep earning more money from previously published pieces.  Granted, you’ll most likely get paid less than you did for it originally. But, you’ll also be doing less work with your article (or short story) the second time around.

First serial rights are similar to FNASR with the exception that the publication is not limited by location.  You may see online publications using this in contracts.  Since web publications can be accessed anywhere in the world these rights will be applied.  But, don’t think it’s limited to just online publications.  Other printed publications distribute worldwide and may ask writers to sign off on these type of rights as well.

Onetime rights usually refer to works that are time sensitive.  Hot research findings, a new cure, a celebrity story to die for – you name it.  If the news is timely then getting it published may require you signing a onetime rights (also called simultaneous rights) contract.  A writer may sign off on onetime rights at various publications simultaneously.  Each publication usually targets a different audience.

All rights mean exactly that – you’re giving up all the rights to your work.  So, think wisely about this one.  If you are ever offered an all rights contract and negotiating for a FNASR is not an option then you need to think long and hard before you sign it.  Signing an all rights contract means that the publication now owns your work.  Yikes!

Electronic rights mean that the publication wants to have the right to publish your work on its website as well as in print.  Other variations of this include the distribution of your piece through online databases like LexisNexis, archiving for public access and more.  An interesting twist is that if you are asked to sign over your electronic rights alone then you will retain your right to sell your work to print publications.

If you’re unable to find the rights of the publication you’re dying to write for pick up the phone and ask the editorial assistant or check with fellow writers.  You may still decide to pitch an idea to a publication.  But the goal should always be to know the terms before you sell your article idea.  Click here for a more extensive list of publication rights.