Q. I recently sold an article to a magazine that said they were buying “first rights.” When I asked the editor what that meant, she said it meant that I could sell the same article to another publisher after three months. Does that mean three months from the date of the contract, or three months after it appears in the magazine? Also, can I query other magazines now if I tell them that first rights have already been sold?
A. When you sell a publisher first rights, it simply means you are granting them the right to publish the piece for the first time. Typically that means that the rights will revert to you as soon as the piece is actually published in their magazine (not three months later as they indicated). However, since I suspect the contract you signed indicated the three month wait, you will need to abide by that. The three months mentioned would be three months after publication/distribution. After the three months you can offer it to additional publishers, but this time you will be offering “reprint rights.” Since at that point you are only offering them the right to reprint it, you are free to offer reprint rights to more than one publication at a time, if you wish. Even though you may have a planned publication date for the original sale, be sure to wait until you know it was actually published and distributed before you start offering reprint rights.