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Freelance Writing Rights

As a freelance writer, your words are your bread and butter. So, it’s important to have them work for you. The rights you keep – or give up – vary, depending on the type of contract you enter into. Because there are numerous variables, this can be confusing – even for the seasoned writer.

Here’s a listing of common ways that contracts describe rights to written pieces. As a freelancer, I’ve entered into contracts for just about every listing here. I tell you this to let you know that there are no magic answers when it comes to keeping or giving up rights. It depends on your specific situation and the writing in question.

All rights, or sole rights

Rights you give up:
• When a publication asks for all rights to your work, you are, in essence, signing it over to them. They then have the ability to publish it wherever and whenever they choose.
• You cannot publish the article with another print or online publication. You cannot post it on your website or use it publicly in any way.

Rights you keep:
• You maintain a byline.
• Your article maintains its integrity. The publication purchasing your work cannot edit or change it – unless this is specified in your contract.

Why a writer would choose to give up sole rights:

When a publication asks for all rights, chances are it is willing to pay a higher price. This monetary benefit may entice writers. Depending on subject matter, a writer may not want or need to publish the piece again; in this circumstance, giving up all rights doesn’t affect the future of the article.

First rights

Rights you give up:

• Here, you are giving a publication the opportunity to be the first to publish your work. Typically, you give those rights for a specified amount of time – say three months. After that, all rights revert back to you and you are free to resell and republish the piece.

Rights you keep:

• You keep the right to republish the article.
• You maintain authorship (byline).
• You maintain the right to oversee editing or any changes made to the article (unless you contractually agree to give up editing rights).

Why a writer would choose this option:

Much like giving up sole rights, first rights typically bring in a higher level of pay. A writer maintains control over the work, and maintains resale rights.


Rights you give up:

• The publication purchasing the article may not want you to simultaneously publish it in a competing market.
• Resale articles don’t bring in as high a paycheck as first rights or sole rights articles, so you are giving up the right to charge as much as you would for those other types of articles.

Rights you keep:

• Authorship.
• Rights to resell or reprint in another format.
• The purchasing publication can’t change your words, unless you give them specific permission to do so.

Why a writer would choose this option:

Resale is a no-brainer. If you’ve already published a piece and have the chance to re-publish and get a second paycheck, why not?

Next, we'll cover rights related to self-syndication, ghostwriting, and PLR.
Jill Pertler is a self-syndicated columnist and author of The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication, which gives a practical, hands-on, step-by-step approach to self-syndication. You can get it online (paperback and e-book) at and through or Barnes &

Jill’s Slices of Life columns have been touching peoples’ hearts and tickling their funny bones since 2002. They are currently published in over 75 newspapers in the upper Midwest. You can read them here.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this information in such an approachable manner. Looking forward to more.

  2. Thanks for this awesome article, Dani!

  3. Jill, I'm looking forward to more about writers rights tomorrow. Thanks for visiting the blog and sharing all this great info with us.


  4. This is a handy guide for me as I'm currently on the other side of the fence: I'm buying the rights to other writers' work and I've been trying to figure out what would be fair to both parties.

    Are "resale rights" also called "reprint rights" or is that a different term?

    Should I be offering the same amount or less for audio performance rights as for electronic (text) rights? I'm thinking it should be the same rate.

    Looking forward to the follow up post.

    Blood-Red Pencil

  5. Good information for freelancers to have. Many writers just starting out have a lot of questions about rights.

  6. Very helpful post. I have not done freelance work for a long time, but it appears that not much has changed. When I was working for some magazines, most of them bought first rights, which was good as far as I was concerned. Somehow I always hesitated to sell all rights, especially to a short story as you never know when you might want to use a character in that story again and you can't if you sold all rights.

  7. This applies to getting books published as well as freelancing. For my first two books, I gave up first rights for 2 years for the content, but didn't have rights for the covers except those allowed me by the publisher to use for promotion. I could cancel the contract with 90 days notice also.

    My last book I published myself and retained all rights for the content. Since I purchased my cover art from, I was allowed certain rights from them for the cover art, depending on how much I paid for each right.

    When I wrote newspaper articles, the Daily Herald got first rights, but I retained rights to the content.

    It's important to know ahead of time what rights are allowed and which are not.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. Elle -

    From my experience, resale and reprint have the same meaning. You are reselling an article that was already printed in another publication.

    Re: your question about audio performance rights. I would think that you would want to give them the same discretion as text, but that's just my logic talking. I'm not an expert there. I only deal with words.

    So sorry it's taken a couple of days to reply to your post. It is summer in Minnesota and we have to take it when we can get it. :)

    Jill Pertler


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