The Legal Side of Anthologies (Part 1)

By Susan Spann

Anthologies offer a great opportunity for authors to publish creative works and find new readers. Some anthologies feature works by authors from a specific group (for example, RMFW's own CROSSING COLFAX, which contains short stories from members of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization), while others have open submissions on a specified topic, like horror or science fiction. Still others feature a publisher's in-house authors, or a group of authors who come together to write about a topic of mutual interest (such as A DAY OF FIRE, a novel in six parts, about Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius).

In short: the options are almost limitless.

Anthologies lend themselves equally well to traditional publication and self-publishing, and can help new or lesser-known authors achieve much broader exposure, due to shared marketing efforts and the ability to "cross pollinate" from other authors' existing readership.

But I'm a lawyer, so you know there must be a fly in this ointment somewhere.

Handled properly, anthologies have many benefits and relatively few drawbacks (aside from those common to publishing as a whole). However, it's important to ensure--before you submit-- that the anthology you're considering provides both you and your work with proper protection and consideration of your legal rights.

In the months to come, we'll break down the legal issues surrounding anthologies here on the RMFW blog. Today, we'll take an overview look at the biggest legal traps and pitfalls present in anthology publication.

1. Contract, Contract, Contract.

Never publish your work in any anthology that doesn't have a professional, written publishing contract. Never. No exceptions. No ifs, ands, or buts. NO.

The contract needs to contain the same type of language, and address the same issues, as any traditional publishing contract (plus some special terms applicable only to anthologies)even in the case of self-published anthologies. Why? Because you're allowing someone else (the anthology publisher) the right to publish your work. The terms upon which that publication happens must be spelled out clearly in a written contract, so both you and the publisher (whoever that is!) have a written reference and foundation for publication.

2. Don't Sign Away Your Copyright.

Anthology publishers need only a limited license to publish the work as part of the anthology. Anthology publishers do NOT need copyright ownership of the individual works. While authors have the right to transfer copyright to the anthology publisher, that eliminates the author's right to use and publish the work in other contexts later on. My law school contracts professor taught us that "you can make as good a deal...or as bad a deal...as you are able," but why make a bad deal about your writing?

Anthologies are plentiful, and most of them do not take the author's copyright. The decision is yours to make, but I strongly recommend you refuse to submit to any anthology that tries to take the copyright in your work.

Note: the anthology contract probably will contain language stating that the publisher owns the copyright on the anthology as a collective work. This is different from owning the copyright on your story. Copyright on the collective work means the right to publish the anthology itself, as a collection consisting of all of the stories within it -- and that copyright exists to ensure that no one else can copy and sell the anthology as a whole without permission. If you can't tell what your contract says in this regard, be sure to get an opinion from an experienced copyright attorney before you sign.

3. Show Me the Money (and Where it's Going).

Sometimes the participating authors get a share of royalties on anthology sales. Other times the proceeds go to the organization sponsoring the publication, to charity, or to someone else entirely. Make sure you know, and evaluate, where the money is going before you agree to participate.

4. Consider the Source.

All publications are not created equal. Some anthologies carry more cachet (and sell more copies) than others. Evaluate the publisher, group affiliations, and other aspects of the anthology before you submit, and  publish only with groups that you want your name affiliated with.

5. Stand and Deliver - on Time.

Anthologies have deadlines, like any other publication. Don't submit your story late, or unfinished, or in non-publishable condition ... and if you do, prepare to accept the consequences.

6. Ask About Purchase and Marketing Requirements.

Some anthologies require participating authors to purchase a specified number of copies of the finished work and/or to participate in specific marketing efforts. (Note: no matter what the requirements are, be prepared to help market the anthology when it releases. It's rude to expect someone else to do all the work.) Know what your obligations are beforehand, so you don't have rude surprises down the line. 

In the months to come, my #PubLaw posts here at the RMFW blog will look in-depth at these and other anthology-related issues, including those sneaky contract provisions specific to anthologies. Have questions I haven't answered? Feel free to ask in the comments, and I'll work them into future posts!  

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

Susan Spann
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Susan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

One thought on “The Legal Side of Anthologies (Part 1)

  1. With all the folks out there wanting to publish anthologies for their writer groups or organizations and all those writers who want the additional exposure through publication of shorter pieces, I would think your new series would bring in lots of readers, Susan.

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