September 11th, 2015

The Legal Side of Writing for Anthologies (Part 1)

 Susan Spann

SusanSpann_WITSAnthologies offer a great opportunity for writers to publish their works and find new readers. Some anthologies feature works by authors from a specific group – for example, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, writers’ conferences, and local and regional writers’ groups. Other anthologies offer open (or limited) submissions for stories in specific genres or settings. Sometimes a group of authors will come together to write an anthology about a topic of mutual interest, such as the upcoming Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War (HarperCollins, March 2016).

In short: when it comes to anthologies, the options are almost limitless.

Anthologies lend themselves equally well to traditional and self-publishing, and also help new or lesser-known authors achieve much broader exposure, due to contributing authors’ shared marketing efforts and “cross pollination” with other authors’ readers.

Handled properly, anthologies have many benefits and relatively few drawbacks (aside from the ones that are common to publishing as a whole). However, it’s important for authors to ensure–before submitting or signing a contract–that the anthology in question offers the author and his or her work a proper level of legal protection and industry-standard contract terms.

This autumn, my guest posts here at WITS will look at the legal issues authors face when writing for anthologies. Today, we’ll take a bird’s eye view at the biggest legal traps and pitfalls authors might encounter when contributing work to an anthology.

  1. Contracts Are Not Optional.

Never publish your work in any anthology that doesn’t have a professional, written publishing contract. No exceptions.

Anthology contracts are normally shorter than publishing contracts for novel-length works, but they need to address the same major issues as a traditional publishing contract, even in the case of self-published anthologies.

To repeat: any time you allow someone else to publish your work, you need a written contract which governs the terms upon which your work can be used.

  1. Never Sign Away Your Copyright.

 Anthology publishers need only a limited license to publish your work as part of the anthology. Anthology publishers do NOT need copyright ownership of the individual works. If you transfer copyright ownership to the anthology publisher, you no longer own the work and cannot use or publish it in other contexts.

Anthologies are plentiful, and most of them don’t take the author’s copyright. Don’t submit to (or publish in) anthologies that try to take ownership of the contributors’ works.

The anthology contract may contain language stating that the publisher owns the copyright on the anthology as a collective work. This is different from owning the copyright on the individual stories. Copyright “in the collective work” means the right to publish the anthology as a collection consisting of all of the stories within it. It’s a separate, lesser form of copyright that exists to ensure that no one else can copy and sell the anthology without the publisher’s permission.

If you don’t understand what your anthology contract says about copyrights, get an opinion from an experienced publishing attorney before you sign.

  1. Follow the Money (and Know Where it’s Going).

 In the case of private anthologies, participating authors often get a share of royalties on sales. However, when anthologies are published by or on behalf of a nonprofit organization (like Sisters in Crime) or a charity, anthology proceeds normally go to the sponsoring organization or to the charity the anthology was designed to benefit. It’s not “bad” or “wrong” to contribute your work to anthologies that don’t pay the contributing authors. Just make sure you know, and agree with, where the money is going before you agree to participate.

  1. Submit to Reputable Anthologies and Publishers Only.

 All publications are not created equal. Some anthologies have stronger professional reputations than others. Some anthologies carry more cachet (and sell more copies). Evaluate the publisher, the anthology’s affiliations (and editor, if one is named), and other relevant aspects of the deal before submitting your work. Also, it’s okay to ask for a copy of the contract to review before you agree to participate.

  1. Beware of Mandatory Purchases and Marketing Requirements.

 Some anthologies require participating authors to purchase a specified number of copies of the finished work, or require the authors to participate in specified marketing activities. Generally speaking, legitimate publishers don’t require authors to purchase copies of the finished works—and that goes for anthologies as well as individual publishing contracts. Understand the obligations and expectations ahead of time, and avoid rude surprises down the line.

It isn’t wrong to agree to purchase a reasonable number of copies of an anthology in order to support a charity or nonprofit organization. That said, mandatory purchases are not the norm. Use solid business judgment when evaluating the anthology’s terms and requirements.

In the months to come, my #PubLaw posts here at Writers in the Storm will look more closely at these and other anthology-related issues, including some sneaky contract provisions specific to anthologies.

Have questions about anthology writing? Feel free to ask in the comments–I’ll work them into future posts!

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About Susan

Flask of the Drunken MasterSusan Spann 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 a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI released in 2014, and her third novel, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (SusanSpannAuthor).


18 comments to The Legal Side of Writing for Anthologies (Part 1)

  • Chock-full of good info. Having (blindly) published in several anthologies and plans to submit to more, these are important things to know. Thanks !

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Great post, Susan. Anthologies have been on my mind a lot lately. Perfect timing!!!

  • I’ve been wondering about this for a long time. I’ve seen several anthology “opportunities” where the organizer just pays a flat fee and then owns the copyright. It seemed like it was taking unfair advantage of new writers. And I have no idea how people get paid when they indie publish something like this. What have you seen to explain the usual set up?

    • Paying a flat fee for the copyright is definitely taking unfair advantage. A flat fee for the right to include the work, with a 6-12 month limit on republishing, but leaving the author free to do as (s)he likes after that, is much more common. Never, ever give the copyright to an anthology.

  • I’ve seen especially with crowd-sourced anthologies (not benefiting a specific cause) that they tend to offer a fixed rate per story or per word with no royalties on sales. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. I’ve also noticed these types of anthologies are more likely to demand exclusive rights to the stories, so perhaps one should just be very careful when dealing with them in general?

    • A lot of them do, but I think whether or not that’s fair depends on whether the rights are exclusive–and for how long (more than 6-12 months is unfair)–and what rate is being paid. I definitely don’t think it’s a good arrangement for writers, though, unless the proceeds are going to benefit a cause, charity, or nonprofit.

  • Thanks for this extremely helpful information, Susan.

  • I will bookmark this for future reference. Thanks for the info!

  • Fae Rowen

    As always, Susan, your posts are spot on with trends. There have been a lot of anthologies, with all sorts of “agendas,” but even in this introductory post, there are things I never considered. Can’t wait for the next set of tips!

  • […] month, my #PubLaw guest post here at Writers in the Storm examined some important legal issues authors face when writing for anthologies. Today, we’re taking a closer look at appropriate—and not so appropriate–grants of rights […]

  • Hi Susan,
    This whole series is great, especially to me, since I am new to the game. Here’s my story, hope you might have some words of wisdom to throw back:

    This summer, I had my first story acceptance from a publisher for an upcoming winter anthology. He accepted back in June and I was very excited, but then his communications just left me hanging with fewer to no replies. His last email in August said he would get back to me within the week with some edits, but he never did. I’ve followed up twice since then, with no response whatsoever!

    Thing is, he didn’t accept simultaneous submissions, so all this time I could have been trying to get my story published elsewhere. And it was one of my best stories!
    The editor/author who arranged the connection in the first place claims she has no idea what happened.

    Thing is, he’s a reputable publisher in my field, (crime fiction, noir) and the he’s already published 2 volumes of this anthology, in both print and online …this was supposed to be the third.
    Obviously I am bummed this didn’t work out. But the total lack of response on his part has me baffled. And concerened! Should I be worried that my name has been tarnished now in the writing community that I am trying to be a part of? I’m wondering how this will effect my future submissions, since he seems to be a credible publisher!

    Any light you can shed here would be appreciated!

  • Oh, and one more thing…
    I had all these questions for him too regarding copyrights since it would have been my first real publication. And I asked them in emails and never got an answer to those questions either.
    Baffled, and bummed by the whole ordeal!

  • […] The Legal Side of Writing for Anthologies (Part 1) (Apparently Pt 2 hasn’t been published yet.) […]