Anthologies are a popular way for authors to gain publishing credits, build an audience, and cross-pollinate readership with other writers in a genre. Anthologies may be traditionally-published, author-published (i.e., self-published, either by the entire group or by the author who edits the larger work), or organized by a charity or writers’ group (like Mystery Writers of America, RWA, or a local or regional writing organization). Some anthologies have open submissions, while others consider contributions by invitation only, or only from members of the group that sponsors the anthology.
Properly managed and published, anthologies can offer writers many benefits, with only a few drawbacks. However, authors need to ensure--before submitting work or signing a contract--that the anthology in question is offering proper, industry-standard contractual terms and legal protections for the author and his or her work.
Let’s take a look at some of the common traps and pitfalls authors encounter when contributing to anthologies—and how to avoid them:
In addition to establishing the terms under which the publisher can use the author’s work, a contract proves the anthology publisher understands the legalities of the publishing industry. Anthology contracts are often shorter than contracts for novel-length works, but they should still be professionally drafted (read: by a publishing lawyer) and address the legal issues relevant to anthology publishing.
Never allow your work to be published in any anthology that doesn't have a professional, written contract.
Anthology publishers do NOT need, and should never request, copyright ownership of the contributed works. Anthology publishers only need a limited license to publish your story as part of the anthology.
If you transfer copyright ownership, you no longer own the story, which means you cannot use it or publish it anywhere else. That isn’t industry-standard, and no reputable anthology will require you to transfer copyright to the publisher in order to include your work.
One caveat: the contract may state that the publisher owns the collective work copyright on the anthology. This is different from owning copyright on the individual stories. Copyright in a collective work refers to 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 ensures no one else can reproduce and sell the anthology without the publisher’s permission.
If you don’t understand what your contract says about copyrights, consult an experienced agent or publishing lawyer before you sign.
Sometimes, authors receive a royalty on anthology sales. In other cases, especially when anthologies are published by or on behalf of charities or writers’ groups, contributing writers don’t get paid and profits on anthology sales belong to the sponsoring organization or charity.
It isn’t “bad” or “wrong” to contribute your work to anthologies that don’t pay authors royalties. However, you should make sure your contract states, and you agree with, where the money is going before you agree to participate.
Some anthologies require participating authors to purchase copies of the finished work or to pay a part of the anthology’s publishing and marketing costs. Legitimate publishers don’t require authors to purchase copies of finished works—and that goes for anthologies too. (Allowing purchases, or offering discounts to contributing authors, is totally different than mandating purchases or fees.)
As for costs: use business judgment. Author-published anthologies where the contributors share the costs and profits may or may not be a good idea, depending upon the contract terms. Always consult an agent or lawyer before you sign any contract that requires you to pay money out of pocket.
Anthologies, like publishers, are not created equal. Some have stronger reputations (and sell more copies) than others do. Evaluate the contract terms, the publisher, and all other relevant deal points before you submit your work.
As an author, you have the right to license your work on any terms you consider fair, but educate yourself about the industry standards, too. That way, you’ll know when someone offers you excellent, fair, or less-than-appropriate terms.
Have you licensed your work to an anthology? I’d love to hear about your experiences with anthology publishing, too!
Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business, and is also the author of the Hiro Hattori (Shinobi) mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, released from Seventh Street Books in August 2016. Susan was the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.
Find her online at http://www.SusanSpann.com, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (/SusanSpannBooks).
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