If you're lucky enough to have published a piece of fiction, you've certainly signed a contract with the publisher. Whether your piece was a short story or a novel, a poem or an editorial, you gave the publisher permission to be the first one to print your work in his or her publication.
Whenever this happens in the U.S., Canada or Mexico, the author has signed away her first North American serial rights (fnasr) to the publisher. (My apologies to the rest of the world, but I'm only going into North American rights in this post!) That is, the author gives permission to the publisher to be the first to publish her work.
Until these rights expire, an author may not sell her work to other markets. The contract she signs with her publisher will set forth how long the rights extend. Generally, for a short story being printed in a magazine, the rights will be set at a year. For novels, this may be different.
As simple as this sounds, confusion still abounds. If an author self-publishes her work (either by posting it on a blog or going through a self-publishing agency such as Lulu or Publish America), she has already used up her first printing rights. If she's posted her work on a message board or an online group critique forum (unless that forum has adhered to certain standards such as a 'members only' or 'password protected' policy and is unintended to be viewed by the general public), she may have already used up her first rights. And if the first rights have already been used up, many publishers will not reprint it.
So be careful!
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