Running the Reprint Gauntlet

So, miracle of miracles, you sold a story and it was published. You can now put that story in the special folder of honor on your hard drive—mine is called the “X-File” because its contents are as rare as actual extraterrestrials. But hold on there, buckaroo, that story might still have some life in it yet. I mean, you sold it once, who says you can’t sell it again?

Yep, I’m talking about reprints. What is a reprint? Simple, it’s a story that’s been previously published elsewhere. Some publications are happy to accept and consider them as well as works of original fiction. I’ve found a couple of publications that even prefer reprints.

I just started sending out reprint submissions, and I’m primarily doing it because it’s a way to present what I consider my “best” work to a wider group of markets with fairly minimal effort. Usually, the extent of the work I need to do for a reprint submission is write a cover letter, and I don’t feel compelled to tinker with a story I’ve already sold (If it ain’t broke, right?). But, honestly, the thing I like most about reprints–and I know it’s silly–is when they’re rejected, I hardly notice. The fact that I’ve already sold the story, that I have concrete evidence that someone out there likes it, makes hitting the ol’ send button a little easier.

As I’ve learned, there are some things you need to think about before you send out a reprint submissions:

1) Check your rights. When you sell a story and sign the publisher’s contract, you are granting them certain rights on how and how long they can use your work. I’m not going to go into the specifics here because a) I’m not an expert on the subject, and the last fucking thing I’m going to do is to dispense anything resembling legal advice; and b) the subject has been covered at length elsewhere by folks who actually know what they’re talking about (like in this article here). I’ll just say you need to make sure you have the rights to sell the story again. If you’ve forgotten which rights you sold for your work, it shouldn’t be difficult to find out. Most publishers put the rights they’re buying in the submission guidelines, and it absolutely should be in the contract you signed.

2) Find a reprint market. Okay, so you confirmed you have the rights to sell the story again, now you need to find a publisher that actually accepts reprints. Duotrope is a great resource for this, by the way, because you can search their database specifically for reprint markets. Almost every set of submission guidelines I’ve seen covers reprints, and, obviously, don’t send a previously published story to a market that doesn’t accept them. That kind of thing can come back to bite you in the ass.

If a publisher does accept reprints, there’ll be a few extra things to consider compared to a standard submission. Many publication will ask you to let them know it’s a reprint in the subject line of your submission email, and they may ask you to describe where and when the story was previously sold in the cover letter (I think you should include this even if they don’t ask for it). Also, it’s very common for markets to pay substantially less for reprints than they do for original fiction.

3) A reprint is not a magic bullet. It might seem that a reprint has a greater chance of publication than original fiction because, hey, someone already liked it enough to send you cash monies for the privilege of publishing it. But, in my experience, a reprint is just as likely to be rejected as original fiction. Why? This is purely conjecture (and, editors, please correct me if I’m off base), but I don’t think the fact a story has sold somewhere else carries much weight with many editors. If your reprint first appeared in The New Yorker, that might be something an editor notices, but at the end of the day, a reprint is like any other submission—if the editor doesn’t like it, no amount of previous publications are going to change that.

The Ugly Side of Reprints

Okay, now let’s talk about what I like to call accidental reprints. My writer pal Christina Dalcher covered this subject on her blog recently, but I think it bears repeating. The definition of what constitutes a reprint is surprisingly broad, so broad, in fact, you might have put one of your stories into the reprint zone without even realizing it. Many publishers consider a story you posted on your personal blog or even a public message board as “publication,” meaning you can’t send them that story as original fiction (or at all if they don’t accept reprints). Sucks, right? So before you post your favorite story on your blog or share it on a public message board, stop and think about it. If it’s a story you hope to someday sell as original fiction, it’s probably best to keep it under wraps until you do.

What are your thoughts on reprints? Have you sold any? Tell me about it in the comments.

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