By Ellen Ryan
Register for Nuts & Bolts of Publishing Nonfiction Articles (Starts May 24) with Ellen Ryan and receive personal advice on how to get paid for your nonfiction.
“Heretofore to be invented throughout the universe.” I can always tell when members of the Writer’s Center class on How to Get Your Nonfiction Articles Published have reached that line in a sample contract. There’s silence in the room as everyone reads—and then someone gasps.
People should. Writers’ contracts have gotten bad. What used to be fairly friendly agreements between writer and publisher has become loaded with pitfalls: insistence on “work made for hire,” indemnity clauses, noncompete clauses, and confidentiality clauses that bar the article from pillow talk with your spouse.
Did you know a publisher can run your article with someone else’s byline on it? Or with inaccurate information in it? Or hang onto it and never run it at all?
All perfectly legal—depending on what you’ve signed.
That’s why this class isn’t like most workshops. Sure, we cover adding life and color to an article. Also how to interview someone so you get a lot more than just good quotes. And in the two query letters and two sample articles that class members write, my red pen catches everything from misspellings to places where the theme has gotten lost and wandered around the page.
But to get us published and paid—always the goal—we spend considerable time on matching ideas to the right markets, on query (pitch) letters, on finding editors and getting their attention. We also cover capturing inspiration, tracking all expenses for tax time, and understanding contracts.
Class members have all kinds of questions. For example:
• Why does the publisher want “work made for hire” when I’m not an employee?
• What’s this “Star Wars contract” I’ve heard about?
• Can they really legally keep me from writing about this topic for X months after the issue date?
• What’s the difference between “all rights” and “work made for hire?”
• If they publish it in Asia or Europe, can I be paid twice?
• Wait—you mean I should try to sell it again?
Writers’ contracts have been making their way through the court system since the dawn of the Internet (not a coincidence). The National Writers Union, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and other groups have intervened on our behalf, both individually and collectively.
There are steps we can take for ourselves, too. We can negotiate for more pay, to sell fewer rights, for a different contract altogether. We can also walk away.
Again, the ultimate goal is to get both published and paid. Attaining a fair and favorable contract is a big part of that. And that’s why spending time on contracts is a big part of how to get your nonfiction articles published.
Ellen Ryan has been an editor in Washington for two decades, including nearly 13 years as managing editor of The Washingtonian. Her freelance articles have appeared in Good Housekeeping, Outside, AARP The Magazine, The Washington Post, and ForbesLife Executive Woman. Ellen Ryan’s travel writing has appeared in Vegetarian Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, and most recently in Destination Maryland. Ryan is author of Innkeeping Unlimited: Practical, Low-Cost Ways to Improve Your B&B and Win Repeat Business.