Who has the rights to your writing?

Some years ago I was a regional winner in a short story competition with a story called The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done

As you can imagine, I was thrilled with the win and it was this win that finally persuaded me to do something I’d only dreamed of before – give up full-time teaching and study for an MA in creative writing. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

However, I was less than thrilled with the outcome of the win. One of the prizes for the winners was publication in an anthology. I waited eagerly to see it and read my story. But when the anthology finally arrived, I couldn’t believe what I saw – some of my story had been left out, so that what was there didn’t make sense. You can imagine how I felt!

When I pointed out the mistake to the company which ran the competition they were most upset. Not as upset as I was, but nevertheless – upset. They arranged for the printer to produce pamphlets of the correct version of my story, but nothing could make up for the wrong version in the anthology.

Recently I started wondering if I could do something with the story and searched to see if the anthology was still in existence. I didn’t even know if it had an ISBN because I couldn’t bear to keep any of the copies I’d been sent. I couldn’t find any record of the anthology, so I contacted the company to find out my position and received an email from the coordinator – who is the same person who dealt with my ill-fated story.

Apparently after 2005, they stopped running short story competitions, although still exist as a consultancy and appraisal service for writers.  She said that the anthology did have an ISBN, but that the format of ISBNs has now changed, which might be why I couldn’t find it! ‘Such a pity.’ she wrote, ‘I loved the story.’  Small comfort.

Worse was the information that the company took First British Serial Rights when they published it (so disastrously) in the anthology. All I can offer in this country is Second British Serial Rights, effectively meaning I can’t submit it anywhere as it’s deemed to be published even though it doesn’t seem to exist.  (Possibly the British Library) 

I’ve written about this to highlight the question of rights. I think some people imagine they’re covered if they retain the copyright, but once you’ve given a publication First British Serial Rights. you can’ t submit to most other publications or competitions. I even noticed a competition the other day where you couldn’t submit a piece that has been published on a website or a blog!

As I now can’t submit The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done anywhere in this country, I’ve decided to put it on my website. If you’re interested in reading it, you can find it on this page: The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done

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3 Comments

  1. Christine says:

    Just read ‘The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Done’ and really enjoyed it. Good storytelling (of course), good characters and satisfying twist! Loved it. Now I’m interested to hear which bit was missed out to make it incomprehensible.

  2. Lindsay says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Christine. I’ve always quite liked it, which is why it’s so frustrating that I can’t send it somewhere, but there’s no public record of it. I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly the missing bit – I was so upset about it that I got rid of all the incorrect anthologies. But it was several lines of a significant bit.

    This is what the administrator of the award said when I wrote asking if there were any anthologies still in existence:
    Good to hear from you. I remember you and your story very well – not our finest hour, alas! The typesetter who made such a mess of your story ceased to work for the printer very shortly afterwards; that was only one of a long list of catastrophes he was responsible for. Lessons learned all round. The leaflet version of your story went out with every anthology we sold, with a note asking readers to ignore the version in the magazine. It did have an ISBN, by the way, but the format of ISBNs has now changed, which may be why you can’t find it . Such a pity; I loved the story.

    Annoying or what?!

  3. Christine says:

    Very annoying – but at least people can enjoy it on your blog.

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