On Pro-Rates and Pro-Rights

When you look at the requirements for a ‘pro-sale’ for both the SFWA and the HWA you will see payment, word count, but you won’t see rights anywhere. And I think that is an issue. 

It is one thing to say that 8¢/5¢ per word is professional rate, but for what? First sale? Print? Ebook? What if it includes audio (podcasting) rights, future anthology rights? What about the exclusivity period? Is three years exclusive ‘professional’? What about 5? What about perpetual? 

When someone buys a story for X¢ per word, it is those rights that they are buying. 

At LampLight we paid about 3–5¢ per word for most of our run, which is not a professional rate most of the time. But, we did not ask for professional rights either. Non-exclusive (no period of exclusivity at all), sure it is ‘perpetual’, but that is simply to keep old issues of the magazine in ‘print’ since they are ebooks/POD. We explicitly state we cannot use the stories outside of the issue/annual.

It was this balance between what we needed to publish a magazine, and our budget that led to this. 

And yet I see places asking for long exclusivity periods, for audio rights, either audiobooks or performance, because they have a podcast. Hell, there was a horrible anthology that asked for movie and video game rights. 

But hey! They paid 10¢ per word… 

The point I’m trying to make is that we should be linking ‘pro-sale’ to a certain rights / exclusivity period as well. Something like:

  • X¢ per word
  • Print / ebook
  • Max of 1 year exclusivity (exclusions for Best of… and Author collections)

And make it clear that additional rights have additional costs to be considered a pro-sale. 

We should have guidance for what things like audio rights1, derivative rights, adaptation rights, video games, etc, should be to meet a pro-sale requirement. (Yes, some of this is in the SFWA and HWA requirements, for which I am grateful) 

And if you are a ‘for the love’ market, the word ‘exclusive’ should not appear in your contract. 

I think that this, perhaps more so than the price-per-word is what marks a publication / market as a professional sale: a market paying correctly for the rights it is acquiring. 


  1. We need to stop pretending ‘podcasting’ is something different than audiobooks. The ‘podcast’ part is just a means of distribution. ↩︎

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