Are there any legal snags involved with publishing a short story with one publisher and publishing a full length book that includes a more detailed account of the short story (as well as more previously unpublished material) with another publisher? More specifically, Does the original publisher of the short story own the publishing rights to the material or could I choose another publisher for the extended book with no worries?

Genre: memoir

  • Hi WelderGuy. I edited the title of your question in an attempt to better summarize what you are asking. Feel free to Edit further. Also, when asking about anything involving legal aspects, it's a good idea to specify the appropriate jurisdiction within the question.
    – user
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:08
  • thanks Michael. I added an edit to be more specific. Hope it helps.
    – TribeOfOne
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:08
  • 1
    This would depend very heavily on your contract with the first publisher, so without knowing a lot more detail I don't imagine this is possible to answer at the moment.
    – Jules
    Jan 11, 2018 at 1:23
  • I guess I'm asking if contracts usually include clauses to prevent you from selling material to another publisher that was previously included (in much less detail) in the material you sold to original publisher BTW... I don't have either the long or short versions of my story published yet. I'm just researching publisher practices.
    – TribeOfOne
    Jan 11, 2018 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


Short answer: it depends on what you sign.

Long answer: make sure to read EVERYTHING in your contract. Don't sign if it doesn't work for you. Ask for changes if you feel comfortable doing so.

Some publishers purchase all rights to a piece, which include all markets, print, and online, forever. They own the piece, and you have no further rights to publish it anywhere in that case. Some purchase all or some of those rights for a period of time, or "first publishing" rights, or "first publishing" in a certain geographical area (ex. first North American rights). After that time, you can do whatever you want with the piece again.

Other publishers will ask for non-exclusive rights, which allows you to pretty much do whatever you want.

Publishing a smaller chunk of your longer story, if you have given exclusive rights, could be problematic (exceptions could include if you link to the longer version). I think it would probably be an icky court situation.

Publishing the longer story after you've given rights to the shorter story would likely be less problematic, but you'd still be risking legal stuff, especially if the publisher is in a particularly litigious place like the US or France.

Basically, if you have a goal of doing something like this, I'd ask the first publisher about it explicitly, and have a clause designated to the issue added to the contract. That way you're completely covered.

I've read others who suggest just going for double publication (of the same work, so a slightly different concern) without asking or informing other outlets. Personally, I think that's a disaster waiting to happen, and being up-front works best. I always let editors/publishers know 1) if a work has been published elsewhere and 2) that I'm submitting it multiple places.

On that topic, I have found for myself that I'm actually much more likely to sell a piece (and quickly) when I inform the publisher that I'm also submitting it elsewhere. For example, an outlet that says it takes 5-7 weeks to respond to submissions responded and accepted within 2 days, since they didn't want the work to be snapped up by anyone else first. I find that publishers appreciate knowing the status of other submissions, and I'd imagine they see this transparency in a favorable light (though I have no direct proof of this outlook other than the thanks I receive).

And a final note on contracts: make sure what you sign has all of the following: length of the piece, exact pay, when and how you'll be paid, if exclusive rights the specifics of time length and region, and especially if your work is not yet written, deadlines. It may be useful to have an attorney quickly review them; if you use a service like LegalShield you have x amount of attorney hours per month included, so it can be easy and cheap.

This is a horribly-designed site, but if your eyes can stand it, it has good information: http://www.writing-world.com/rights/rights.shtml

Here's one of the people who argues that you should just go ahead with simultaneous submissions and not tell anyone: https://www.pitchtravelwrite.com/simultaneous-submissions.html

  • 2
    +1, a strategic note: If you are not going to sign the contract offered, you have nothing to lose by asking for changes that would let you sign it!
    – Amadeus
    Feb 8, 2018 at 14:16

You have the legal right to write multiple articles and books on the same subject. This is common so that writers can maximize income without extra research.

What you need to do is focus the article differently. The facts are free for anyone to use. That said I have seen the exact same article published in several publications. That is legal if you only sold one time rights to the first publisher.

As to a story, you need an IP lawyer but you should be safe unless the contract gave the rights to the characters to the first publisher. You really need to read your contract to see what rights you still have.

Again, see the IP lawyer, but it should be completely legal to use the same story idea in a full length book with suitable changes to names and places if necessary; and they may not be. Read your contract and see an IP lawyer.

Since you said at the end that this is hypothetical then you need to learn both the publishing process as well as the law concerning copyright. Then you negotiate to keep the rights you want and only sell those you are willing to let go for the payment they offer.

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