I happened to be looking through some short story markets the other day, and I came across one that looked a distinct possibility … until I saw their terms and conditions. They wanted All Rights in any submission used.
All Rights means exactly what it says - ALL rights. If you give someone ALL rights, it means you have none left. It could be argued that you might still retain copyright, but you can’t do anything to exploit that copyright if you’ve assigned ALL rights in that piece of text to someone else. So I made a mental note not to submit stories to that market.
Deciding which rights you’re going to allow a publisher to have (or rather, which ones they demand and you grudgingly agree to let them have for the fee they’re offering) is a personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer: only what’s right or wrong for you. I have sold ALL rights in pieces of non-fiction before. But that’s because with non-fiction it is much easier to rewrite the material in a different format (thus creating a brand new piece of text with its own copyright for me to exploit as I see fit). However, it’s much more difficult to rewrite a piece of fiction to create a new piece of text.
Fiction has more implications. It might be a short story to you, but to a film-maker it could be developed into feature film. And films have been made from short stories. Just consider Brokeback Mountain and Minority Report, both of which were developed into major, successful films.
In my experience, the non-fiction markets are more willing to negotiate which rights they really need than the fiction markets are. But always remember: selling your words is a business transaction. It’s a contract negotiation, so if you don’t like the rights a publisher is demanding, put in an alternative offer. You might be surprised with how amenable they are to changing their demands.
It’s understandable when students get excited about having their first piece of writing published. I ask them what rights the publisher wants. And if they’re asked for ALL rights I point out what this really means. They can’t licence anyone else to do anything with the text again. If a competition wants to publish the winning stories in an anthology, or on their website, then you can’t enter that piece into a competition. If you’ve granted ALL rights to someone else then you no longer have the authority to offer the competition organisers the rights to publish it in their anthology or on their website (should you win).
So in many circumstances, All Rights is not alright. Just think before you agree to handing them over. And if you don’t understand then get professional advice.