What To Do When A Story Is Published WITHOUT Your Consent

Remember when I participated in a short story competition run by a new, YA/NA small press? Yeah, well the winners and runners up were announced and I was in the latter grouping. That’s fine. The runners up were supposed to be featured on this publisher’s blog. Apparently that included publishing entire runner up stories. Not fine. I’ll explain why in a minute. The folks behind the competition were supposed to send an email shortly after announcing the winners and runners up with details about what was supposed to happen next. Funny thing…that never happened.

Imagine my surprise when I get an email saying my story was up on that publisher’s blog. Wait, what? No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

Let me be perfectly clear about something. Nobody can publish any of your stories without your consent, be it written or verbally. Short stories, particularly, rely on first publication rights as a selling point. We work hard creating quality fiction. We believe in our stories. We submit them to various publishers hoping for publication. Why would anyone give something away when they may be able find a more suitable, and paying, home elsewhere? It doesn’t make sense.

Here I was waiting for the publisher’s email with the details of the runner up showcase so I could politely, and privately, decline. Silly me for expecting them to be prompt and professional. What did I do? I sent an email requesting they immediately remove my story from their website because, you know, that would ruin my first publication rights.

I jumped on social media to see if I may have missed some kind of official notification. The only thing I could find was a single tweet, dated March 4th announcing that a new runner up story would appear each Thursday on their website.

Seriously, a tweet was how they announced the runner up showcase. That’s it. No details about how long they plan to keep the stories up. No details about using author’s first publication rights. At no point did anyone from the small press inquire about permission to publish anything, from anyone. I hope the other authors are paying attention because the same thing is about to happen to each and every one of them.

Again, let me be clear about something: No one can publish your work without some kind of permission. This includes blogs and anywhere else on the web. I’ll use my experience with Sirens Call Publications as a counterpoint. Sirens Call publishes The Siren’s Call e-magazine. I submitted a zombie short story for their consideration. They chose to accept it, and notified me, via email, with details of their plans moving forward, explaining what rights they sought and making sure everything was acceptable. Plus, they have submission guidelines displaying specific details about the submission process on their website if you choose to publish with them. Nothing came as a surprise with them. Oh, and by the way, there are three people behind Sirens Call. They were very courteous, prompt, and professional throughout the entire process. I can’t speak highly enough about my experience with them.

My Sirens Call experience was the exact opposite of the one I found myself in today with a different publisher.

Now imagine me, not having given any permission to publish my stories, still waiting for an official notification, discovering my story was published anyway. Also imagine that same story is under consideration elsewhere. Yeah, I’m fairly pissed off…and I have every right to be. Here I am, the little known writer, waiting for a promised email with details that never came. Naturally I requested they remove my story from their website ASAP. If they don’t, I’ll have to contact lawyers. Things will get messy. Nobody wants that. *NOTE* The publisher thankfully removed my story after an hour. *NOTE*

Just because I submit something to a prospective publisher doesn’t give them any right to the work. What about all the stories they rejected? Can they use those however they want too? No, they can’t. Not without permission.

What disappoints me further was their response (I’m paraphrasing here) which suggests they have a small staff and in order to expedite things without further delay began posting the stories. They also wished I would have declined sooner because I knew their plans for the blog tour all along. However, they do recognize their fault. We won’t even mention the fact that nobody ever contacted me about their plans for the blog tour in the first place. It just sort of happened out of the blue one day. Highly unprofessional. Next time around I won’t wait for the publisher to be professional enough to send promised, and vital, notification before declining. Lesson learned.

The moral of the story is be careful who you submit to. Always pay attention to emails, contracts, or any other correspondence from a prospective publisher. Unless you specifically agree to let someone use your work, they can’t. Intentional or not, doesn’t matter. If you find something of yours has been used without your permission, politely ask them to take it down…immediately. If they still don’t, call your lawyer. Perhaps they’ll reconsider after threat of legal action.

It doesn’t matter if you’re unpublished, previously published, or somewhere in between. Every writer has rights. Don’t let yours be taken from you.

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