Back in the early 1970s, when I was struggling to get something–anything!–published, I sold a copy of a short story to a children’s magazine for one free copy. “Never give your work away,” I was admonished, but I did anyway. I kept the copyright, though.
Much to my surprise, after the story was published, I received a request from another magazine to reprint it, and this time they were offering a payment of fifteen dollars.
And another request a year or so later. Then another. And another. Each time with a slightly larger payment.
I kept on writing stories and eventually began selling them regularly. Always keeping my copyright. I really liked that first story and when I finally felt that I was ready to write a full-length novel, I decided to use it as the first chapter and go on from there. I could do that because I had kept my copyright. (Do you see a trend emerging here?)
That story became my very first book, published by Scholastic in 1977, called “A Year for Growing.” It stayed in print for many years and went through a cover change and a title change. And all the time, the original story was still quietly being picked up by one magazine after another. The main character was sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy. Sometimes a First Nations boy, sometimes a Black youth. I was happy to authorize those changes, but no one could make them without my consent because…you guessed it. I had kept my copyright.
And the short story? Over the years it has earned me almost as much.
I just received a request last week from an educational publisher to reprint it yet again.
The moral? Keep your copyright. Not always easy to do nowadays, but copyright is a writer’s right and protection.