I am starting to submit some pieces out into the market place. Some online venues have expressed some interest, they don't pay, but I'm just interested in getting my work out there for people to see. One of them sent me a contract, they say it's pretty standard stuff, it maintains that I wrote the piece, talks about royalties, that I own the copyright, etc. I'm always a little hesitant when it comes to legal stuff, so I'm just curious if this is a common practice in the publishing world, even at an entry level where money isn't a real factor.
Any insight would be much appreciated!
You should always have a contract for any work that is accepted for publication, regardless of whether or not there is any pay involved. That contract is your guide for just what is and what is not allowed with respect to your work. It should clearly call out what they are doing with the work, how long they have the right to do that, and what the procedures are for removal of the work when the rights have expired.
That said, it has been my experience that most venues that publish in exchange "for exposure" never fulfill their end of the bargain; in other words, their readership is too small to give you any real exposure in the first place.
Hope that helps answer your question.
Did an online publication that doesn't pay really send a contract that talks about royalties? Perhaps it has something to do with the possibility that the editors will later reprint the story in a print anthology?
Getting a contract to sign from a place that doesn't pay is uncommon, but it's preferable as long as the contract doesn't make any outrageous demands.
I've never signed, agreed to, or been offered a contract for a non-paying magazine. If the terms on the site aren't explicit, I just email the editor and get them to mention in their response that I maintain rights. And really, if you don't explicitly give away the rights to your work, you maintain them regardless of a statement by the editor.
Some places put in, "submission to ____ magazine constitutes an agreement on your part to be bound to these terms," which is a flag, in my opinion. I haven't submitted to any magazine which includes that in their terms and I would never agree to a contract which might allow for the piece to never be published in the first place.