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Sell It Again, Sam

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Selling an article once is a major accomplishment, at least while you’re earning your spurs. Selling the same article again and again, or other articles derived from the same research, is utter delight.

Showing you how that is done is the purpose of this article.

For clarification, let’s distinguish between the two major means of reselling. The first, called “reprints,” is in its simplest form the selling of the same article, as is, repeatedly to different markets. The second, called “rewrites,” is the taking of the same facts, quotes, and anecdotes and reshuffling, expanding, and rewriting them into new forms-each one, a different article using some or much of the same material.


A traditional reprint sale follows the original sale of an article to an editor who purchased first rights, which is how the vast majority of magazine editors buy. That editor bought the right to use your words, that article, in print first. When those words appeared in print, the rights automatically reverted back to you, and your rights relationship with that editor ended.

What remained were second rights, which are reprint rights. (Second and reprint rights mean the same thing; the terms are interchangeable.) Once your article has appeared in print from a first-rights sale, you can immediately offer that very same article, without change, to any other editor you think might buy it. It couldn’t be more straightforward.

Writer’s Market tells you what rights editors buy and whether they buy reprints, or the editor will tell you when you receive a go-ahead to your query. It also tells whether the magazine pays on acceptance or publication.

Who buys second or reprint rights? Mostly editors who pay on publication, plus a few whose readers would not likely have read your words in the first publication. The second group of editors would likely pay on acceptance.

How much do they pay? What they can get it for, or normally pay, since editors buying reprints have no idea what you originally received. Alas, those paying on publication often aren’t high rollers, and those paying on acceptance for a piece already used will recognize that you will sell for less (since you’ve already been paid for putting the research and words in final form), so figure a third to one-half of what the original purchaser paid, then consider it a boon if you make more.

The best thing about reprints is that through diligent and creative marketing, you can resell the same piece many times. So when the final tally is made, you might have earned more money for churning the same winning prose repeatedly than you made for selling the original.

Using dollars to illustrate the point, if the original article took you eight hours to sell, research, and write and paid you $450, that is a gross profit of $56.25 an hour. If you resell the same article three times, each paying $200 and taking 45 minutes apiece to find the market, prepare a copy of the article, reprint the cover letter and get it in the mail, that is an additional $600, or $267 an hour. (You can substitute your own prep time and payment rates.)

Mind you, nobody has ever sold a reprint before they sold the original article, so the hard work-the idea finding, market picking, querying, editor studying, researching, writing, editing, rechecking, and submitting-is done first. Reprints sold later are very tasty dessert added to a hard-won meal.

So how do you get editors to buy reprints?

The Reprint Selling Process

Sometimes editors feverishly seek you out, begging you to let them reuse a masterpiece you already sold-you name the price. (Or so I’ve heard from writers whose imaginations vastly exceed their credibility.)

Yet it does happen, on a far lesser scale. Reader’s Digest and the Utne Reader are two well-known magazines that do seek high-quality reprints for their use (usually rewritten in a condensed form). You can shorten their searches by sending copies of a particularly strong article with a cover letter suggesting that they may wish to consider that recently published work for their pages.

There is no choice with the rest of the editors who might consider reusing your bought prose. You must find them, approach them in a sensible manner through a reprint cover letter, and include a copy of the article along with an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelop).

Finding the Most Likely Reprint Buyers

Common sense guides this search. Since you want to sell the reprint without change, comb Writer’s Market to find other publications similar to the one which originally printed your article. Check in the same subject category, or for those with similar readerships. Read carefully every publication that might even be remotely similar or use a topic like yours, as is or redirected to a different market or from a different setting. Spend some time studying the Table of Contents for their approach to topics.

Now create two columns on a sheet of paper. In the first column, write the title of every magazine that might use the article exactly as it is. Note the page number of the Writer’s Market reference next to it, for easy finding later.

In the second column, write the title of every magazine that might use the subject if you rewrote or redirected it. Next to the name, write down how you would have to rewrite the article to make it buyable: “for women: change examples, approach from female perspective,””wants history, focus on subject in early 1990s,””uses bullets: extract key points, create bullets,””change the setting to France, use French examples.” Also include the page number for reference.

Let’s focus on Column One here, since the changes needed to rewrite the piece are obvious in Column Two.

You’ll most likely want to contact the editor of all of the publications in Column One, whether they pay on publication or acceptance. Once you’ve created a master reprint cover letter, computers make it quick to customize the address and salutation and insert a personalized reference in the text. The potential of a resale, even slight, outweighs the small amount of time, copying, and postage required to get your article and letter before a healthy scattering of eyes. Do not send the reprint cover letter and article copy to those magazine editors paying on acceptance who already rejected your query, or those major magazines that never buy second rights.

Sometimes there are reprint buyers that are flat-out foes of each other. Submit to one first (the most likely to use it or to pay the most), and the second if the first says no. (Years back, I sold to the Air California and PSA magazines, both fierce competitors. While I was within my rights to simultaneously offer reprints to both, since reprint sales are non-exclusive, if both had bought the reprint and used it on their pages, I would have lost two good clients forever!)

Once you have identified your marketing targets, you’ll need a clear copy of the article you want to sell as a reprint. If the article is exactly one page long and includes only your copy, great. Copy and send it as is. But when there is adjacent, non-related copy next to the text or the prose trickles onto later pages, you’ll want to cut your article out and paste it up. Include the photos or illustrations that you also wish to sell. If the name of the publication and date of the issue aren’t in the copy, add them to every page. And number the pages in consecutive order.

Then head to the quick copy shop to have as many copies reproduced as you will need, collated and stapled.

Just make certain that the final copies you will send to the editors are clear, easy to read, and include everything you want to be seen.

The Reprint Cover Letter

It’s not enough just to have names and addresses plus copies of what you want the editor to buy. You must sell the prospective buyer through a one-page cover letter accompanying the reproduced copy of the article.

Your cover letter must do five things:

  1. It must make the topic come alive before the editor ever reads a word of the actual article.
  2. It must tell what you are offering and the rights involved.
  3. It must describe any additional items or services you can provide.
  4. It must tell how the manuscript will reach that editor.
  5. By far the least important, it might talk a bit about you and your credentials.

Let’s look at each of these areas.

The editor doesn’t know you, already gets too much mail, and has too little time to waste on an unexpected and probably unpromising letter with an article also enclosed. So your first (and probably second) paragraph have to make the subject of the article jump off the page. They have to make the editor say, “Wow!” Or “I’d be a fool not to want to read this article.” Or, at the least, “Looks interesting. I’d better read that.” This is where you show the editor that you can write, discuss the topic on which you have focused your obvious talents, and why (by inference or statement) that topic would find high favor with his or her readers. This gets the editor to pick up the article and read it through.

The next paragraph is short and placed after you’ve stirred the editor’s interest. It tells what you are offering and what rights are available. You must tell who bought the first rights, when the piece was in print, and what rights you are selling. I usually get right to the point, since I don’t want to dally here: “As you can see by the article attached, first rights were bought by (publication) and appeared in print on (date). I am offering second rights.” (I could say reprint rights as well.)

In the following paragraph, you will want to tell of other items that you are also offering beyond the words of the article.

These could be photos. Since photos are almost always bought on a one-time rights basis, you can offer the photos the editor will see beside the article or any that weren’t bought. You can offer to send slides or prints for the editor’s selection, if interested.

They could be line drawings, charts, graphs, or any other artwork that either appears in the printed article or that you could prepare to add to the piece.

You could also offer a box or sidebar that you prepared but didn’t sell to the first editor-or one you could produce. (If the text exists, you might send it along with the copy of the article to expedite the sale and show the reprint editor precisely how it reads.)

Somewhere in the reprint cover letter you must tell the editor what format you will be sending the article in. If you say nothing, the editor will assume that you expect the copy of the article to be retyped or scanned, neither exciting prospects. You enhance the reprint sale by offering either to send the original text double-spaced in manuscript form or on a computer disk, mailed or sent by e-mail. Electronic submission is by far the most appealing.

As for what to say about yourself, the article alone will speak volumes, and the quality of the reprint cover letter will probably fill in as many gaps as the editor needs. There are three areas that you may wish to expand, if it isn’t done in the bio slug with the article:

  • If you have many publishing credits, particularly in this field, and
  • If you have a related book in print or are an acknowledged expert in the field,
  • If the work described in the article offers some element of original, unique knowledge or research.

In other words, inject more biographical information only if that significantly increases the importance of the article or why the editor should use it. Otherwise the editor knows the most important information already: that another editor thought your writing was good enough to buy and use. The rest the editor can probably deduce from reading the text. If not, supplement.

Finally, don’t forget to include either an SASE or a self-addressed, stamped postcard for a reply. Otherwise you’ll never know that the editor didn’t want to buy your words for reuse.

The reprint cover letter is a sales letter, on one exciting page. Spelling, punctuation, grammar all count. Make the topic come alive and shout to be used on the editor’s pages. Keep the rest businesslike, forthright, easy to understand, and compelling. It’s a letter from one businessperson to another, one who has space to fill, another with space fillers to sell.

Modified Reprints

What if an editor wants to use your article but insists upon changes? Fine. But is it a reprint or a rewrite? That probably depends upon how much change the editor wants and who will write it.

If the changes are major, treat it like a rewrite, which is discussed next.

But sometimes an editor just wants to squeeze the piece a bit, dropping a few words here or there. Or to use their own photo. They will make all of the changes.

No problem. You might ask to see the final copy before it is printed, to make sure the changes make sense.

Or the editor wants you to tie the topic to his locale, adding in a quote or two, some local examples, or even a sidebar that offers local specifics. They want to use the reprint as the core, with modifications by you.

The more the labor, the more you might want to negotiate about the price. Find out what the editor intends to pay for the reprint, then try to get that increased to compensate you for the additional research and writing.

A rewrite, in the least complicated terms, is an article based on an earlier article and uses most or all of the first’s article’s information. It is rewritten to create a different article that has its own sales life.

Let’s say that you write an article about training in long jumping for the Olympics. You follow the usual format: complete a feasibility study, query, receive a go-ahead, do the research, write the text, and edit it. The article is printed. Then you find two other, smaller magazines that pay on publication that are interested in the same topic, so you send their editors a reprint cover letter, copy of the published article, and a return postcard. One buys a reprint.

But why end there? Why not go back to that first article and see how you can reuse most or all of your research to create other solid, salable articles?

For example, why not an article for the high school athlete called “So You Want to Be in the Olympics?” From the original, you develop a long-range focus and training program for any athlete in any field, perhaps using long jumping as the example or tying in several examples, including long jumping.

Or an article based on three or four athletes each from a different country showing the paths they followed to the Olympics, with tips from each for the reading hopeful. If all four are long jumpers, you have less research but probably less salability as well.

Or four US Olympians from widely varying fields, including long jumping, to show their reflections on having competed: Was it worth the effort? What benefits have they received? In retrospect, what would they do differently? What do they advise the readers thinking of following their Olympic paths?

By now, the process is clear: Extract something from the original article and build on it for a subsequent article. The more you can use from your original research, the less time you need at the feasibility, querying, and researching stages.

The trick is equally as obvious: You need a clearly different article, one that has its own angle or slant, reason for being, message, and structure.

Rewrites need their own titles, leads, and conclusions built around a different frame. You can use the same facts and anecdotes but in a different way and for a different purpose. Strengthen the new angle with new quotes along with some of the old ones.

Once you’ve designed a different article, it must pass through the same selling phases we’ve described: the feasibility questions, the query, the go-ahead, the additional research, the new writing, the editing, and publication in a different magazine.

Since rewrites have their own legal existence, you can even sell reprints of rewrites. You can even rewrite rewrites, then sell reprints of rewrites of rewrites. That’s just a name game. The editor buying a rewrite calls it an article, an original work created for that magazine and its readers. He doesn’t want to know, and you don’t want to reveal, that it’s a spin-off of earlier research. Does it have its own legs? Does it stand on its own merits? If so, the term “rewrite” has sense only to you, as part of the developmental chronology and evolution of an idea put to print.

Further discussion of rewrites falls squarely under the general discussion about how you create and sell copy. Since a rewrite is based on an idea that already sold and comes from research that has passed the test of acceptability, it simply has an edge on the competing articles if it is worth using in its own right.


The difference between reprints and rewrites is best seen from the rights perspective.

A reprint is an article sold on a first-rights basis that is being sold again (and again). The original buyer purchased the right to use that article on his pages first. Once used, the rights reverted to the writer. Following the protocol described, the writer then contacts other editors offering the resale of that original piece, on a reprint or second rights, non-exclusive basis. The copy is the same or includes few changes.

A rewrite is a different article based on a previously written article and all the research that was involved. It’s a rewrite only in the mind of the writer. To the buyer, it must be completely different from the work sold, since first rights to those words have already been purchased and it is not being marketed as second or reprints rights.

Reprints and rewrites require attention to publishing proprieties. If they are done improperly, you can lose more goodwill, and future earnings, than you earn at the outset. The most important element of those proprieties is honesty-defining in your own mind whether the piece is a reprint or it is a rewrite.

If in doubt, discuss it with the interested editor. They don’t bite, they just hold their purse strings tightly.

Gordon Burgett’s current keynote, breakout, and workshop presentation is directly related to (and customized from) his new book, “How to Create Your Own Super Second Life: What Are You Going to Do With Your Extra 30 Years?” You can contact Burgett by phone 800/563-1454, fax 805/937-3035, or e-mail sops@fix.net. His Websites are www.agemasters.com and www.sops.com.

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